Lyric Opera of Chicago

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Youth Opera Council – A Look at a Great First Season

Lyric Unlimited's Youth Opera Council had a banner first season. This group of 22 high school-aged opera lovers learned about running an opera company, met Lyric guest artists, and—of course—saw a lot of opera! Here are a few of the highlights from the year. 

Lyric Unlimited's Youth Opera Council, a new initiative for the 2013-14 season, had a banner year. This group of 22 high school-aged opera lovers met regularly, speaking with Lyric staff about the operations of an opera company. They also had the opportunity to attend every mainstage production this year and to meet some of Lyric's fantastic guest artists. 

Here are a few of the highlights!

On February 1, the council hosted "A Night at the Opera" before the opening of Lyric's new production of The Barber of Seville (pictured above). At this sold-out event, the council invited 200 of their family and friends for a casual preconcert reception that featured the chance to mingle with members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus and try on a few costumes! Here is a video that gives a flavor of this special event: 


The council also had meetings with some of Lyric's great guest artists: Nathan Gunn, Isabel Leonard, and Alek Shrader, all stars of The Barber of Seville. They also spent a very special evening with La Clemenza di Tito star Joyce DiDonato (pictured right). Joyce also ran into some Youth Opera Council members during intermission of a Rusalka student matinee performance and captured their profound thoughts on why opera is important and thriving:


Other special events included a special backstage tour led by Lyric's Audience Education Manager Jesse Gram, as well as regular meetings here at Lyric, some of which included visits with key Lyric staff. Guest speakers have included Lyric General Director Anthony Freud, Lyric Unlimited Director Cayenne Harris, Public Relations Director Alexandra Day, Barber of Seville Assistant Director Elise Sandell, and Assistant Stage Manager Bill Walters. 

Want to be part of this great group? Applications are now being accepted for the 2014-15 Youth Opera Council. Click here to learn more and apply today!

Photo credits:

  • "A Night at the Opera" photo collage (top), photos credit Jenn Gaudreau
  • Joyce DiDonato visits with the Youth Opera Council, photo credit Alejandra Boyer
  • The Youth Opera council chats with Bill Walters and Elise Sandell (photo credit Andrew Cioffi) and gets a backstage tour (photo credit Alejandra Boyer).


My Favorite Things: Christine Brewer

One of the world's most acclaimed sopranos Christine Brewer stars as the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music. But when she's not solving a problem like Maria, what does she enjoy? Here's a glimpse into her very busy and very fun life from A League of Their Own to the annual Brewer Hootenanny.

One of the world's most acclaimed sopranos (BBC Music even named her one of the top 20 sopranos of all time!), Christine Brewer stars as the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music. With her soaring and powerful voice, she will certainly make "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" one of the show's most memorable moments.

But when she's not solving a problem like Maria, what does she enjoy? Christine Brewer gives us a glimpse into her very busy and very fun life!


It's hard to choose just one favorite movie, but one that is certainly in my top five favorites would be A League of Their Own. Such a fantastic cast! Favorite quote from the film is "There's no crying in baseball!"  I grew up in a family of jocks, so that quote rang true to me as I recalled the times my dad said that when he coached the women's/girl's softball team. My mom was the pitcher on the team, and I was the less-than-adequate right fielder!


TV Shows 

I love watching CBS Sunday Morning. When I'm home, it is a ritual for my husband Ross and me to fix breakfast together and watch the program. My guilty pleasure TV show is Nashville; even though it's pretty much a soap opera, the music on the show is fantastic! 



I'm not sure this is a hobby, but my husband and I have been renovating a home we bought in Lebanon, Illinois [near St. Louis] more than 20 years ago. It was built in 1874 and is in the historic district of Lebanon, about two blocks from McKendree University where I met Ross and where we got married in the Chapel there. It is one of those never-ending projects, and there always seems to be something that needs to be done, but we love the house and its character.


We've always had dogs and cats in our house, mostly strays and rescued. We currently have two old male cats, Don and Ben (named Benjamin Britten by my daughter) and a 12-year-old collie mix named Macy. We travel with Macy whenever possible, but the cats prefer to stay home with the house-sitter!

Historical figure 

One of my favorite historical figures is Susan B. Anthony. Her dedication to women's rights and getting the women's right to vote were so brave and noble. And to think that she didn't live long enough to see the 19th Amendment pass in 1920 makes her life story even more poignant.

Scent or smell 

How my little 7-month-old grandson Oscar smells after he's had a bath.


There's a song by Frank La Forge called "Hills" (poet Arthur Guiterman). I've sung it many times in recitals and have also recorded it. The final phrase is "God give me hills and strength for climbing." My mom used to say when I was struggling with something, "Why, that's no hill for a stepper!" So when I came across this song, that last phrase really stuck with me and has become sort of a motto for me!

Treasured possession 

I have a little framed picture of a four-leaf clover that my mom made for me years ago. Mom told me that she found the lucky clover in their yard. She wrote underneath it, "Good luck, sweet baby girl!" I carried it with me on trips and would put it on my night stand. After my mom died about 15 years ago, my daughter Elisabeth was on a trip with me, and she saw the picture. She said, "You know that's NOT a four-leaf clover, right?" And I told her the story of how Grandma Dee had made it for me. She started laughing and said, "I helped Grandma Dee make that and we just GLUED an extra leaf on that three-leaf clover we picked. Grandma said you would never know, and we laughed our heads off when we made it." That makes me cherish this even more now that my mom is gone, knowing this sweet story of how she and Elisabeth tricked me!

