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Inside the BEL CANTO working sessions

The week of July 7, the creative team for Lyric's world premiere opera Bel Canto  (opening in 2015!), gathered in Chicago for several days of intensive work on the project. Read on to get a glimpse of this work-in-progress.

The week of July 7, the creative team for Lyric's world premiere opera Bel Canto (opening in December 2015!), gathered in Chicago for several days of intensive work on the project. Composer Jimmy López, librettist Nilo Cruz, and director Kevin Newbury were on hand to listen to the completed portions of the score in a version for two pianos and vocals, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.

This was the first time that any members of the team had heard the music sung. Almost the entire Ryan Opera Center ensemble participated in these working sessions, taking on not only the main roles but doubling the minor characters plus chorus parts as well.

The days of work culminated with a reading of four scenes (two from Act One and two from Act Two) that have been completed. The session was opened up to a small group of journalists and sponsors and was followed by a Q&A with the creative team and Lyric's general Director Anthony Freud.

Here are just a few of the fascinating details that were revealed:

  • A polyglot opera! The opera will be performed in seven languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Japanese, and Quechua—one of the indigenous languages of Peru, where the opera is set. Sir Andrew Davis noted that this could be the first opera to use Quechua!
  • Reinvention, not adaptation. Nilo Cruz talked about how he's not simply adapting the novel, but making something completely different. Anthony Freud added that the aim for the project is to make Bel Canto stand on its own terms as an opera, rather than just reproduce the book as a play set to music. 
  • Ann Patchett's positive reaction. Anthony Freud shared that author Ann Patchett, who was initially afraid to read the libretto when it was sent to her, has declared it even more beautiful than her original novel.
  • Bel Canto is the new black? Director Kevin Newbury says that the story is really about creating a community within captivity, and how he is excited to show the small private moments that can happen in the middle of a very public space. He drew a comparison to the hit TV show Orange is the New Black, which gives characters' background within the larger story of life in prison.
  • It will be crowdedon stage, at least! During the real-life captivity, all of the hostages were made to stay in the same space, which means that all cast members will be on stage together for virtually the entire opera.

Learn more about Bel Canto from the creative team:

 

Photo credits:

  • Bel Canto libretto (credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago)
  • The Bel Canto creative team: librettist Nilo Cruz, composer Jimmy López, and director Kevin Newbury (credit Andrew Cioffi / Lyric Opera of Chicago)
  • Ryan Opera Center members are conducted by Sir Andrew Davis during the workshop (credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago). For the workshop, Ryan Opera Center members Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi, J’nai Bridges, Jonathan Johnson, Bradley Smoak, Jesse Donner, and Anthony Clark Evans sang principal roles. Laura Wilde, Julie Anne Miller, John Irvin, Will Liverman, and Richard Ollarsaba sang multiple roles. Ensemble member Maureen Zoltek and Ryan Opera Center Music Director Craig Terry were pianists. 
  • Anthony Freud and Sir Andrew Davis during the discussion (credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago)
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Ryan Opera Center’s Talented Alums!

Lyric's own Ryan Opera Center  has a long roster of incredibly talented alumni. Here's what some of the singers affiliated with Lyric's prestigious training program have been up to this past season and where you can see them next season in Chicago and beyond!

The Ryan Opera Center's annual Rising Stars in Concert celebration is coming up this Saturday, March 29. It's not too late to donate $75 to Lyric and receive two complimentary tickets to this showcase of opera's future superstars.

The Ryan Opera Center has a long roster of incredibly talented alumni. Lyric's production of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, which closed out the 2013-14 season, is just one example. ALL of the cast members had connections to the Ryan Opera Center. Matthew Polenzani (Tito), Amanda Majeski (Vitellia), Christian van Horn (Publio), and Cecelia Hall (Annio) are all alumni of the program, and Emily Birsan (Servilia) is a current member. And Joyce DiDonato (Sesto) was just inducted as an honorary Ryan Opera Center member in a short ceremony after the Clemenza dress rehearsal.  

Here's what some of the other singers affiliated with Lyric's prestigious training program have been up to this past season and where you can see them next season in Chicago and beyond!

Elizabeth Futral 
(Ryan Opera Center member from 1989 to 1991) 

Past season   Highlights of Elizabeth's busy 2013-14 season include her role debut as Desiree Armfeldt in Houston Grand Opera's production of Sondheim's A Little Night Music , a role debut as Zdenka in Minnesota Opera's production of Strauss's Arabella, and a performance of one of her signature roles, Lucia di Lammermoor, for Portland Opera.

