Select a Date

March 2015
« Feb   Apr »

Lyric Risings Stars Concert 2015

The 2014-2015 Ensemble of The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center

The 2014-2015 Ensemble of The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center

WFMT broadcasts the 2015 Rising Starts Concert at Lyric Opera, a showcase performed by members of the 2014-2015 Ensemble of The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, on Sunday, March 22, 2015 from 7:00 – 10:00pm. The concert was performed and recorded on Saturday, March 21, 2015 from 7:30 – 10:30 pm at the Civic Opera House in Chicago, and features songs, arias, duets, and ensembles by some of today’s up-and-coming opera superstars. The broadcast is generously sponsored by the Donna Van Eekeren Foundation (also the concert’s lead sponsor). WFMT’s Suzanne Nance and Lyric’s dramaturg Roger Pines will serve as host and commentator respectively.

Earlier this season, WFMT went backstage with Ryan Opera Center Ensemble member J’nai Bridges, who performed Berlioz and Bellini in the Rising Stars Concert. To hear some exciting news J’nai shared with us from her dressing room before a performance of “The Passenger” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, watch the video below.

YouTube Preview Image

For program notes, artist biographies for the 2015 Rising Starts Concert, and more about the Ryan Opera Center, read below:


George Frideric Handel’s Orlando, Act Three, Aria: “Sorge infausta una procella,” Bradley Smoak (Zoroastro)

Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah, Act One, Aria: “Ain’t it a pretty night,” Laura Wilde (Susannah)

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, Act One: Soliloquy (Orchestration by Don Walker), Anthony Clark Evans (Billy Bigelow)

Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème, Act One, Romanza: “Che gelida manina,” John Irvin (Rodolfo)

Claude Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, Act One, Fountain Scene: Julie Miller (Mélisande) “Vous ne savez pas où je vous ai menée?” Will Liverman (Pelléas)

Georges Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles, Act Two, Recitative and Cavatina: “Me voilà seule…Comme autrefois dans la nuit sombre,” Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi (Leïla)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito, Act Two, Aria: “Se all’impero, amici Dei,” Jesse Donner (Tito)

Hector Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust, Part Four, Romance: “D’amour l’ardente flamme,” J’nai Bridges (Marguerite)

Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, Act One, Duet: “Soli noi siamo,” Richard Ollarsaba (Duke Alfonso), Tracy Cantin (Lucrezia)


Gerald Finzi’s Eclogue for Piano and Strings, Opus 10, Maureen Zoltek

Alban Berg’s Lulu, Prologue: “Hereinspaziert in die Menagerie,” Richard Ollarsaba (Animal Trainer)

Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore Act One, Duet: “Caro elisir, sei mio!…Esulti pur la barbara,” Jonathan Johnson (Nemorino), Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi (Adina)

Charles Gounod’s Faust, Act Four, Trio: “Que voulez-vous, Messieurs?,”Anthony Clark Evans (Valentin),Bradley Smoak (Méphistophélès), Jesse Donner (Faust)

Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Act One, Cavatina and Cabaletta: “Se Romeo t’uccise un figlio…La tremenda ultrice spada,” Julie Miller (Romeo)

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, Act Four, Recitative and Aria: “Dieu, quel frisson…Amour, ranime mon courage,” Tracy Cantin (Juliette)

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola, Act Two, Aria: “Sì, ritrovarla io giuro,” Jonathan Johnson (Ramiro)

Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Die tote Stadt, Act Two, Pierrot’s Tanzlied: “Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen,” Will Liverman (Fritz)

Bellini’s Norma, Act Two, Duet: “Mira, o Norma,”J’nai Bridges (Adalgisa), Laura Wilde (Norma)

Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Act Two, Sextet: “Chi mi frena in tal momento?,”John Irvin (Edgardo), Anthony Clark Evans (Enrico) Tracy Cantin (Lucia) Richard Ollarsaba (Raimondo) Julie Miller (Alisa) Jonathan Johnson (Arturo) and Full Ensemble


