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Ryan Opera Center Spotlight: J’nai Bridges

Learn all about third-year Ryan Opera Center member J'nai Bridges in this artist spotlight. This talented young mezzo-soprano speaks Japanese and will be representing the United States in the upcoming BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition. She is currently on stage in The Passenger through March 15.

Ryan Opera Center member J'nai Bridges is an exciting young singer who can currently be seen on stage in Weinberg's The Passenger  as Vlasta. You might also recognize her from previous appearances at Lyric in productions ranging from Il Trovatore, The Magic Victrola, The Family Barber, La Traviata, Parsifal, The Second City Guide to the Opera, and more!


J'nai Bridges in The Family Barber and The Second City Guide to the Opera
(top L-R); La Traviata and The Magic Victrola (bottom L-R)

In addition to her hard work on stage at Lyric, she was just named as one of 20 international finalists for the prestigious BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in June.

Catch J'nai in The Passenger  through March 15 and at Rising Stars in Concert on March 21, which marks her official "graduation" from the Ryan Opera Center. (Donate $75 or more today to secure your place at this exciting performance.) She'll also make a welcome return to Chicago in the 2015-16 season when she portrays Carmen in the world-premiere performances of Jimmy López's Bel Canto, which opens on December 7. 

Name J'nai Bridges
Age  28
Voice Mezzo-soprano
Year in ROC 3rd Year
Hometown Lakewood, Washington
Dream Role Charlotte in Werther

When did you start singing? When did you know you wanted to be a singer?

I started singing classically when I was 17, my senior year in high school. I knew I wanted to be an opera singer after my freshman year at Manhattan School of Music. 

Did you ever consider a career other than singing? And if you had to imagine an alternative career now, what would it be?

Yes, I considered studying psychology. I find the mind really fascinating. 

What was the most memorable performance you've been in at this point in your career?

I have a couple of most memorable moments. The first is performing Act IV from Carmen at Stars of Lyric Opera in Millennium Park in 2012 and the second is making my Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut under the baton of Matthew Aucoin.

 
J'nai Bridges and Brandon Jovanovich perform in Carmen at Stars of Lyric Opera in Millennium Park

What is something most people don't know about you?

I speak Japanese.

When you're not performing or rehearsing, where are we likely to find you?

At home or in some sort of spa relaxing

Learn more about J'nai and Cardiff Singer of the World in this Lyric Spotlight video:

J'nai Bridges interviewed by WFMT before a performance of The Passenger:

 

Photo credits:

  • J'nai Bridges portrait credit Devon Cass
  • Lyric Opera of Chicago production photos credit Todd Rosenberg (Family Barber, La Traviata, and The Magic Victrola); Dan Rest (The Second City Guide to the Opera); and Robert Kusel (Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2012)

 

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“A game-changer for opera” – Audiences react to THE PASSENGER

See what audiences are saying about Weinberg's gripping opera, The Passenger. Suppressed for over 40 years, this opera is only now receiving the recognition it deserves through this magnificent and moving production on stage at Lyric through March 15. 

See what audiences are saying about Weinberg's gripping opera, The Passenger. Suppressed for over 40 years, this opera is only now receiving the recognition it deserves through this magnificent and moving production from director David Pountney with incredible set designs from the late Johan Engels. It is on stage only through March 15, so do not miss this opportunity to see this rarely performed modern masterpiece. 

Photo credits:

 

  • The Passenger at Lyric Opera of Chicago production photos credit Michael Brosilow and Robert Kusel

 

THE PASSENGER is “virtually flawless” and “profoundly moving”

The Midwest premiere of Weinberg's The Passenger is onstage at Lyric through March 15. The Chicago Tribune gives this production a perfect four stars and deems it "an experience in the theater that is not to be missed." Read more critical praise for this haunting and powerful opera.

 

The Midwest premiere of Weinberg's The Passenger  is onstage at Lyric through March 15. The Chicago Tribune  gives this production a perfect four stars and deems it "an experience in the theater that is not to be missed." Here is more critical praise for this haunting and powerful opera.

