Chicago Civic Opera House

The Civic Opera House is an opera house located at 20 North Wacker Drive in Chicago. It is part of a building which contains a 45-story office tower and two 22-story wings. This structure opened on November 4, 1929 and has an Art Deco interior.

The Civic Opera House has 3,563-seats, making it the second-largest opera auditorium in North America. Built for the Chicago Civic Opera, today it is the permanent home of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, which also owns the building.


Samuel Insull envisioned and hired the design team for building a new opera house to serve as the home for the Chicago Civic Opera. The building has been seen as being shaped like a huge chair and is sometimes referred to as "Insull's Throne."

Samuel Insull selected the architecture firm Graham, Anderson, Probst & White who were responsible for several other buildings in the downtown Chicago Loop. As they did on other occasions, the architects commissioned Henry Hering to produce architectural sculpture for the building.

The inaugural season was marked by the première of Camille, a modern opera by 28-year old Chicago-composer Hamilton Forrest on July 15, 1929. It was commissioned by the Civic Opera's prime star and manager, Mary Garden. While the opera received mixed reviews and parts of it were broadcast in the Boston area, the Civic Opera is the only house in which it has ever been performed.

The opera house underwent a major renovation in 1993 when it was purchased by the Lyric Opera of Chicago, which had previously rented the space. The chairs were repainted and reupholstered, the carpeting replaced, and the gilt paint completely re-stenciled. The massive project was completed in 1996.

This opera house was the inspiration for the one featured in Orson Welles's film, Citizen Kane. In order for his aspiring opera singer wife to perform, Charles Foster Kane builds an opera house for her, but the quality of her singing reveals her ineptitude. In reality, Samuel Insull built this opera house for his wife, who was not hired by New York's Metropolitan Opera.

During the 1950s and 1960s the building was identified by a large "Kemper Insurance" sign, although it was not that company's headquarters.

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