Lyric Opera of Chicago

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Craig Terry takes you “Beyond the Aria”

Ryan Opera Center music director Craig Terry takes you on a guided tour of the new cabaret series Beyond the Aria, which kicks off on Oct. 21 with performances by Ana María Martínez, Bo Skovhus, and J’nai Bridges.

This season, Lyric is proud to collaborate with the Harris Theater for Music and Dance at Millennium Park for their production of Beyond the Aria, a series of four intimate cabaret-style performances that showcase opera singers in the repertoire they enjoy outside of the operatic realm. Selections will range from a variety of genres, from Broadway to jazz to folk, so audiences can expect the unexpected.

The series kicks off on Tuesday, October 21 with Ana María Martínez (currently on stage in Don Giovanni), Bo Skovhus (on stage in Capriccio), and Ryan Opera Center ensemble member J'nai Bridges. The series continues on November 10, January 14, and March 10. Ryan Opera Center music director Craig Terry is artistic director for this new series, and he gives us some insight into this unique program.

How did the series come about?

Last October, I played on the Harris Theater's 10th anniversary gala with Stephanie Blythe, and afterwards, Michael Tiknis approached me about ways he thought we might collaborate together.  When I suggested a recital series with stars from Lyric and including the Ryan Opera Center, it seemed like a perfect match! For someone who does what I do, an incredible opportunity such as this rarely presents itself. Lucky me indeed!   

How have you approached song selection for the series?

As I have performed previously with many of the singers on this first series, I had an idea of the way that some of the recitals might be successfully programmed. Each artist has a different way of telling stories through singing, and sharing these stories with an "up close and personal" audience aspect is the aim of these programs. To take the first concert as an example, I hoped that Bo Skovhus might sing some Schubert, Ana María would sing a bit in Spanish, and that they might together sing some duets that would surprise the audience. I pitched some ideas to them, and they were immediately game, made some suggestions of their own, and voilà, we had a program! 

Has anything surprised you about the planning process? Have anyone's song choices or preferences been unexpected?

My personal goal in the planning process was to be sure that the singers LOVE every song they sing, and that the process and performance are a joyful music making experience for everyone. To give a specific example, there is one piece that I'm certain hardly anyone will have ever heard that has very special meaning for Ana María. I'm thrilled that she will be able to share it with this audience. And I must say, I was worried that I might have asked for a couple selections that were out of the group's collective comfort zone, but those have perhaps been the MOST fun to rehearse!

This seems like an amazing moment for the Ryan Opera Center members - how has the collaboration and rehearsal process affected them as young singers on their way to great careers?

The most fun for the Ryan Opera Center members is the ability to stand side by side with these incredibly accomplished artists and collaborate with them in a way that raises their level and expectation of performance. To give one example, J'nai Bridges sang her set of songs last week for Bo, who offered some incredibly helpful and invaluable insight.  That opportunity alone was worth the entire experience.  

For each performance, what can people expect?

People can expect to hear and FEEL the visceral effects of experiencing world class voices in an intimate, stunningly beautiful space.  Audiences can also expect a wide range of repertoire, with some certain fun to be had along the way! I also believe that the audience will leave feeling as though they truly got to know the artists on a personal level.  

What do you think is most special or unique about this series? 

As the music director of the Ryan Opera Center, what I find the most special about the series is the unparalleled opportunity ANYWHERE for a gifted young singer to stand beside two absolute titans of the opera world, and experience what it feels like to share words, music, and joy with them as an equal. The Harris has given us a tremendous gift, and I couldn't be more grateful (or EXCITED!) for the possibilities! 

Beyond the Aria 2014-15 season

Tuesday, October 21, 2014, 7:30PM 
Featuring Ana María Martínez, soprano • Bo Skovhus, baritone • J'nai Bridges, mezzo-soprano

Monday, November 10, 2014, 7:30PM 
Featuring Stephanie Blythe, mezzo-soprano • Quinn Kelsey, baritone • Laura Wilde, soprano  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015, 7:30PM 
Featuring Jamie Barton, mezzo-soprano • Bryan Hymel, tenor • Anthony Clark Evans, baritone  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015, 7:30PM 
Featuring Amber Wagner, soprano • Brandon Jovanovich, tenor  • Will Liverman, baritone

Photo credits:

