Ryan Opera Center alumni

Alumni perform on our own stage and on stages across the globe

Nearly 300 artists have trained at The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center since its inception in 1974A testament to the program's caliber is the impressive roster of distinguished alumni who have concluded their tenure and now perform regularly at Lyric and on the stages of other leading opera houses around the globe.

Get to know some of our most acclaimed alumni who prove the value of this unique and intensive training program.

Notable Ryan Opera Center alumni

Alumni testimonials

Kayleigh Decker

Kayleigh Decker

My time as a member of the Ryan Opera Center has been one of the most demanding, yet rewarding, periods in my life. I have been challenged in ways I never expected, and grown into an artist I never imagined. Through many hours of observation and performance opportunities with the world’s greatest artists, I have garnered perspective on what it takes to be a singer of integrity in the 21st century. Throughout my time at Lyric, I have learned that there is neither a finished product nor is there an arrival point, and despite its elusiveness, this is what makes live performance so magical. I have learned to trust and embrace this process. While I am a bit anxious about leaving this nurturing environment, I am confident, with the tools I have acquired here, that I can keep my eye on the horizon and keep striving for truth. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Lauren Decker

Lauren Decker

I’ve traveled to places I never imagined I’d go, have worked with the most incredibly talented and thoughtful artists – the list could go on for pages. But the lessons that lie beneath that illustrious list of experiences are what I will hold closest to my heart. Lessons of vulnerability in front of 3,000+ people a night. Lessons of grace in busy rehearsal rooms. Lessons of teamwork with the countless people involved in any given rehearsal or show. Lessons of resilience and hard work. I hope to go out in the world and make known everything you’ve given me all around. Thank you.

Eric Ferring

Eric Ferring

My time in the Ryan Opera Center has been filled with the greatest challenges and largest triumphs of my life. I remember it like it was yesterday: the Final Auditions in September 2017. I was hoping and praying so hard backstage that I didn’t even hear my name called to join the 2018|19 Ensemble. With a hearty push from my dear mentor and friend, Julia Faulkner, I was thrust into the deep end of a pool I wasn’t sure I could swim in. From singing small roles, understudying large roles, or in the case of Ariodante, taking over a principal role for the entire run, I have been given monumental opportunities and inspiration, as well as the gifts of lifelong friends, mentors, and memories. I am unbelievably thankful that the Ryan Opera Center took a chance on this Iowa boy and helped him turn into the man who is not only ready, but excited to enter this scary yet exhilarating career as an opera artist.

Alan Higgs

Alan Higgs

Being a member of Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center has been one of the most rewarding and educational experiences of my life. It was the culmination of an amazing time during which I went from working in a dentist’s office and auditioning for the Atlanta Opera chorus to singing on the stages of three of the most prestigious opera companies in the U.S.: The Santa Fe Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, and, ultimately, Lyric Opera of Chicago. It felt like a dream. The Ryan Opera Center’s belief in my talent and their guidance has helped give me the confidence needed to succeed in this incredible art form. Over the past two years I have shared the stage with some of opera’s biggest names, and offstage I have worked with the most incredible coaches, voice teachers, language and diction experts, directors, singers, conductors and staff. Lyric is a great big family, and I’m so lucky to be a part of and supported by such a loving and caring group of people. I will be forever grateful to the Ryan Opera Center and its generous supporters for helping make my dream a reality.

Christopher Kenney

Christopher Kenney

The Ryan Opera Center has been one of the most formative and beneficial experiences in my life as an opera singer. The lessons I’ve learned and the people I’ve met have helped propel me into the highest ranks of the field – and have given me a deep appreciation for detail, dedication, and artistry. Being able to work with master artists like Renée Fleming and Patricia Racette has especially opened for me the unbounded artistic ideas that I have yet to explore. Whether singing on the main stage or elsewhere, like the Harris Theater for Beyond the Aria, I have cherished my time in Chicago. I’m truly grateful to have been a part of an institution with such a storied history as Lyric and the Ryan Opera Center.

