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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 special invitation from THE MAGIC VICTROLA cast

The Magic Victrola is on stage at Lyric this Saturday, January 17 at 3pm for one performance only! Check out this special invitation to attend from its three stars: Caroline Heffernan, Logan Neuschaefer, and veteran Chicago actor Richard Henzel.

The cast of The Magic VictrolaCaroline Heffernan, Logan Neuschaefer, and Richard Henzel—invites you to attend this family-friendly performance on Saturday, January 17 at 3pm. Opera comes alive for one performance only! 

Why should you see this great production? Here's a few reasons why from Grandfather himself:

Hi, I'm Richard Henzel and I'm excited to be playing the role of the grandfather in a spectacular new production from Lyric Unlimited that has been created just for your kids—The Magic Victrola!

Like you, I love opera—the beautiful scenery and costumes, the passionate stories and exciting characters, and of course the magnificent singing. There's no greater thrill than being able to share my passion for this wonderful art form with the ones I love. That's why I'm so excited to be part of The Magic Victrola and the opportunity to experience it with you and your family.

This special new production brings together scenes from beloved operas in a way that will fill the children in your life with wonder and delight. It stars children who, perhaps like our young audience, don't know what to expect from opera - and just wait until the surprises start to unfold!

You'll hear favorite music from operas like The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro, Carmen, and more—melodies we have all heard in cartoons and on television commercials—come to vivid life as performed by real-life opera stars and a live orchestra. The 60-minute show features sets, costumes, and fun pop-culture twists that will keep everyone engaged!

Plus, you'll be able to see every exciting detail up close through the help of six jumbo video screens throughout the opera house.

Spend a warm afternoon with us at the glorious Civic Opera House, and experience the magical thrill of opera classics this Saturday, January 17 at 3pm.

We look forward to seeing you there!

 

Photo credits:

  • Richard Henznel portrait credit Suzanne Plunkett
  • Caroline Heffernan portrait credit Brian McConkey
  • Logan Neuschaefer portrait credit Carin Silkaitis
  • The Magic Victrola set picture credit Andrew Cioffi / Lyric Opera of Chicago

 

An Insider's Guide to TANNHÄUSER

Wagner's magnificent Tannhäuser is an epic tale of sin and redemption that is truly a monumental experience. Learn more about this new-to-Chicago production conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, directed by Tim Albery, and starring Johan Botha with interviews, audio previews, and more.

 

Wagner's magnificent Tannhäuser is on stage at Lyric February 9 through March 6. In this tale of sin and redemption, a wandering musician (Johan Botha) is lured into the erotic realm of the goddess Venus (Michaela Schuster). When he grows tired of her sensual delights, he returns home to his saintly beloved Elisabeth (Amber Wagner). However, he soon learns that true forgiveness is not so easily won. 

Sir Andrew Davis conducts this monumental vocal, choral, and orchestral feast that also stars Gerald Finley as Wolfram and John Relyea as the Landgrave in a new-to-Chicago production from director Tim Albery, who makes his Lyric debut. 

Click here to read the full plot synopsis, director's note, and more
in the complete Tannhäuser program book
.

Articles with insights from the cast and creative team

Closing the Circle: Sir Andrew Davis conducts Tannhäuser
Musically, stylistically, dramatically, and intellectually, there's no greater challenge for an opera conductor than the works of Richard Wagner. Sir Andrew Davis knows this very well—he waited to take them on until he became Lyric's music director in 2000. "The prospect of doing the Wagner operas was one of the most exciting things about coming to Lyric," he recalls. Fourteen years into his tenure—after The Flying Dutchman, Parsifal, the Ring, Tristan und Isolde, Lohengrin, and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg—only one of Wagner's mature operas was left to tackle: Tannhäuser, which returns to Lyric's stage this season for the first time since 1988-89, from February 9 through March 6. READ MORE

The reviews are in: Tannhäuser is “sexy and striking” with “powerhouse voices”
Wagner's Tannhäuser is a bucket-list opera, full of some of the composer's most dramatic and moving music, from the opening overture to the Pilgrim's Chorus. This opera has not been seen at Lyric since the 1988-89 season, and critics are calling this epic production (on stage through March 6) a must-see event. Chicago on the Aisle   gave it four (out of five stars), calling it "potent, sensual and yet strikingly unromanticized production." READ MORE

Opera 101: Behind the scenes of Tannhäuser with August Tye
Wagner's Tannhäuser, which runs through March 6 at Lyric, has been earning rave reviews, especially for its epic opening dance sequence. August Tye, Lyric's ballet mistress for more than 10 years, takes us through the process of creating this sensuous depiction of Venusburg from auditions to rehearsals to opening night. READ MORE 

Tannhäuser Tweets: Why fans love this opera
Lyric's new-to-Chicago production of Wagner's Tannhäuser is the talk of Chicago. Read these tweets and posts from attendees to see why this is a can't-miss event. Our fan Miriam Scott says it best: it's a "veritable Wagner music hit parade and it's not even that long. Don't miss it." READ MORE 

Chorus member Jeffrey Taylor on Tannhäuser
As a bass with the Lyric Opera Chorus since 1981, Jeffrey Taylor has experienced countless thrilling performances firsthand. He's enthusiastic about this season's biggest choral challenge, Wagner's Tannhäuser, and why Lyric audiences should be excited to experience this massive masterpiece, unheard here since 1988. READ MORE 

Who is your Tannhäuser Valentine?
Wagner's Tannhäuser runs February 9 through March 6 at Lyric, including a performance on February 14! The hero of the opera must choose between the sensual goddess Venus and his saintly beloved Elisabeth. Who is your Tannhäuser Valentine? Take this quiz and find out! READ MORE 


Lyric U: Sopranos—how high can you go?
Get to know the soprano voice type with Renée Fleming, Anthony Freud, and Sir Andrew Davis in this Lyric U voice series installment. Plus hear examples of great soprano arias from some of the operas still on deck for this season, including "Dich, teure Halle" from Tannhäuser. READ MORE

 

Lyric U: Baritones in opera
Have you tuned into Lyric U? Check out our new video library, which starts with an in-depth exploration of the baritone in opera with Sir Andrew Davis, Anthony Freud, and Renée Fleming. Plus, check out some video highlights of the greatest baritone arias on stage this season, including Wolfram's beautiful aria "O du mein holder Abendstern" (Song of the Evening Star) from Tannhäuser. READ MORE

 "Patter Up!" with Amber Wagner

Get to know the lighter side of Tannhäuser star and Ryan Opera Center alumna Amber Wagner, who also triumphed earlier this season in Verdi's Il Trovatore

 

Tannhäuser Audio Preview

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

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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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