Coming soon! — Catch Elizabeth as Elsa Schraeder in Lyric's upcoming all-new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music  opening on April 25 right here at the beautiful Civic Opera House.   

Andriana Chuchman
(Ryan Opera Center member from 2007 to 2010)
 

Past season — Andriana had an amazing 2013-14 season. Already slated to debut with the Metropolitan Opera in February 2014 in The Enchanted Island, her debut came a month earlier as Adina in L'Elisir d'Amore when Anna Netrebko was ill for opening night. Andriana stepped in and wowed the New York critics!  

Coming soon! — Andriana is part of the amazing cast that makes up Lyric's new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni  that opens the 2014-15 season, with Robert Falls directing and Sir Andrew Davis conducting. She will also appear with Vancouver Opera in Sondheim's Sweeney Todd in April 2015.

Quinn Kelsey
(Ryan Opera Center member from 2003 to 2006)
 

Past season — Quinn made his role debut as Germont in Lyric's new production of Verdi's La Traviata in October 2013. He also performed the title role in Verdi's Rigoletto for English National Opera and in I vespri siciliani at Oper Frankfurt.

Coming soon! — Catch him at Lyric as Count di Luna in Verdi's Il Trovatore in October 2014. He will also perform as Marcello in the Metropolitan Opera's La Bohème in September 2014.  

Amber Wagner
(Ryan Opera Center member from 2007 to 2010)
 

Past season — In addition to welcoming her first child in summer 2013, Amber performed Verdi's Requiem with Sir Andrew Davis and the Melbourne Symphony in September 2013 and made her Washington National Opera debut in Verdi's La Forza del Destino in October 2013.

Coming soon! — Like Quinn Kelsey, Amber comes home to Lyric next season in Il Trovatore  as Leonora from October 27 to November 29. Then she's back just a few months later, starring in Tannhäuser  as Elisabeth from February 9 to March 6, 2015.

Amanda Majeski 
(Ryan Opera Center member from 2009 to 2011) 

Past season — Amanda was part of the dream cast of La Clemenza di Tito  that wrapped up Lyric's 2013-14 season. She also made her role debut as Donna Elvira in Mozart's Don Giovanni at Opera Philadelphia, as well as making her Carnegie Hall solo recital debut at Weill Recital Hall. 

Coming soon! — This Gurnee native will be back in her hometown to conclude another Lyric season. This time, she stars as Marta in Weinberg's The Passenger  from February 24 to March 15, 2015. She will also make her Metropolitan Opera debut as Countess Almaviva in the Met's new production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro in December 2014. 

Photo credits: Elizabeth Futral (credit Karli Cadel), Andriana Chuchman (credit Chia Messina), Quinn Kelsey (credit Dan Rest), Amanda Majeski (credit Dario Acosta).

“Clemenza” Stars Offstage

Matthew Polenzani, Joyce DiDonato, and Amanda Majeski are currently heating up the stage in Lyric's new-to-Chicago production of Mozart's  La Clemenza di Tito. In addition to their electric performances, they've been a busy trio off stage as well!

Matthew Polenzani, Joyce DiDonato, and Amanda Majeski are currently creating sparks on stage in Lyric's new production of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito. In its review of the production, the Chicago Tribune praised all three for delivering "one terrific vocal showpiece after another." In addition to creating magic on stage, they've been a busy trio offstage as well.  

North shore native Matthew Polenzani took a trip down memory lane with Chicago Tonight's Eddie Arruza, talking about growing up in the Chicago suburbs and the beginnings of his operatic career, capped with a performance of Tito's aria "Ah, se fosse intorno al trono" from Act One of La Clemenza di Tito with Bill Billingham: 

 

He stayed after the segment to perform “Danny Boy” for this web extra:

 

Joyce DiDonato grabbed a drink with Chicago Magazine's Graham Meyer during the February 22 opening of Lyric's new production of Rusalka and chatted about her recent trip to Africa and the things she loves most about Chicago.

She also took time to visit with Lyric's new Youth Opera Council, tweeting after her experience: "Opera is dead?!?! HA! Take THAT naysayers! Totally inspired by these young, TALENTED opera lovers from @LyricOpera."

And DiDonato was very busy on March 12, giving a live performance on Chicago classical music station 98.7 WFMT as part of their Impromptu series and then going to Northwestern University's Pick-Staiger Concert Hall for a master class that was also broadcast live around the web!  