MICHAEL CHRISTIE Featured in Opera News in August 2012 as one of 25 people expected to “break out and become major forces in the field in the coming decade,” Christie began his tenure as the first-ever music director of Minnesota Opera in the 2012-13 season. His 16-year symphonic conducting career has included serving as music director of the Phoenix Symphony, Brooklyn Philharmonic, and Colorado Music Festival, and as chief conductor of the Queensland Orchestra in Australia, as well as guest appearances leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, and the major orchestras of Dallas, St. Louis, Atlanta, Houston, Minnesota, Oregon, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati. His New York Philharmonic debut came in March 2007, when he stepped in on short notice for an ailing Riccardo Muti. His successes in opera include Manon Lescaut, Arabella, and Macbeth with Minnesota Opera, and the world premieres of Kevin Puts’s Silent Night (Minnesota Opera, reprise at Opera Philadelphia, European premiere at Ireland’s Wexford Festival), which he will lead in its Canadian premiere later this season at L’Opéra de Montréal; Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (San Francisco Opera); and Ricky Ian Gordon’s 27 (Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, where he has also conducted works of Corigliano, Adams, and Unsuk Chin). The current season includes La fanciulla del West, Carmen, and the world premiere of Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell’s new opera, The Manchurian Candidate (Minnesota Opera).

J’NAI BRIDGES At Lyric Opera: Ten roles since 2012-13, most recently Vlasta/The Passenger, Carmen and One of the Three Ladies/The Magic Victrola, Inez/ Il trovatore (all 2014-15). Earlier this season, the third-year mezzosoprano performed with musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Art Institute of Chicago, and in June she will represent the United States in the highly prestigious BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition. The 2013-14 season also brought her to Knoxville Opera, where she earned acclaim as Adalgisa/ Norma. A native of Lakewood, Washington, Bridges made her professional debut in 2008 with Opera North (Die Zauberflöte) and later appeared with the Glimmerglass Festival as Carmen (a role she repeated last summer at Finger Lakes Opera in Geneseo, New York). Other recent engagements include a Ravel/Stravinsky program with the CSO. Bridges is the recipient of a 2013 Luminarts Cultural Foundation Fellowship, a Sara Tucker Grant, a Sullivan Award, and the Marian Anderson Award. J’nai Bridges is sponsored by an Anonymous Donor.

TRACY CANTIN At Lyric Opera: Five roles since 2012-13, most recently title role/ Anna Bolena (2014-15), Berta/Il barbiere di Siviglia, Flowermaiden/ Parsifal (both 2013-14). The third-year soprano won critical acclaim last season at Lyric as Berta/Il barbiere di Siviglia (premiere of Rob Ashford’s new production). She has appeared with the company in Elektra, Rigoletto, Parsifal, and most recently – for the opera’s final two scenes – in the title role/Anna Bolena, in which she replaced Sondra Radvanovsky. She has been heard in Bernstein’s Songfest for her Ravinia Festival debut, and Symphony No. 9 introduced her to Australian audiences, with Bryn Terfel, Sir Andrew Davis, and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Cantin made her Chicago debut singing the Figaro Countess (Act Two) and Mimì/La bohème (Act Four) with the Civic Orchestra. The Canadian soprano is an alumna of McGill University (Don Giovanni, La bohème, The Turn of the Screw), the University of Western Ontario (Don Giovanni), and the University of Alberta (Hänsel und Gretel). Among Cantin’s recent honors are a Sullivan Award, the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Emerging Artist Award, the Women’s Voice Fellowship from the Luminarts Cultural Foundation, and a grant from the Jacqueline Desmarais Foundation. Tracy Cantin is sponsored by The C. G. Pinnell Family.

JESSE DONNER At Lyric Opera: Walther von der Vogelweide/ Tannhäuser, Servant/Capriccio (both 2014-15). Donner, a native of Des Moines, Iowa, is a first-year tenor. He recently completed graduate and post-graduate studies at the University of Michigan (Bacchus/Ariadne auf Naxos, title role/Der Kaiser von Atlantis, Lucano/L’incoronazione di Poppea). He previously earned a bachelor of music degree from Iowa State University. Donner has received a 2015 Luminarts Cultural Foundation Fellowship, the 2014 George Shirley Award for Opera Performance, a special encouragement award from the 2014 Metropolitan Opera National Council Regional Auditions, and first place in the 2012 Michigan Friends of Opera Competition. Other credits include Pinkerton/Madama Butterfly with Opera in the Ozarks and concerts with the Toledo Symphony, Adrian Symphony, and University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra. Jesse Donner is sponsored by Anne Gross and Robert C. Marks.

