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Ryan Opera Center Spotlight: Maureen Zoltek

Ryan Opera Center alumna Maureen Zoltek had the honor of being the Ryan Opera Center's new pianist for the past two seasons. Read on to learn more about Maureen's life as a pianist, what it's like to perform for Supreme Court Justices, and her adorable dog Henry! 

Pianist and recent Ryan Opera Center alumna Maureen Zoltek had the honor of being the Ryan Opera Center's new pianist for the past two years. In addition to receiving high-level instruction and experience in coaching singers—including study of repertoire and languages—she performed regularly with her Ensemble colleagues and served on the Lyric music staff for La Clemenza di Tito in the 2013/14 season and Tosca in the 2014/15 season. 

Some of her performance highlights included solo turns at the annual Rising Stars in Concert, several appearances as part of the WFMT Recital Broadcast Series, and accompanying Ryan Opera Center tenor Jonathan Johnson as part of Renée Fleming's conversation with Mark Strand at the Poetry Foundation.

Right now, you can find her in St. Louis for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis's spring/summer festival, and then she moves on to San Francisco Opera. Read on to learn more about Maureen's life as a pianist, what it's like to perform for Supreme Court Justices, and her adorable dog Henry! (To learn more about the role of a rehearsal pianist, read this interview with pianist Matthew Piatt.)

Name: Maureen Zoltek
Age: 32
Year in ROC: Alumna, graduated with the 2014-15 ensemble
Hometown: Bloomingdale, Illinois
Dream Job: Music staff for Lyric Opera of Chicago, of course!

When did you start playing piano, and when did you know you wanted to be a professional pianist?

 I started playing when I was 5. We had a lovely grand piano in our home, and I simply asked my parents if I could take lessons! I don't think there was any specific moment when I knew I wanted to be a pianist professionally. I had always loved performing, and I think it just seemed like the logical conclusion after years of study. After I successfully auditioned for DePaul to continue working with my teacher, Mary Sauer, it was just a transition from studying privately to studying for actual grades. 

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

I considered a number of different career options over the years, from marine biology and paleontology when I was a kid to a British literature or history professor when I was a teen. But at the end of the day, I knew that a life in music would keep me happy, intrigued, and challenged for the rest of my life. I think that became clearer the longer I studied at college, and the deeper I understood and explored music history, theory, and performance. Although my undergraduate and graduate degrees are in solo piano, I started listening to and loving opera from a fairly young age—which is perhaps a bit surprising, considering no one in my immediate family ever listened to it!—and I was always very actively involved as a collaborative pianist throughout the years (vocal, instrumental, and orchestral). I realized around my mid-twenties that this collaborative world was where I was most happy, and at this point I couldn't imagine an alternative career...concertizing with singers and being in the opera world are far too much fun! 

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

There have been many memorable performances for me over the years, but perhaps the most recent one would be performing for the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. this past November with Eric Owens and Alyson Cambridge. Not only was it a fantastic musical collaboration with two people I had not had the pleasure of working with before, but also a thrill to know who was in the audience! I was able meet with and speak to a number of the Justices afterwards, received a tour of the courthouse, and dined in the private dining room with Justice Ginsburg herself. It was truly a day to remember. 

After the Ryan Opera Center, how do you want to continue your career?

After the Ryan Center I'll have the pleasure of joining Opera Theatre of Saint Louis for their spring/summer music festival, and then will return to San Francisco Opera for their fall season. I also hope to continue working here at my hometown company, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and collaborating and concertizing with the fantastic singers I've met and worked with in the Ryan Opera Center.

Tell us about your dog Henry!

When I moved back to Chicago from NYC for the Ryan Opera Center job, I had been without a dog for about 3 years. I had been a proud standard poodle owner for 15 years prior to getting my doctorate, and had every intention of getting another one once things had settled down in Chicago...instead I ended up with Henry right away. Best "oops" ever. After contacting a breeder about a springtime 2014 litter, she mentioned that one of her breeder friends right then had a "canceled order" puppy still waiting for a home, the last of the litter. I wasn't really ready yet but thought I would at least go and see what this little guy was all about...and promptly came home with him. There was no resisting the red puff. Henry is the silliest, bounciest, cuddliest, most intelligent and incredible dog, and brings a smile to everyone's face (especially mine). Even non-dog people find they can't resist his permanently happy attitude, and I'm fairly certain that everyone in the West Loop neighborhood now recognizes him. People come up to me all the time asking what kind of a dog he is and complimenting him on his adorable looks; I am without a doubt the proudest dog “mom” and not ashamed to admit it!