"A virtually flawless performance and [David] Pountney's definitive production justify the decision of Lyric general director Anthony Freud to bring 'The Passenger' to Chicago….If this is a harbinger of fresh directions at Freud's Lyric Opera, then bring them on, I say." - Chicago Tribune

"With a faultless large cast and striking and imaginative production, one can't imagine Weinberg's dark yet hopeful opera receiving stronger advocacy." - Chicago Classical Review

The Passenger is "a compelling opera that manages the nearly impossible task of shedding meaningful light on the horror of Auschwitz." - Chicago Sun-Times

"Pountney's staging sweeps us from present to past with the fluidity of film, using an ingenious unit set the late designer Johan Engels based on Medvedev's original concept." - Chicago Tribune

The Passenger "stunningly powerful" and a "tasteful testimony to the courage and heroism of the human spirit." - Chicago Critic

"stunning" -  Chicago on the Aisle

Sir Andrew Davis and the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus 

Sir Andrew Davis "conducted with searing authority" - Chicago on the Aisle

"Davis harnesses the power and sensitivity of his instrumental forces to undergird the emotional trajectory of the work." - Chicago Tribune

"The crisp rhythmic definition and propulsive energy Davis brings to Weinberg's sometimes spiky, sometimes nostalgically jazzy orchestra reminds us he is as much a master of 20th century music as he is of Mozart and Strauss. He secures admirable work from the orchestra and the Michael Black-trained chorus, at the top of their game at the end of a demanding 60th anniversary season." - Chicago Tribune

"The level of scrupulous preparation was manifest in every bar, with Davis's acute balancing bringing out every quirky detail of the score from the haunting celesta tones to the sardonic xylophone writing." - Chicago Classical Review

The impressive cast 

"Lyric has assembled an impressive array of singers who managed to make every Auschwitz inmate and prison guard a vivid, individual character."  - Chicago Sun-Times

 "Amanda Majeski is already on a fast track to a major career, but as Marta, the former Ryan Opera Center member delivered a shattering, star-making performance. " - Chicago Classical Review

 "Her ringing soprano glistened like Waterford crystal, combining transparent fragility with soulful strength." - Chicago Sun-Times

Amanda Majeski's "singing is pure, shining and true.  She has done nothing finer at the company that launched her international career." - Chicago Tribune

"Mezzo-soprano Daveda Karanas, who last season sang Kundry in Wagner's Parsifal, is riveting as the panicked woman Liese" - Chicago on the Aisle

Karanas  "delivered a superbly rounded performance, singing with a big tone and proved credible as both the frightened wife and scarily sadistic Auschwitz guard." - Chicago Classical Review

"The soft edges of Karanas's rich mezzo-soprano conveyed Liese's terror, but her tone became appropriately commanding in her scenes as a manipulative SS guard. " - Chicago Sun-Times

"With his powerful heldentenor Brandon Jovanovich brought daunting vocal strength to the somewhat thankless role of Walter, Liese's diplomat husband." - Chicago Classical Review

"A fine singer with real acting chops, Jovanovich is convincing as a mostly good guy, with a propped-up image of himself that he is keen to defend." - Chicago on the Aisle

 "As Tadeusz, Marta's fiancé, Joshua Hopkins used his rich baritone to create a calm, moral center amid the madness of Auschwitz." -Chicago Sun-Times

"Notable among Marta's richly individualized community of barrack companions are soprano Kelly Kaduce as the tough-minded Russian freedom fighter Katya, who can't quite remember all the words to the old folk song her grandmother used to sing; dramatic soprano Nina Warren as a crazed older woman who's the only survivor from her group of arrivals, and mezzo-soprano Liuba Sokolova as determinedly faithful Bronka, who lights candles to God and insists He will not forget even the ones who have given themselves up utterly to the idea that they are forsaken." - Chicago on the Aisle

Photo credits:

  • The Passenger at Lyric Opera of Chicago production photos credit Michael Brosilow and Robert Kusel

An Insider's Guide to THE PASSENGER

The Chicago premiere of Weinberg's The Passenger is on stage at Lyric from February 24 through March 15. Discover this poignant, gripping, and intimate 20th-century masterpiece, which portrays the story of the Holocaust from the perspectives of both victim and perpetrator, through interviews with the cast and creative team, audio previews, and more. 

 

The final opera of Lyric's 60th Anniversary season is the Chicago premiere of Mieczysław Weinberg's The Passenger, on stage from February 24 through March 15. This poignant and gripping 20th-century masterpiece portrays the story of the Holocaust from the perspectives of both victim and perpetrator, and was only recently rediscovered after more than 40 years of suppression.