ANTHONY CLARK EVANS At Lyric Opera: Six roles since 2013-14, most recently Jailer/ Tosca, Servant/ Capriccio (both 2014-15), Hunter/ Rusalka (2013-14). A native of Owensboro, Kentucky, the second-year baritone studied voice at Murray State University, where he portrayed Falstaff/The Merry Wives of Windsor. He was an apprentice artist with Arkansas’s Opera in the Ozarks in 2008 (Marcello/La bohème, Pish-Tush/The Mikado). In 2013 he made his Chicago-area debut at Ravinia performing in Bernstein’s Songfest. Evans attracted national attention as a grand finals winner of the 2012 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. The baritone has won numerous competitions, including those of the Gerda Lissner Foundation, the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation, and the Giulio Gari Foundation, as well as two Chicago-based competitions, Luminarts Cultural Foundation and American Opera Society. He has also recently received the coveted Sara Tucker Study Grant from the Richard Tucker Foundation. Anthony Clark Evans is sponsored by Sanfred and Nancy Koltun and Richard W. Shepro and Lindsay E. Roberts.

JOHN IRVIN At Lyric Opera: 11 roles since 2012-13, most recently Third SS Officer/The Passenger, Lord Hervey/Anna Bolena (both 2014-15), Count Almaviva/The Family Barber (2013-14). Later this season, the third-year tenor debuts at Madison Opera as Count Almaviva/Il barbiere di Siviglia and at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis as Matthew Gurney/ Emmeline. Irvin studied as a pianist at Florida State University before switching to voice at Georgia State University (Don José/Carmen) and continuing at Boston University’s Opera Institute (Chevalier/ Dialogues des Carmélites, Paolino/Il matrimonio segreto, Roméo/Roméo et Juliette, Nick/The Postman Always Rings Twice). As a Boston Lyric Opera Emerging Artist, he portrayed Malcolm/Macbeth. The tenor recently debuted with the Los Angeles Philharmonic (Curzio/Le nozze di Figaro under Gustavo Dudamel) and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 under Sir Andrew Davis). Irvin has participated in the Central City Opera and Santa Fe Opera apprentice-artist programs. John Irvin is sponsored by Stepan Company

JONATHAN JOHNSON At Lyric Opera: Third SS Officer/The Passenger, Nemorino and Tamino/The Magic Victrola, Ruiz/Il trovatore (all 2014-15). The first-year tenor recently completed his tenure as a fellow of the A. J. Fletcher Institute at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, pursuing a Professional Artist Certificate. His roles there included Ruggero/La rondine, Lechmere/Owen Wingrave, Azaël/Debussy’s L’enfant prodigue, and Fenton/Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor. Other performance credits include Ezekiel Cheever/The Crucible (Piedmont Opera, debut), and the title role/ Candide and Rev. Horace Adams/Peter Grimes (Aspen Summer Music Institute). Johnson received his Bachelor of Music degree from Mercer University’s Townsend School of Music, where he sang the title role/Cavalli’s L’Egisto, Camille de Rosillon/ The Merry Widow, and Nemorino/L’elisir d’amore. He made his Chicago debut performing Les mamelles de Tirésias with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. Jonathan Johnson is sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. William C. Vance.

WILL LIVERMAN At Lyric Opera: Nine roles since 2012-13, most recently Papageno/ The Magic Victrola, Lawyer Frazier/Porgy and Bess, Servant/ Capriccio (all 2014-15). The third-year baritone, a Virginia native, won critical praise as the Husband/ Poulenc’s Les mamelles de Tirésias last season with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. Later this season Liverman will appear in the world premiere of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird with Opera Philadelphia. Liverman has also been heard at Utah Opera as Rossini’s Figaro (a role he will reprise at Madison Opera this spring) and at The Santa Fe Opera, The Juilliard School (of which he is an alumnus), the Glimmerglass Festival, and Brevard Music Festival. A 2012 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions grand finalist and first-place winner in the 2012 Gerda Lissner Competition, Liverman has won three first-prize awards from the Chicago National Association of Teachers of Singing Competition, a Sullivan Award, and the coveted Sara Tucker Study Grant. Will Liverman is sponsored by an Anonymous Donor, The Pauls Foundation, and Debbie K. Wright.