Amanda Majeski talked with the Daily Herald's Jamie Sotonoff and Dann Gire about being rejected from her first high school audition and how much this Ryan Opera Center alumna enjoys making Chicago her home base. 

Plus, she hit a personal milestone as she and her husband Sam Handley celebrated their first wedding anniversary on March 9. They met while members of Lyric's own Ryan Opera Center! You can read more about their love story, along with a few other Lyric couples, in this Chicago Sun-Times story from last year

Photo credits:
(top) Amanda Majeski credit Dario Acosta, Matthew Polenzani credit Dario Acosta, Joyce DiDonato credit Nick Heavican.
(center) Joyce DiDonato with the Youth Opera Council credit Andrew Cioffi / Lyric Opera of Chicago.
(bottom) Amanda Majeski and Sam Handley backstage at Lyric. Photo credit Rich Hein / Chicago Sun-Times.

Summer spotlight: Ryan Opera Center rocks Chicagoland!

Ryan Opera Center singers continue their acclaimed summer concert appearances with four nights of free music downtown. Save the dates! 

MillenniumPark2012

Hear five Ryan Opera Center ensemble members perform as soloists in Schubert’s Mass in E Flat Major on Friday, August 9 at 6:30pm or Saturday, August 10 at 7:30pm. Part of the celebrated Grant Park Music Festival, these free outdoor concerts in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion boast Chicago's most melodic lake breezes and picnic opportunities until Lyric launches its 2013-14 season on Saturday, September 7 at 7:30pm with the annual Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park free concert.

Chicago Tribune classical music critic John von Rhein raved about the 2013-14 Ryan Opera Center ensemble in their recent performance of Leonard Bernstein's Songfest and Elliott Carter's A Mirror on Which to Dwell at Ravinia's Martin Theatre on July 4:

"Were Bernstein still alive, I can imagine the kisses and bear hugs he would have bestowed on Thursday's performers. [The] concert was anchored by seven Ryan Center members, four of them first-year apprentices blessed with attractive, well-schooled voices and exceptional professional promise: mezzo-soprano Julie Anne Miller, tenor Adam Bonanni, baritone Anthony Clark Evans and bass-baritone Richard Ollarsaba. They appeared alongside center 'veterans' Emily Birsan and Tracy Cantin, sopranos; and J'nai Bridges, [mezzo]. Ollarsaba was fully inside the aching tenderness of Walt Whitman's homosexual confession, 'To What You Said,' a poem unpublished during the poet's lifetime. Cantin thrilled as the proud Latino woman of 'A Julia Burgos,' which she sang in the original Spanish. Two different sides of the black American experience came together vividly in the duet sung by Miller and Evans. Bridges wrapped her voluptuous voice splendidly around the bitter regret of an Edna St. Vincent Millay sonnet. Bonanni was just as adroit in his handling of the tricky rhythmic declamation of the similarly rueful 'Zizi's Lament.'... Birsan trace[d] Carter's six settings of Elizabeth Bishop poems with amazing clarity of diction, accuracy of intonation and fineness of expression." 

Ryan Opera Center singers also will provide after-work entertainment tomorrow, July 30, at 5:45 pm, when J'nai Bridges, John Irvin, and Will Liverman contribute excerpts from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville to the Rush Hour Concerts 2013 Summer Concert Series. Lyric dramaturg Roger Pines will provide connecting narration for the half hour program, which will be broadcast live from St. James Cathedral on 98.7WFMT/WFMT.com. All three Ryan Opera Center singers will revisit their famous comedic roles in Lyric Unlimited's The Family Barber next March.

SAVE THE DATES of these free downtown events on your summer calendar:

• Tuesday, July 30 at 5:45pm: "Lyric Shorts: Rossini's The Barber of Seville" at St. James Cathedral, 65 E. Huron at Wabash

• Friday, August 9 at 6:30pm: The Grant Park Music Festival presents Schubert’s Mass in E Flat Major in Pritzker Pavilion

• Saturday, August 10 at 7:30pm: The Grant Park Music Festival presents Schubert’s Mass in E Flat Major in Pritzker Pavilion

• Saturday, September 7 at 7:30pm: Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park in Pritzker Pavilion

Pictured above: Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park 2012 in the Jay Pritzker Pavillion (Photo: Robert Kusel/Lyric Opera of Chicago)

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