In the early 1960s, Liese (Daveda Karanas) travels aboard an ocean liner bound for Brazil with her diplomat husband Walter (Brandon Jovanovich) while hiding a terrible secret: she was once an SS officer at Auschwitz. When she thinks she recognizes a fellow passenger as Marta (Amanda Majeski), one of her former inmates, she is forced to confront the truth about her past. The story moves back and forth from the ship to the camp, focusing on key events including Marta's reunion with her lover, Tadeusz (Joshua Hopkins), and Marta's friendships with Katya (Kelly Kaduce) and Bronka (Liuba Sokolova).

The Passenger is conducted by Sir Andrew Davis and directed by David Pountney, with set designs by the late Johan Engels, costumes by Marie-Jeanne Lecca, and lighting by Fabrice Kebour.

To supplement the mainstage performances of The Passenger, Lyric also presents "Memory and Reckoning," a confluence of activities that will add resonance and perspective to the themes and messages in Weinberg's opera through musical performances, a film screening, exploratory discussions, and the world premiere of The Property, a newly commissioned klezmer opera. Click here to learn more about these supplemental events, which run January through March.

Click here to read the plot synopsis, director's note, and more
in the complete program book for The Passenger.
 

Learn more about the world of The Passenger with this opera companion
 

Click here to learn more about The Property in the complete program book. 

Director David Pountney invites you to The Passenger

 

Articles with insights from the cast and creative team:

Pathways to Discovery: Exploring The Passenger and The Property
Lyric's general director Anthony Freud discusses the importance of presenting The Passenger and "Memory and Reckoning" events in this article from Lyric Opera News: "As the son of a Holocaust survivor, Freud notes that he can 'be rather cynical about works of art that have been inspired by the Holocaust. However, The Passenger is different from most. It's not sentimental or simplistic or melodramatic. It's a complex, very moving, very human story.'" READ MORE  

Zofia Posmysz and The Passenger: A Survivor's Story
7566. If you listen to the roll call of prisoners in Act One of The Passenger, you'll hear a series of numbers called over a loudspeaker (in German) by the overseer. 7566 is the number Zofia Posmysz was assigned in Auschwitz. At age 91, she still bears the tattoo on her left arm. In 1942, Posymsz, an 18-year-old student in Krakow, was accused of distributing flyers for the Polish resistance and arrested. She would spend the next three years of her life in Nazi concentration camps, first Auschwitz and later Auschwitz-Birkenau (an extermination camp in the Auschwitz network), where she worked as a bookkeeper in the kitchen. READ MORE   


In the Footsteps of Evil: Daveda Karanas visits Auschwitz
When Daveda Karanas appears in the Lyric premiere of The Passenger, she'll perform with a special perspective on the opera. Her portrayal of Liese&mdsah;a former overseer of inmates at Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II—will be significantly influenced by the American mezzo-soprano's recent visit to Auschwitz itself. READ MORE

Lyric Opera Orchestra Members on Weinberg and The Passenger
This season, Lyric Unlimited has teamed up with a number of cultural institutions for an incredible series of discussions, a film screening, the world premiere of a new klezmer opera, The Property, and chamber music performances featuring members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra. The chamber music concerts feature more of Weinberg's compelling and emotional music. We reached out to the members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra who are participating in these "Memory and Reckoning" concerts to gain insight on their experience with this music. READ MORE

Backstage Look: Creating Hair and Makeup for The Passenger
Lyric's wigmaster Sarah Hatten, now entering her fourth season as the head of this crucial department, takes us inside the process for creating the hair and makeup for Weinberg’s The Passenger. With an opera based on historical events, the challenge is to make every aspect of the production look as realistic as possible. And as surprising as it might seem, recreating real life on stage is usually more difficult than creating whimsical or fantastic wigs and makeup. READ MORE

Behind the Scenes of The Property
Lyric Unlimited has commissioned a new opera, The Property, to be presented in tandem with the Chicago premiere of Mieczsław Weinberg's The Passenger on the Lyric mainstage. A true fusion of opera and klezmer music, The Property brings Israeli author Rutu Modan's graphic novel to life in a captivating story about reclaiming the past, and finding your future. READ MORE

The Passenger Audio Preview

Music director Sir Andrew Davis shares the synopsis and excerpts from Weinberg's The Passenger. Recordings used by permission of EMI Classics and Peermusic Classical.

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