JULIE MILLER At Lyric Opera: Five roles since 2013-14, most recently Krzystina/ The Passenger, Mother, Mallika, and One of the Three Ladies/The Magic Victrola, (both 2014-15), Ida/ Die Fledermaus (2013-14). The second-year mezzo-soprano’s recent performances include Bolcom’s “Cabaret Songs” at the 2014 Grant Park Music Festival. She has appeared at Carnegie Hall, with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, at the Bard College Conservatory of Music, as Jo/Little Women at the Sugar Creek Festival, and widely in her home state, California: with Sacramento Opera (Rigoletto), West Bay Opera (La traviata), Townsend Opera in Modesto (La traviata, Roméo et Juliette), Marin Symphony (Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9), and VITA Academy in Sacramento (Amahl and the Night Visitors). As an undergraduate at California State University Sacramento, she portrayed Monteverdi’s Ottavia and Mozart’s Donna Elvira. The recipient of a 2015 Richard F. Gold Career Grant, Miller is a winner of the 2014 American Opera Society Competition and the 2010 Pasadena Opera Guild Scholarship Competition. Julie Miller is sponsored by Maurice J. and Patricia Frank.

HLENGIWE MKHWANAZI At Lyric Opera: Olympia, Lakmé, and Papagena/The Magic

Victrola, Clara/Porgy and Bess (both 2014-15). Last year the first-year soprano sang Thérèse/Poulenc’s Les mamelles de Tirésias with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. A native of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, Mkhwanazi earned her diploma in opera and her postgraduate diploma in music performance from the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town. Among her leading roles in Cape Town have been Fiordiligi/Così fan tutte, Konstanze/Die Entführung aus dem Serail, and Antonia/Les contes d’Hoffmann, all at Cape Town Opera; and Stravinsky’s Anne Trulove/The Rake’s Progress and Rossini’s Madama Cortese/Il viaggio a Reims at the Baxter Theatre. In America she has been heard as Adina/L’elisir d’amore at Virginia’s Barter Theatre and Susanna/Le nozze di Figaro at Brown University. The soprano earned second overall prize, media jury prize, and audience prize in Vienna’s HansGabor Belvedere International Singing Competition (2012). Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi is sponsored by Susan and Richard Kiphart and Drs. Funmi and Sola Olopade.

RICHARD OLLARSABA At Lyric Opera: Ten roles since 2013-14, most recently Second SS Officer/The Passenger, Angelotti/Tosca, Lord Rochford/ Anna Bolena (all 2014-15). This season the second-year bass-baritone went on at the last moment replacing Mariusz Kwiecień in the title role/Don Giovanni and, less than a week later, went on as the Majordomo/Capriccio. The Arizona native portrayed Escamillo/ Carmen last year at Tulsa Opera. He made his professional debut at Opera Cleveland as Antonio/Le nozze di Figaro and was a 2012-13 resident artist at The Minnesota Opera (Nabucco, Anna Bolena, Turandot). He has also been heard at Piedmont Opera (Don Giovanni, The Crucible, Il trovatore). Concert engagements include the Elmhurst Symphony, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Kansas City Symphony, and Greensboro Symphony. A 2013 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions grand finalist, Ollarsaba has participated in the young-artist programs at Tanglewood and the Music Academy of the West. He is an alumnus of the Cleveland Institute of Music and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Richard Ollarsaba is sponsored by Lois B. Siegel and Drs. Joan and Russ Zajtchuk.

BRADLEY SMOAK At Lyric Opera: First SS Officer/The Passenger, Sciarrone/Tosca, Servant/Capriccio (all 2014-15.) A North Carolina native and first-year bass, Smoak has been heard nationwide, with particular success at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (King of Hearts/Alice in Wonderland, Pirate King/The Pirates of Penzance, Masetto/Don Giovanni, Antonio/ Le nozze di Figaro, Second Soldier/ Salome). He has also performed with Boston Lyric Opera (Les contes d’Hoffmann), Opera North (Die Zauberflöte, Madama Butterfly), Palm Beach Opera (Otello, Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte, Carmen), Sarasota Opera (La bohème, The Crucible), Opera Charleston (Zuniga/Carmen opposite Denyce Graves), Opera Omaha, Opera Roanoke, Annapolis Opera, DuPage Opera Theatre, and Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice. He made his international operatic debut at Ireland’s Wexford Festival Opera in The Ghosts of Versailles, returning for Donizetti’s Maria Padilla and Smetana’s The Kiss. Smoak is an alumnus of Illinois Wesleyan University. Bradley Smoak is sponsored by The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation.