  • Top: Craig Terry at the piano (credit Jaclyn Simpson / Lyric Opera of Chicago)
  • Oct. 21 performance: Bo Skovhus (credit Balmer and Dixon), Ana María Martínez (credit Tom Specht), J'nai Bridges (credit Devon Cass)
  • Nov. 10 performance: Stephanie Blythe (courtesy Opus 3 Artists), Quinn Kelsey (credit Ken Howard), Laura Wilde (credit Devon Cass)
  • Jan. 14 performance: Jamie Barton (credit Jonathan Timms), Bryan Hymel (credit Dario Acosta), Anthony Clark Evans (credit Devon Cass)
  • Mar. 10 performance: Will Liverman (credit Devon Cass), Amber Wagner (courtesy IMG Artists), Brandon Jovanovich (credit Peter Dressel)
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Opera 101: When a cover singer gets “the call”

Second-year Ryan Opera Center member  Richard Ollarsaba is covering roles in Don Giovanni and Capriccio and has had the very unusual experience of being asked to perform in both operas in the span of one week. He takes us through the process of being a cover singer and what happens when the call comes.

Second-year Ryan Opera Center member Richard Ollarsaba is living the dream of a young opera singer. This talented bass-baritone is covering Mariusz Kwiecień in the title role of Don Giovanni and David Govertsen as the Majordomo in Capriccio.  (He is also in the cast as a servant). In a completely unprecedented turn of events, he was asked to go on in both roles within one week.

On Wednesday, October 8, he performed the Don for the matinee performance, subbing for the indisposed Kwiecień. The following Wednesday, Peter Rose (La Roche in Capriccio) could not perform, which put the domino effect into motion: Govertsen performed the role of La Roche; Ollarsaba performed as the Majordomo; and Lyric Opera Chorus member Kenneth Nichols took Ollarsaba's place as one of the servants in the ensemble.

First things first - what is a cover?

Basically the cover is an operatic understudy. Ollarsaba describes it as, "being ready in the event that the principal artist that you are covering is unable to perform." Now that he's done it, he also adds: "It's a lot of responsibility and you don't fully realize that until you're actually doing it. This is what you prepare for; this is exactly why they hired you. You have to be ready to go."

Practice makes perfect

At Lyric, covering a principal role is a thorough and intense process. "We are present from day one of rehearsals and we are obligated to be at every rehearsal up until the first performance, which is different from a lot of other companies I've been acquainted with," says Ollarsaba. At other companies, the covers are only brought in during the tech period to learn the blocking and other stage directions. 

The advantage to this process at Lyric is having complete access to the music and staging rehearsals: "You see the entire process, so when things change on a dime in rehearsals, you're actually there to see it instead of just hearing about it days later."

Once the rehearsal period moves to the stage, all of the covers participate in cover staging, which is an abbreviated scene-by-scene runthrough so the covers can go through the blocking to address the technical aspects: "This gives us the opportunity to flesh out the characters the way the principals did, just in case we do have to go on."

Ollarsaba had the added benefit of studying and performing the title role in the Ryan Opera Center's summer workshop production of Don Giovanni (pictured right). 

When the phone rings…

For Don Giovanni, Ollarsaba had to work quickly: "I found out for sure at 10am for a 2pm curtain that Mariusz was not going to perform that day. I was as calm and composed as I could be in that situation, but that didn't stop the adrenaline from pumping through my body."

He not only had to be prepared to sing the role, but also cope with the very dramatic staging:  "There are, of course, a lot of variables that you specifically have not rehearsed with the cast on the completed set. I was very well acquainted with the production from having sat in on rehearsals, and on a few occasions I was able to rehearse scenes when Mariusz wasn't available, but having to do an entire show, on short notice, was very surreal."

As the performance drew closer, "I tried very hard not to let my subconscious check in and say 'Do you know what's going on?' I tried very much to say to myself, 'No, it's all about the music and the production.'"

Don Giovanni, of course, has some very intimate and visceral moments with the characters of Donna Anna (Marina Rebeka) and Zerlina (Andriana Chuchman), but Ollarsaba credits the cast for putting him at ease: "They are all the utmost professionals and they all knew exactly what needed to be done. They could not have been more supportive and courteous. With everyone, I kept asking, 'What do you need?' and they could answer, 'No, no, no, what do you need?'"

