August 20, 2019

Madeline on the Move

Pianist Madeline Slettedahl has been part of the Ryan Opera Center Ensemble since 2017. Now in her third year, Madeline has been heard in numerous recitals, both solo and as an accompanist; in the annual Ryan Opera Center showcase Rising Stars in Concert; and WFMT’s Ryan Opera Center Broadcast Recital Series and the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert Series. She has worked as an assistant conductor on the music staff for two of Lyric’s mainstage operasSiegfried (Wagner) and The Pearl Fishers (Bizet)and in 2019/20, will be part of the music staff for The Barber of Seville (Rossini) and Siegfried (Wagner; Ring cycle). 

As the only pianist in the Ryan Opera Center, Madeline's role is a unique one. Throughout the course of the year, the Ensemble pianist is responsible for helping to prepare his or her colleagues for Lyric season roles and other assignments. Not only is the pianist required to learn multiple operas each season, she or he also advises the Ensemble on art song and non-traditional repertoire. On a day-to-day basis, Madeline spends her time coaching the Ensemble individually and learning from the program’s music director Craig Terry and fellow assistant conductors. By adding the pianist position in the past decade, Lyric is not only investing in the next generation of singers but in the next generation of collaborative pianists as well. Read on to learn about Madeline’s exciting summer and her time at Lyric.

Madeline Slettedahl, photo by Simon Pauly

You've had quite the busy summer—what have you been up to?

This summer I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Europe for 6 weeks. I spent the first three in the UK, where I studied in two different programs at the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme, one focusing on Opera and the other on Britten Art Song. The following three weeks I spent in Castiglione Della Pescaia, a Tuscan town on the coast of Italy, where I was a repetiteur and music staff member at the Georg Solti Accademia di Bel Canto course. I’ve also been traveling around the US, performing with Ryan Opera Center colleagues in different states, while also being based in Chicago and working full time in the Ryan Opera Center. 

Coaching with Maestro Anthony Pappano and baritone, Felix Kemp, at the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme

In your own words, what is a repetiteur and how does it relate to your position in the Ryan Opera Center?

A repetiteur is a very broad term for a pianist who encapsulates a wide range of responsibilities and capabilities needed to work in an opera house or with opera singers. This includes, but is not limited to, musical knowledge of repertoire, style, history, vocal technique, orchestral arrangement and reduction, conducting, continuo playing, language, and performance practice. Although some of this work and education is developed from a young age, many of these skills are gained through experience in a professional opera house. Here at the Ryan Opera Center and Lyric Opera of Chicago, I have been lucky enough to continue to study and perfect these skills in the most ideal environment possible! 

What has been your biggest lesson or take away from these summer programs?

My biggest lesson and take away from the summer is the constant reminder that all art serves the purpose of telling a story. This art we have the privilege of studyingespecially that which includes live performanceis a medium that brings people together and is a lucky opportunity to share in creative experiences of humanity and help influence a wider audience of the common artistic bond that connects people around the world and throughout history. 

View of the grounds of L’Andana, a beautiful Tuscan hotel where Madeline performed as part of the Solti Accademia di Bel Canto 

What are you looking forward to most this season at Lyric?

This season, I’m most looking forward to being a member of the music staff for Siegfried in Lyric’s new Ring cycle. It will be my first time seeing Wagner’s entire Ring cycle live in one place, and to be a part of the music team that puts together this epic opera is a true honor!


What do you love most about being in the Ryan Opera Center?

Being in the Ryan Opera Center has given me the opportunity to both meet many different people from all across the globe, and to do some traveling myself as well. My favorite part about music making is coming together to make something bigger that you couldn’t make by yourself. The Ryan Opera Center gives me the opportunity to take these two interests in my life (learning new things and working with others) and infuse them in a setting that encourages creativity, knowledge, and new experiences.

Madeline with some of her colleagues at the Solti Accademia di Bel Canto

Do you have any other programs or performances coming up that you're excited about?

I am currently in Huntsville, Alabama for the Twickenham Festival, started by Susanna Phillips (a Ryan Opera Opera Center alumna!) and Matt McDonald. I will be performing Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Two Percussion with pianist Myra Huang and percussionists Jason Haaheim and Steven White. This will be my second time performing this epic and exciting masterwork and I am so thrilled to get to perform it with these incredible musicians! 

For more information on the 2019/20 Ensemble and notable alumni, visit and follow The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center on Facebook for updates on where to see and hear Madeline in the upcoming season.