LAURA WILDE At Lyric Opera: Lauretta and One of the Three Ladies/The Magic Victrola, (2014-15), Berta/The Family Barber, Flowermaiden/Parsifal (both 2013-14). Wilde, a second-year soprano, was previously a Marion Roose Pullin Artist in Residence with Arizona Opera, where she portrayed Cherubino/Le nozze di Figaro, Siébel/Faust, Stéphano/Roméo et Juliette, Alisa/Lucia di Lammermoor, and Lola/ Cavalleria rusticana. Having recently switched from mezzo-soprano to soprano, she returned to the Phoenix Symphony in 2013 for Ravel’s Shéhérazade. Wilde has participated in the programs of The Santa Fe Opera (Deaconess/Szymanowski’s King Roger) and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (Mrs. Segstrom/A Little Night Music, Omar/The Death of Klinghoffer). A 2010 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions semi-finalist and third-place winner in the 2011 Palm Beach Opera Competition, Wilde is also a two-time recipient of the Elihu Hyndman Memorial Award from Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. She is an alumna of Indiana University (Jo/ Little Women, Isabella/L’italiana in Algeri, Prince/Cendrillon) and St. Olaf College. Laura Wilde is sponsored by Mrs. J. W. Van Gorkom.

MAUREEN ZOLTEK At Lyric Opera: Musical preparation for Tosca, The Magic Victrola (both 2014-15), La clemenza di Tito (2013-14). Zoltek, in her second year as Ryan Opera Center pianist, served as coachaccompanist for San Francisco Opera’s 2013 world premiere of Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Zoltek’s appearances as an orchestral pianist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra have included collaborations with many major conductors, including Boulez, Conlon, Dudamel, and Gergiev. She has appeared with the Elgin Symphony Orchestra; at Chicago’s Latino Music Festival; at the 2010 Fischoff Competition (where she was a semi-finalist); and live on 98.7WFMT. As a Vocal Piano Fellow, Zoltek has attended the Aspen Music Festival and School and Santa Barbara’s Music Academy of the West (first prize, pianist division, 2012 Marilyn Horne Song Competition). She has participated in “The Song Continues,” Horne’s annual series of performances and master classes at Carnegie Hall. Zoltek is an alumna of the Manhattan School of Music, Roosevelt University, and DePaul University. Maureen Zoltek is sponsored by an Anonymous Donor.

About the Ryan Opera Center

The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicagowas established in 1974 as the professional artist-development program for Lyric Opera of Chicago. Since its inception, the Ryan Opera Center has been recognized as one of the premier programs of its kind in the world. That standing is maintained by providing the finest up-and-coming singers and pianists with unparalleled training and experience. The program is administered by DirectorDan Novak, Music Director Craig Terry, Advisor Renée Fleming, and Director of Vocal Studies Julia Faulkner.

Selected from some 400 singers who audition annually, the Ryan Opera Center ensemble members are in residence for nearly 12 months. Over the course of the year they receive advanced instruction in numerous aspects of operatic performance, including voice lessons and coachings, language and acting training, and master classes with some of opera’s most celebrated artists, includingStephanie BlytheSir Andrew Davis (Lyric’s music director), Renée Fleming(Lyric’s creative consultant), Thomas HampsonAna María MartínezEric Owens, and Matthew Polenzani (a Ryan Opera Center alumnus), among others.

During Lyric Opera’s mainstage season, Ryan Opera Center members perform and understudy a significant number of principal and supporting roles. This presents an extraordinary opportunity to work with the world’s greatest opera singers, conductors, directors, orchestra, and chorus. They also gain valuable performing experience by participating in recitals and concerts at many Chicago-area venues.

Ryan Opera Center members participate in the Harris Theater’s Beyond The Ariaconcerts, a popular new series of cabaret-style performances on the stage of the Pritzker Pavilion (with Craig Terry, artistic director of Beyond the Aria, as pianist). The ensemble is featured in monthly broadcasts of the Ryan Opera Center’s 98.7WFMT Recital Series, also streamed at Previously broadcast programs are online at

The Ryan Opera Center ensemble was expanded in 2013 to include a pianist, who likewise receives advanced training and performance opportunities throughout the year.

A testament to the Ryan Opera Center’s caliber and success is the roster of distinguished alumni who perform regularly on the stages of leading international opera houses. It includes René BarberaHarolyn Blackwell, Nicole Cabell,Elizabeth DeShongMark S. DossChristopher FeigumGregory Frank,Elizabeth FutralRoger HoneywellJoseph KaiserMaria KanyovaQuinn KelseyDina KuznetsovaEmily MageeAmanda MajeskiMarlin Miller,Susanna PhillipsMatthew PolenzaniFranco PomponiChristian Van Horn,Amber Wagner, and Erin Wall.







Comments are closed.