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November 2014
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New Talent at Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center

Tenor Jesse Donner, left; tenor Jonathan Johnson, top right; bass Bradley Smoak, bottom right

Tenor Jesse Donner, left; tenor Jonathan Johnson, top right; bass Bradley Smoak, bottom right

Monday at 6:00 pm

Monday’s Ryan Opera Center recital introduces three talented singers who entered the program this summer: tenor Jonathan Johnson, bass Bradley Smoak, and tenor Jesse Donner. The singers will deliver a program based on one of opera’s favorite topics: women.

The Ryan Opera Center is Lyric Opera of Chicago’s training program for young artists, which gives them everything from one-on-one coaching with the stars of the main stage, to actual roles in Lyric’s main stage productions. In fact all three of Monday’s performers have already had a taste of a major production, having had parts in Richard Strauss’s Capriccio, which closed last week at Lyric. They also sang solos in Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music at Lyric Opera’s 60th anniversary concert on Saturday.


Bass Bradley Smoak

Bass Bradley Smoak graduated from Illinois Wesleyan in 2007 and began building his long list of credentials by taking roles with regional opera companies. He’s been tweeting about his Ryan Opera Center experience, which includes some improv work with The Second City and a solo with the Civic Orchestra in Orchestra Hall. Regarding the latter, he tweeted: “Poulenc w/ Civic Orchestra in this awe-inspiring hall. Love my job!”


Tenor Jonathan Johnson

Until last year, tenor Jesse Donner trained as a baritone. He got his master’s degree at the University of Michigan in 2013. That was the year he made his debut as a tenor. He is what’s called a heldentenor, or heroic tenor, which is suitable for the big Wagner roles like Tristan or Siegfried. Heldentenors typically have a larger, thicker, more dramatic voice. Mr. Donner is from Des Moines, Iowa and received his undergraduate degree in vocal performance from Iowa State University.

Tenor Jonathan Johnson is a native of Macon, Georgia and studied at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and at the Aspen Summer Music Institute. While at UNC, he crossed paths with fellow Ryan ensemble member Bradley Smoak in a performance of Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann. In that production, Johnson sang the protagonist Hoffmann who is foiled by the villainy of Bradley Smoak’s four characters. Jonathan Johnson is presently in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore.

Click to read more about the Ryan Opera Center.

Monday’s recital with singers from Lyric Opera’s Ryan Opera Center presents music by Verdi, Fauré, Finzi, Hahn, Duparc, Bernstein, and Sondheim. WFMT’s broadcast begins at 6:00 pm.

  • His Mom

    Jesse Donner’s undergraduate degree in Vocal Performance is from IOWA State. 😉

  • Noel

    Thank you, Jesse’s mom. He’s doing great!