Photo credits:

  • Maureen Zoltek portrait credit Devon Cass
  • Lyric Opera of Chicago event photos courtesy Robert Kusel, Todd Rosenberg, and Dan Rest
  • Photo of Maureen and Henry courtesy Maureen Zoltek

 

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Ryan Opera Center Spotlight: Will Liverman

Baritone and recent Ryan Opera Center alumnus Will Liverman is off to a stellar start in his career. This Juilliard grad just released his first album and he's currently in rehearsals at Opera Philadelphia to create the role of Dizzie Gillespie in the world premiere of Charlie Parker's Yardbird (June 5-14). Read on to hear more about his recording project and his funniest Lyric moment.

Baritone and recent Ryan Opera Center alumnus Will Liverman is off to a stellar start in his career. This Juilliard grad just released his first album and he's currently in rehearsals at Opera Philadelphia to create the role of Dizzie Gillespie in the world premiere of Charlie Parker's Yardbird (June 5-14).

He had a busy 2014-15 season at Lyric: he appeared in the mainstage productions of Capriccio and Porgy and Bess and starred as Papageno in the brand-new children's presentation The Magic Victrola. Liverman also was a featured performer in the Harris Theater for Music and Dance's new "Beyond the Aria" series last season, which was curated by Ryan Opera Center music director Craig Terry. In previous seasons, he appeared in The Barber of Seville, La traviata, and Werther, among others. Read on to hear more about his recording project and his funniest Lyric moment.

Name: Will Liverman
Age: 26
Voice: Baritone
Year in ROC: Alumnus, graduated with the 2014-15 season
Hometown: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Dream Role: Cavaradossi in Puccini's Tosca (yes, I know I'm not a tenor!)

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

I started singing in choir when I was really young around age 5 or 6. I didn't realize I wanted to really pursue singing until I sang in the supplementary chorus at Lyric Opera when I was in college. The whole experience of being surrounded by amazing talent and getting a chance to perform on a big stage was when I really knew that this was something I wanted.

Did you ever consider a career other than singing? 

If I wasn't singing I probably would've continued to pursue composition and a music education degree.   

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

Actually the most poignant memory I have was being a part of the chorus in Cavalleria Rusticana at Lyric Opera. We got to the big Easter hymn with Dolora Zajick singing Santuzza and never before had I been overwhelmed with such emotion from just the sheer grandeur of what opera can be.  Being surrounded by the glorious singing of the chorus, the orchestra, Dolora's glorious voice singing over us, the amazing set, looking out to the big hall, and just singing my little heart out was a special moment.  Going back to the previous question, that exact feeling and moment was one that inspired me to pursue this.

What is your most hilarious Ryan Opera Center moment?

There are too many hilarious moments! I guess the funniest would have to be my Ivan persona in Die Fledermaus. It was only a speaking role but it sure was a lot of fun. My character's speaking role is announcing the guests as they arrive to the party and one day just for fun I decided to announce the names as loudly as I possibly could and people thought it was hilarious. So every time after that my goal was to yell the names even louder than I did for the previous show. Sometimes I almost couldn't keep a straight face because of how ridiculous it got by the last performance.

 
Liverman (c) in Die Fledermaus with Emily Fons (l) and Adrian Eröd (r)

Can you tell us a bit about your recently released album?

I just released my very first album entitled Steal Away. It is a collection of spirituals arranged by the very talented composer Shawn Okpebholo. He is a composition professor at Wheaton College, and he heard me sing at an event there and asked if I would be the featured artist on this project. After listening to a few of the spirituals, I was sold. It was so much fun! It was also cool to sing again with fellow Ryan Opera Center alumna J'nai Bridges, who was a featured singer on a few of the spirituals on the album. Overall, it was a great experience and I hope to record something again one day!

Photo credits:

  • Will Liverman portrait credit Devon Cass
  • Lyric Opera of Chicago production photos credit Dan Rest and Todd Rosenberg

 

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Ryan Opera Center Spotlight: Tracy Cantin

Soprano Tracy Cantin just completed her third and final year in the Ryan Opera Center, wrapping up with a stellar 2014-15 season. Read on to hear about some of her most memorable Lyric moments and where this Canadian native finds a taste of home in Chicago.

Soprano Tracy Cantin just completed her third and final year in the Ryan Opera Center, wrapping up with a stellar 2014-15 season. Some of her mainstage appearances at Lyric have included roles in Elektra and Rigoletto in the 2012-13 season, Bertha in The Barber of Seville in 2013-14, and a spectacular mid-performance replacement as the title role in Anna Bolena in January 2015.

Read on to hear about some of her most memorable Lyric moments and where this Canadian native finds a taste of home in Chicago.

Name: Tracy Cantin
Age: 29
Voice: Soprano
Year in ROC: Alumna, graduated at end of 2014-15 season
Hometown: Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Dream Role: Lady Macbeth in Verdi's Macbeth

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

I started singing at a very early age, and began private voice studies at the age of 11. Music had always been a large part of my life, singing in my high school jazz bands, and various ensembles in my hometown, but it wasn't really until my senior year of high school that I realized I could actually study music in university and actively pursue it as a career. Initially I thought that perhaps I would like to be a music teacher, but I quickly realized that performing is where my heart and soul were drawn, and so I began my journey! 

