May 02, 2023

Ryan Opera Center's bittersweet send-off

At its annual showcase, Rising Stars in Concert, the Ryan Opera Center bids a fond farewell to five of its talented artists. In this blog, they share their reflections on their growth as artists. Despite the challenges of a pandemic year, the departing Ensemble members expressed their gratitude for the guidance, support, and opportunities provided by the program.

Martin Luther Clark as CJ in Lyric's 2022/23 production of The Factotum

Martin Luther Clark 

The Ryan Opera Center has been a dream since I was an undergraduate. When I was offered a contract after my audition, it was the most incredible moment. Throughout my three-year tenure, my mentors presented many high-standard challenges, but the most important one was to become my most authentic self in my artistic expression. With growth from trial and error, self-discovery, and overcoming the fear of being vulnerable, I can confidently say I know who I am as an artist and as a human being. In a world where there is still work to be done and awareness to be known, and as a proud African-American and member of the LGBTQ+ community, I feel seen, heard, and valued by the warm love and acceptance I've experienced at the Ryan Opera Center, and I am deeply grateful.

Katherine DeYoung in Lyric's 2022/23 production of Ernani

Katherine DeYoung

My three years as an Ensemble member in the Ryan Opera Center have been some of the most rewarding times in my life. The support, coaching, and teaching I have received have exponentially increased my abilities and my artistry. The experience of performing on the Lyric Opera of Chicago stage and recording for the WFMT series and digital performance projects has inspired me and allowed me to grow. I am deeply grateful to everyone with whom I have had the opportunity to work — collectively, they have lifted me up and given me the tools to succeed. I am also extremely thankful to all the donors and sponsors who welcomed and supported me throughout my time here. My heart is full of gratitude!

Lunga Eric Hallam performing in Lyric's concert in the park, Sunday in The Park with Lyric. 

Lunga Eric Hallam

Coming from a humble background in Cape Town, South Africa, I am very honored to have been a part of the Ryan Opera Center. Moving to a different country was exciting and scary — but I knew that I had to do it, to be a successful international opera singer. My time here has been a dream come true: I’ve worked with world-renowned artists, and I’ve shared the stage with some of my role models. Throughout the process, the Ryan Opera Center has guided and nurtured me, and I will be forever grateful. A huge thank you also to all the supporters who make these dreams come to reality. So many doors have opened for me, and I am very excited to take the skills and knowledge I have gained into the next chapter of my career.

Chris Reynolds working through The Marriage of Figaro score with Sir Andrew Davis.

Chris Reynolds

I arrived at the Ryan Opera Center during a difficult time: a new city, a pandemic, and trying to finish my doctorate, all while navigating the new challenges of working in a major opera house and learning new skills left and right. My time here has been a whirlwind, and one that seems to have gone by in a flash, all the while in the familiar setting of backstage at an opera house, where I’ve spent so much time in my life. I have felt endlessly supported by my colleagues and mentors to try things out, make mistakes, and learn every step of the way. I leave a better pianist, a better musician, and certainly a better person, having been emboldened by the humanity of those around me during this crazy time in my life.

Denis Vélez in Lyric's 2020/21 digital presentation, Pasión Latina

Denis Vélez

Being a member of the Ryan Opera Center has been the best thing that could have happened to me as an emerging artist. In the midst of a year as difficult as 2020, the program made it possible for me to come to Chicago and work in the midst of the pandemic, learning from great mentors as well as recording concerts and recitals. I have since participated in eight Lyric mainstage productions, performing and understudying alongside the best operatic artists in the world. All of these experiences have provided me with many tools that are essential to forge a path as an opera singer. If I could summarize everything in just one sentence, I would say: Being a member of the Ryan Opera Center has changed my life forever

Please join us in wishing all of our departing Ensemble members a big "toi toi toi" as they go out into the world. From the major stages of Europe, to concert halls across the United States, we can't wait to see where their careers take them next!

If you'd like to help support the next generation of operatic talent, consider making a tax-deductible donation to The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center. Your dedicated support gives artists the freedom to grow in their craft, like these talented members of the 2022/23 Ensemble.

Header: The 2022/23 Ryan Opera Center Ensemble performs at Sunday in the Park with Lyric. Credit: Kyle Flubacker

Photos: Todd Rosenberg, Cory Weaver,  Kyle Flubacker