Annual party 

My husband and I host a party every year at the end of the summer in our back yard and we call it the Brewer Hootenanny. Ross plays guitar and dulcimer. I play guitar, mandolin, harmonica and gut bucket. We have around 100 family and friends gather every year, even some members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra who join us for some good old bluegrass, gospel, and folk music. We have some great food, drink and music-making.

Recording experience 

I sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" with John Williams conducting and Lynn Harrell playing the cello solo to a Randy Kerber arrangement of the great Harold Arlen song. We did the recording in the same studio that Judy Garland recorded the song around 70 years ago! The project was part of a recording for HEARTbeats Organization with other artists like Paul Simon, Joan Baez, Jessye Norman and the Blind Boys of Alabama.



Photo credits:

  • Christine Brewer portrait (credit Christian Steiner)
  • Christine Brewer's home in Lebanon, IL (photos courtesy Christine Brewer)
  • Christine Brewer's dog, Macy (photo courtesy Christine Brewer)
  • Christine Brewer's grandson Oscar (photo courtesy Christine Brewer)
(Lyric Opera of Chicago does not own copyrights to any of the above videos.)


“Listen to your friend Billy Zane, he’s a cool dude.”

Billy Zane, star of Lyric's new production of The Sound of Music has appeared in more than 100 films. Here are some highlights from his incredibly versatile career.

To appropriate a line from Zoolander, Chicago's own Billy Zane—starring as Captain von Trapp in Lyric's production of The Sound of Music  opening on April 25—is an exceptionally cool dude who has appeared in more than 100 films.

Here are just a few of our favorite moments of Zane from his large and versatile filmography.  


The epic blockbuster by James Cameron featured Zane as Cal Hockley, the obstacle standing in the way of Jack and Rose and true love. He was the perfect villain, equal parts devious and debonair—it was hard not to get caught up in his spell. 


Back to the Future 

In his film debut, Billy Zane played Match, one of Biff's three menacing henchman who are constantly bullying George and Marty McFly (Crispin Glover and Michael J. Fox). 



This movie is one masterful comic set piece after another, but Billy Zane's priceless cameo backing up Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) as he argues with Hansel (Owen Wilson) might be the movie's best moment. "It's a walk-off."


Dead Calm 

In his breakthrough role, Zane plays the psychotic Hughie, a stowaway who terrorizes a married couple (played by Nicole Kidman and Sam Neill) on the open water in this taught thriller from Australian director Phillip Noyce. You'll never think of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" in the same way again.


The Phantom 

This big-screen adaptation of Lee Falk's adventure comic featured Billy Zane as the eponymous hero in the purple suit. The role showcased both Zane's enviable physique and his natural comic timing, and the actor has said it was this movie that brought him to Titanic director James Cameron's attention.


Twin Peaks 

Zane had a recurring role as businessman John Justice Wheeler in season 2 of this groundbreaking David Lynch series. In one of the more lighthearted subplots on the show, his character romances Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) and tries to teach her father Ben (Richard Beymer) how to be truly good. 



Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Billy Zane in The Phantom (courtesy Paramount Pictures); Back to the Future (courtesy Universal Pictures); Ben Stiller and Billy Zane in Zoolander (courtesy Paramount Pictures); Billy Zane in Dead Calm (courtesy Warner Bros.)

(Lyric Opera of Chicago does not own copyrights to any of the above videos.)

My Favorite Things: Jenn Gambatese

Broadway star Jenn Gambatese stars as Maria in Lyric's new production of The Sound of Music. But what are a few of her favorite things? Read on to find out more.

Our Maria, Jenn Gambatese, has an impressive Broadway background that includes creating the role of Natalie in All Shook Up opposite Cheyenne Jackson, creating the role of Jane in Disney's Tarzan, and recently starring as Glinda in the first national touring production of Wicked. But when she's not on stage, here are some of the things she enjoys, besides rain drops, on top of the roses!

See Jenn "climb ev'ry mountain" with Billy Zane, Christine Brewer, Elizabeth Futral, Edward Hibbert, and more in The Sound of Music opening on April 25 at Lyric!


Hot toddys of all sorts make me a happy girl. You also can't go wrong with a champagne cocktail. (Don't tell Leisl!)


Singin' in the Rain is my all-time fave.


Pop songs

My 4-year-old daughter and I are loving the Frozen soundtrack at present. All the songs are great, but Idina's version of "Let It Go" is a real triumph. I immensely enjoy the Christophe Beck orchestral pieces on the soundtrack as well.


I am also really digging The Lone Bellow and their self-titled album.



Ice cream—when I'm not singing, lol! I'm also a sucker for a great egg sandwich.

Vacation spot

I'm just in love with The Mohonk Mountain House, and it's practically in my own back yard!

Television show

I don't watch a ton of TV, but every time I see New Girl I just love it.



I was reluctant to join but man oh man, I'm on Facebook every day.


HOME! My daughter Josephine, my husband Curtis, home cooking.

Childhood toys

I loved my little china tea set and was a real bookworm.  Favorite Christmas present ever was a gorgeous hardcover edition with illustrations of...wait for it...Heidi. I guess I've always had a thing for the Alps. I remember devouring the whole book in 2 days!


Our little teacup Yorkie, Killer Marie.

I'm captivated by Gregory Colbert's "Ashes and Snow" photographs and would love to befriend and ride an elephant one day!  



Photo credits


(Lyric Opera of Chicago does not own copyrights to any of the above videos). 

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