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

My mom would tell you that I always wanted to be a singer, but to tell you the truth, I wanted to be a hair stylist! An alternate career at this point is almost unimaginable, but I could see myself being a music therapist, or perhaps a speech pathologist—somehow incorporating my love of music into helping others would certainly be a fulfilling alternate career!

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

Singing on the stage at Lyric is always such an enormous privilege, but I think to date my favorite production was my first: Elektra. What a thrilling experience from beginning to end, from the magnificent cast to the brilliant production and direction, I cannot imagine a better way to have made my professional debut! 

 
Cantin in Elektra (l) and relaxing backstage in costume (r)

What was your experience like stepping in for Sondra Radvanovsky for the last performance of Anna Bolena?

It's quite hard to describe in words to be honest…exhilarating certainly, and somewhat terrifying, but most of all it felt like I was exactly where I was meant to be! I have trained for so many years now, and have come to the end of my apprenticeship with the Ryan Opera Center, and I just felt like my whole life led up to that moment. A great moment! I could not have felt more supported by every single person in the theater that night, whether onstage with me, behind the scenes, or in the audience, and I am so grateful to have had that opportunity. It is a night that I will never forget! 

What are some of your favorite places in Chicago? 

Chicago is such a vibrant city, and I have had a GREAT time exploring it these past few years! I know that there are even more places for me to discover though, and I look forward to having the time this summer to really enjoy this great city. If I really had to choose, Hopleaf  in Andersonville is absolutely my favorite restaurant/bar in town, perhaps because it reminds me a bit of Montreal! Try the CB&J Sandwich. Yum!

Photo credits:

  • Tracy Cantin portrait credit Devon Cass
  • Lyric Opera of Chicago production photos credit Dan Rest and Robert Kusel
  • Elektra backstage photo courtesy Tracy Cantin
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Ryan Opera Center Spotlight: Julie Miller

Mezzo Julie Miller is in her second and final year as a Ryan Opera Center member. This talented singer does double duty as a working mom, but that hasn't stopped her from appearing at Lyric in The PassengerThe Magic VictrolaDie FledermausLa traviata, and Otello, among others. See her this Saturday in Rising Stars in Concert

Mezzo Julie Miller is in her second and final year as a Ryan Opera Center  member. This talented singer does double duty as a working mom, but that hasn't stopped her from appearing at Lyric in The Passenger, The Magic Victrola, Die Fledermaus, La traviata, and Otello, among others.

She was also just announced as the winner of the Jerome and Elaine Nerenberg Foundation Scholarship through the Musicians Club of Women.

Julie's final performance at Lyric is the upcoming Rising Stars in Concert on Saturday, March 21. (Donate $75 or more today to secure your place at that exciting concert. ) 

Name:  Julie Miller
Age: 30
Voice: mezzo-soprano
Year in ROC: 2nd
Hometown: Sacramento, California
Dream Role: Octavian in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier

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

I began singing in choirs when I was 7 years old and continued to do so until my senior year in college. I knew I wanted to be a singer after singing the role of Ottavia in L'incoronazione di Poppea.  This was my first role, and upon completing her first aria ("Disprezzata regina"), I was hooked. 

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

I began college planning to have a career as a violinist; I even completed a degree in Violin Performance. However, once I was introduced to the multi-faceted aspects of singing (i.e. language study, acting, dance), a career as an opera singer was a clear choice. If I were to imagine myself in another career, it would be zoology because I have always been fascinated by animals, especially large cats, and I think it would be fun to work with and train them.

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

My most memorable performance to date was singing Emilia in Otello  at Lyric last season. Not only was it my house debut, but I had the privilege and thrill of sharing the stage with famous/amazing singers that I admire, Ana María Martínez and Johan Botha.

 
Miller as Emilia with Falk Struckmann as Iago in Otello

How do you balance being a parent with your singing?

I love my daughter, and I am grateful for the perspective and balance she provides in my life. She's 2 1/2 years old, so  I always have a smile and hug to come home to despite what my day may have been like. It is, however, difficult at times to balance being a mom and an opera singer. I would not be able to do so without the support, sacrifice, and dedication of my husband. There have been numerous occasions where he has been both "mom" and "dad" so that I can travel for gigs and take extra time for score study and practice. 

Can you compare Chicago to your hometown of Sacramento?

It is difficult to compare the two cities as they are quite different in climate and size,  but Sacramento will always have a special place in my heart because it is home. That being said, I have grown to love Chicago for its wonderful support for the arts, great food, and beautiful architecture. 

Photo credits:

  • Julie Miller portrait credit Devon Cass
  • Lyric Opera of Chicago production photos credit Todd Rosenberg, Dan Rest, and Robert Kusel
  • Miller family photos courtesy Julie Miller 
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