After such a high-profile substiution the week before, Ollarsaba felt a bit more at ease as the Majordomo during Capriccio:  "We had a little more notice, and it helped that it was an evening performance so I had more time during the day. I love Capriccio, it's very conversational and less action-packed - there are not any specific technical things that you need to accomplish. It's very realistic, so it was a lot easier to go into that. The overall atmosphere was a lot more relaxed."

(Ollarsaba, far left, with his fellow servants in Capriccio)

Costume crunch time

In addition to having to prepare to sing on short notice, Ollarsaba still had to find something to wear as Don Giovanni. The costume department's priority for any production is perfecting the principals' wardrobe. They do not create duplicate costumes for the covers, so in the event of a substitution, everyone has to work quickly. 

"I probably wore about 10 or maybe 20% of Mariusz's actual costumes. He and I are such different body types, so they really couldn't use most of his pieces on me," he laughs. (Ollarsaba is one of the tallest singers at Lyric!) He was able to wear one coat and one robe - for the rest, the wardrobe staff culled pieces from the stock collection to create a series of costumes that mimicked very closely Ana Kuzmanic's period-specific designs. (Don Giovanni's robe, pictured right)

Ollarsaba was already in the cast as one of the servants in Countess Madeleine's household in Capriccio, so the staff was able to fairly easily adapt his existing costume to fit the Majordomo's role.

Staying focused in performance

Ollarsaba went on and the show proceeded without a hitch, though much of his performance in Don Giovanni is still a blur: "I don't know I how I did! I had some ears in the audience, and there was a good reception for sure. But as far as what I thought of myself, I just wanted to make sure that I did my job and lived up to the expectations of the cast and the production, so it could still go on smoothly for an audience."

The one time that he was able to actually think about what he was doing was at the very end of the show, during the technically dazzling descent into hell devised by director Robert Falls and set designer Walt Spangler.

"I will say that the descent was the easiest part of the whole show. One, because it's literally the last two minutes. Two, because the table does all the work and I just have to sing my lines and hang on. It was actually the one time during the show where I was able to check in and think 'This is a lot of fun!' My responsibility in the show was coming to an end, so I could just be like a little kid. I'm sliding down a table, and there's a giant hole with lights and smoke coming out of it. I couldn't help smiling."  

Richard Ollarsaba will be on stage at Lyric as a servant in the remaining performances of Capriccio  on October 22, 25, and 28. You can also see him in Anna Bolena (Rochefort), Tosca (Angelotti) and The Passenger (SS officer) later this season. He is covering Henry VIII in Bolena and Biterolf in Tannhäuser

Photo credits:

  • Top: Richard Ollarsaba (credit Devon Cass); Monsieur Taupe and the Majordomo in Capriccio and the title role of Don Giovanni (credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago)
  • Ollarsaba as Don Giovanni in the Ryan Opera Center's summer workshop (credit Jaclyn Simpson / Lyric Opera of Chicago)
  • Ollarsaba and his fellow servants in Capriccio (credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago)

 

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An Insider's Guide to PORGY AND BESS

Everything you need to know about Lyric's upcoming production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (on stage November 17-December 20): video and audio previews, articles, photos, and more.

"Summertime, and the livin' is easy …" With iconic songs that have become jazz and pop standards, Porgy and Bess (on stage from November 17-December 20) is filled with some of George Gershwin's most beloved music. See the iconic American opera in this sumptuous production that brings the colorful characters of Catfish Row to life. Eric Owens stars as Porgy, the good man with a heart of gold who would do anything for the troubled Bess (Adina Aaron). But, when tempted by a former love and her drug addiction, can she remain true to him?

Porgy and Bess also stars Jermaine Smith (Sportin' Life), Eric Greene (Crown), and Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi (Clara). The production is directed by Francesca Zambello and conducted by Ward Stare

Video previews featuring Porgy and Bess star Eric Owens

 

Get to know Eric Owens in this "Patter Up!"

 

Owens talks about his role as a Lyric Unlimited Community Ambassador.