Josh Lovell

Josh Lovell

I’ll never forget when I was chosen to become a member of the Ryan Opera Center. Walking out onto the stage alongside my fellow Ensemble members, I could hardly comprehend that I would soon be a part of this renowned company. During my time at Lyric, I have learned so much and have been given so many great opportunities, all of which have enabled me to grow and develop. Working with and performing alongside the many world-class artists who come to Lyric has been such a significant experience. Likewise, the time spent with the music staff , rehearsal department, administration, orchestra and chorus, costume and wig staff , donors, my sponsors, and everyone in the Ryan Opera Center has been extraordinarily impactful. After two unforgettable years, I’m deeply grateful for all I’ve been given. I wouldn’t be where I am today — nor on the path where I’m headed — were it not for my time in Chicago.

Whitney Morrison

Whitney Morrison

The Ryan Opera Center has been, for me, a dream come true. Being a part of this program has afforded me countless opportunities to grow and learn as a budding professional performing artist. From master classes with world-renowned singers and conductors to coaching with accomplished and brilliant staff, I was constantly in the process of collaborative work, which led to creating memorable performances. Equally important were the numerous moments of close observation as an audience member and understudy. Those were the times when I was able to most clearly perceive the high level of execution and consummate artistry to which I aspire. For all these experiences and every other one that the Ryan Opera Center has provided for my development as an artist, I am truly grateful. I count it a distinct honor and privilege to have been an Ensemble member.

Emily Pogorelc

Emily Pogorelc

When I reflect back on my time at the Ryan Opera Center, I think of the incredible people with whom I have met and worked. To be able to observeartists such as Alice Coote, Susan Graham, and Nina Stemme craft incredible performances is such a huge gift for a young artist. It also was so rewarding to be able to hone my own artistry with the guidance of guest teachers, such as Patricia Racette and Anne Sofie von Otter, and work on a daily basis with our incredible mentors, Julia Faulkner and Craig Terry. However, looking back, I know I will always cherish most the incredible relationships I have had with my colleagues. I have learned so much from each and every one of them and formed beautiful friendships to last a lifetime. The Ryan Opera Center is not only one of the best training programs in the world – to me, it will forever be my family.

Mario Rojas

Mario Rojas

Like a kid walking into a candy shop, I entered this building, full of dreams and with no idea how much my life would change after that moment – and how much I would learn in my time at the Ryan Opera Center and Lyric. To think that as a young artist I had the opportunity to step in and sing Alfredo in La traviata on the main stage where Simoneau, Kraus, Gedda, Araiza, Hadley, Sabbatini, Calleja, Polenzani, and Berrugi, to name a few, had sung the role, to this day gives me chills. I have nothing but gratitude for every lesson learned, every performance sang, every role learned, and for letting me enter those historic backstage doors every single day!

Madeline Slettedahl

Madeline Slettedahl

It is almost impossible to put into words the growth and experience I have gained as a musician over my three years as the pianist for the Ryan Opera Center. Through my participation in this one-of-a-kind program, I’ve honed my skills as a vocal coach and gained significant experience working with many conductors as a répétiteur for several opera productions and performances. It’s been a privilege to perform frequently with my talented singing colleagues both here in Chicago and abroad, developing both musically and interpersonally in a field that has so much to say about the human experience. I’ve also developed meaningful relationships with my sponsors and many other supporters of both the Ryan Opera Center and of Lyric. I will never forget this time I’ve spent in Chicago, and for that, I’m immensely grateful.

Ann Toomey

Ann Toomey

My time in the Ryan Opera Center has been a whirlwind. I look back in awe of everything I have learned and how much I have grown. The tremendous opportunities I have been given — and the time needed to thoroughly assimilate what I’ve gained from them — have allowed me to cultivate whom I want to be as an artist and to be confident in expressing that artistry. I’ve been able to learn from and work with some of the most brilliant and accomplished professionals in this business. Starting with a one-on-one coaching with Renée Fleming in my first week here to singing four performances of Musetta in this season’s La bohème, it’s been an incredible journey. I am beyond grateful for my time in this program and all of the wonderful lifelong relationships I have gained.

Provide the stars of tomorrow with your support today

Provide the stars of tomorrow with your support today

The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center prepares emerging singers and pianists for careers in opera by providing unique, comprehensive training. Your gift helps offset the expense of maintaining the high quality of Lyric’s stellar professional artist-development program.

Photos: Robert Kusel, Todd Rosenberg