March 06, 2019

The Ryan Opera Center: Young Singers in High Gear

The 2015/16 Lyric season may have ended, but members of the Ryan Opera Center are hard at work!  You can hear them in Chicago, and also all over America and abroad. 

As a group, current members will be showcased in Chicago on three different occasions. 

  • June 6, Symphony Center, Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Sir Andrew Davis conducting — works inspired by Shakespeare 

  • July 10, Harris Theater — performance with Renée Fleming for the National Association of Teachers of Singing National Conference 

  • July 27,  Grant Park Music Festival — works by Nico Muhly and Carlisle Floyd (Of Mice and Men, Act 1)

Among the artists’ individual appearances is bass-baritone Bradley Smoak’s portrayal of Colline/La bohème at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Tenor Jonathan Johnson will perform at Portland Opera, Ravinia, and — in the title role/Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust — at the Grant Park Music Festival. The GPMF will also welcome soprano Hlengiwe Mkwhanazi for Mozart’s Mass in C Minor. Bass Patrick Guetti is spending the summer in England, performing in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Glyndebourne.

The 2016-17 Ryan Opera Center Ensemble also includes three artists who joined the program in May. When two of them, soprano Ann Toomey and contralto Lauren Decker, auditioned at the Finals in September, they were performing in the theater where they each heard their first opera! Ann, a Michigan native, has had important performing experiences at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, and the 2016 semifinals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions: “So much has happened to me, mostly in the past year. I sang on the two most amazing stages in the U.S. — Lyric and the Met.  Most people climb a ladder — I skipped floors!” While at Lyric, “I want to become more well-versed in the repertoire while continuing my studies with language, with music.” Ann's tenure here ultimately is about “becoming me, putting together a package and becoming an artist.” 

Lauren, who hails from Wisconsin and graduated from UW/Milwaukee,  comes to Lyric after eight years as a preschool teacher.  Her vocal potential has already been recognized by the American Wagner Project and Dolora Zajick’s Institute for Young Dramatic Voices. Lauren, who sings because “I feel like I can reveal something of myself that I’m not brave enough to do otherwise,” has at Lyric her first opportunity to pursue opera full-time. It’s an environment where “I can fully commit myself to finding how to sing something, but also why I sing something and what it means to me.”

Born and raised in New York, first-year baritone Emmett O’Hanlon attended UCC-CM and Juilliard before becoming a principal vocalist with Celtic Thunder, the celebrated Irish singing group (“My whole family is Irish, and I’m very in tune with my heritage”).  Emmett treasures his performances with the group and the three solo tours he’s done as a result of his association with them: “I’m now experiencing the odd position of having this fan base and pulling them into the opera world!” Thanks to his work with Celtic Thunder, “I just feel at home now onstage. There’s no part of me that’s nervous — it’s all excitement.” He’s gratified by his audiences’ response: “You do this for the moments where you feel how you’ve affected people and how that changes you.”