 

Articles with insights from the cast and creative team

 The Incomparable Eric Owens: Lyric's future Porgy and Wotan is a king onstage and off
Porgy and Bess star Eric Owens was the cover story of the Fall 2014 issue of Lyric Opera News. In this profile, he talks about preparing for Porgy and his role as a Lyric Unlimited Community Ambassador. READ MORE

 



Joy in Singing: Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi debuts at Lyric in Porgy and Bess
First-year Ryan Opera Center member Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi makes her Lyric debut as Clara in Porgy and Bess. The character sings what is arguably the opera's most famous aria, "Summertime."  
READ MORE

Chorister Profile: Kenneth Nichols
Bass-baritone Kenneth Nichols has been a member of the Lyric Opera Chorus for 13 years. We caught up with Nichols this summer in between performances in the chorus of San Francisco Opera's Show Boat,  (a co-production with Lyric Opera, Houston Grand Opera and Washington National Opera), to talk about his experiences as a singer and his thoughts on Lyric's upcoming production of Porgy and Bess. READ MORE

You can never get enough “Summertime”
 "Summertime" has moved beyond the world of opera to become one of the most beloved songs in American music. It's been covered more than 25,000 times...and still counting! This post on our blog Lyric Lately gathered some of the most beautiful and unexpected covers of the song from artists like Miles Davis, The Doors, and Sting.  
READ MORE

Porgy and Bess: The hits just keep on coming
Whether your first love is opera, jazz, American folk songs, or musical theater, you'll find that melodies abound this November and December when Lyric Opera produces The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess. READ MORE

On the Couch: Porgy and Bess
The complicated love story of Porgy and Bess resonates down through the generations. Here’s a fictional peek inside the marriage counseling sessions of one of their great-granddaughters. READ MORE 

Opera 101: One-hit wonders
Porgy and Bess was Gershwin's only opera, which puts him in the small but distinguished category of composers that only wrote one opera that became a major hit. Also on the list? Beethoven and Dvořák, among others. READ MORE

 

Porgy and Bess Audio Preview

Music director Sir Andrew Davis shares the synopsis and excerpts from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Recordings used by permission of EMI Classics.

Ryan Opera Center’s Busy Summer

The members of Lyric's Ryan Opera Center are keeping busy this summer. Read more about what they've been up to, plus two opportunities to see these talented young musicians in performance. 

Though the stage at Lyric might be dark until September, The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center 2014-15 ensemble has already been hard at work. Summer activities have included voice lessons and coachings, as well as instruction and classes in languages, movement, and acting--including improv with The Second City. Ensemble members have also performed a concert with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and a workshop production of Don Giovanni. They most recently participated in a weeklong working session for Bel Canto, the new Lyric commission that has its world premiere in December 2015. Read more about the Bel Canto creative process

Want to see the fruits of their labors? Here are two opportunities to watch the ensemble members perform live this summer:

Lyric Shorts - Rush Hour Concerts Summer Music Series
Tuesday, July 29 at 5:45pm
St. James Cathedral (65 E. Huron St., Chicago)

The popular ongoing Lyric Shorts program, a staple of Rush Hour's summer series, returns with excerpts from Mozart's Don Giovanni, which opens Lyric's 2014-15 season on Saturday, September 27. Ensemble members Anthony Clark Evans, John Irvin, Will Liverman, Julie Anne Miller, Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi, Richard Ollarsaba, Laura Wilde, and Maureen Zoltek (piano) perform selections with narration by Roger Pines, Lyric's dramaturg. This presentation is free and open to the public, and will also be broadcast live on 98.7WFMT and streamed online at wfmt.com

Bolcom and Mozart - Grant Park Music Festival
Wednesday, August 13 at 6:30pm
Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park

J'nai Bridges, Julie Anne Miller, Anthony Clark Evans and Will Liverman will join the Grant Park Orchestra in a performance of a collection of William Bolcom's Cabaret Songs, conducted by Carlos Kalmar. Mozart's Symphony No. 25 and Piston's Suite from The Incredible Flutist are also on the program. Bolcom is a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer; Lyric commissioned and premiered three of his operas: A Wedding (2004-05), A View from the Bridge (1999-2000), and  McTeague (1992-93).

To reserve a seat in the Pritzker Pavilion for $25, call 312-742-7638 or visit gpmf.org. Seating on the lawn is free and open to the public. This concert will also be broadcast live on 98.7WFMT and streamed online at wfmt.com.

Photo credit: 

  • The 2014-15 Ryan Opera Center Ensemble. Bottom row: J'nai Bridges, Maureen Zoltek, Will Liverman; Middle row: Laura Wilde, Tracy Cantin, Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi, Julie Anne Miller; Top row: Richard Ollarsaba, Bradley Smoak, Jesse Donner, Anthony Clark Evans, John Irvin, Jonathan Johnson (credit Dan Rest / Lyric Opera of Chicago)

 

 

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