Lyric Opera of Chicago

Eric Owens's Open-Door Policy

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Eric Owens shows off his webbed feet in his dressing room before a performance of Rusalka.

Eric Owens as the water goblin, Vodník in Lyric's recent production of Rusalka.

Eric Owens stars as Porgy in next year’s production of Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess at Lyric.  

Most dressing-room doors are closed backstage as singers prepare for a performance. Not Eric Owens’s.

“My door is pretty much always open, so if somebody’s coming by they don’t have to wonder,” says the affable bass-baritone with the melted-chocolate speaking voice and wonderful booming laugh. “I don’t need to go into some sort of zone. I love it when people walk by, stop in, say hey – people coming to talk is cool.”

Owens recently portrayed the water goblin Vodník in Lyric’s Rusalka and typically was in his dressing room by 5pm, well before his makeup call, just hanging out, maybe reading or checking Facebook on his iPad mini and listening to music on portable speakers. One evening Mozart piano concertos poured forth from the room. Other favorite music includes, “Sarah Vaughan of course, Buddy Guy, Freddy and BB King, the Indigo Girls – whatever I’m feeling. It runs the gamut from blues to classical, but never really opera.” A current favorite is the young British singer-songwriter Corrine Bailey Rae: “Her music speaks to me like an old friend – it’s wonderful. Her second album, written after she lost her husband to a drug overdose, was amazing – celebratory with just a shade of mourning.”

That last phrase coincidentally describes Owens’s starring role in next season’s Porgy and Bess, a revival of the Francesca Zambello production last seen at Lyric in 2008-09. “I’ve done this production in D.C. and San Francisco – it’s great to be able to explore the piece with some of the same people and some new people, and find our own ingredients to explore the dynamics,” he says. “I did Aida with Adina [Aaron/Bess] at Glimmerglass. Eric Greene [Crown] was Jake in San Francisco when I was Porgy there. I’ve worked with Angel [Blue] as Clara in San Francisco, Karen [Slack/Serena]’s great, always fun, Norman Garrett [Jake] I know from Glimmerglass – I don’t think we’ve performed roles together, but he covered me in Aida – incredibly talented singer, I’m looking forward to singing with him. Gwendolyn [Brown/Maria] I know from Doctor Atomic [his Lyric debut, as Gen. Groves], also from Porgy and Bess in D.C.”

It’ll be a happy reunion of opera gypsies when Porgy and Bess rehearsals start in October. And speaking of reunions, Owens went directly to Toronto after Rusalka for a revival of Lyric’s 2010-11 Hercules – with the entire original cast reassembled for the Canadian Opera Company coproduction. That doesn’t happen very often in the peripatetic world that Owens and his opera colleagues inhabit.


Read more about Eric Owens’s role as Wotan, King of the Gods, in Lyric’s new production of Wagner’s Ring.


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Photos by Dario Acosta, Magda Krance, Terrence McCarthy, and Todd Rosenberg Photography.