Lyric Opera of Chicago

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Inside the Youth Opera Council with Adina Harris

Lyric Unlimited's Youth Opera Council had a second great season. Officially launched with the 2013/14 season, the Youth Opera Council is a group of 22 high school-aged opera lovers who are dedicated to spreading the word about this fantastic art form. Here's an insider's perspective on the council from member Adina Harris, who talks about the "wild ride of opera."

Adina Harris (second from left) poses with Youth Opera Council members and soprano Ana María Martínez (second from right) at Millennium Park in September 2014

Lyric Unlimited's Youth Opera Council had a second great season. Officially launched with the 2013/14 season, the Youth Opera Council is a group of 20 high school-aged opera lovers who are dedicated to spreading the word about this fantastic art form. Among their many activities, they have weekly meetings, have conversations with Lyric staff and guest artists, and have the opportunity to attend every mainstage production. They even plan special events like A Night at the Opera so their friends can experience Lyric.  

Here's an insider's perspective on the council from member Adina Harris, who talks about the "wild ride of opera."

Journey to Youth Opera Council

I first heard about the Youth Opera Council when my choir director posted a flyer in his room. The past year I was involved in a program at the Goodman Theatre that I really enjoyed. I met a group of extremely interesting people, learned how to be a theater critic, and saw all of the plays for the season for free. Reading the description and application requirements, I thought, "This would be a cool thing to do this year!" My choir director noticed my interest and also added that it was a really great program and I had a good chance of getting accepted. With those words of encouragement ringing in my head, I went home that same day and submitted my application. I soon received an e-mail accepting my application and requesting an interview. After an amazing interview with Alejandra Boyer, the coordinator of the Youth Opera Council, I found myself on the Youth Opera Council for the 2014/15 season!

First Meeting

Now that I was a part of the YOC, the next step was of course the meetings. Every Wednesday from 5:30-7pm, perfect time and date! My mom dropped me off in front of the entrance and as I pushed through the revolving doors, several questions plagued my mind. What was it going to be like? Would I meet any fun people on the council? What will they be like? Can I keep up with all these opera lovers? I walked down the hallway of the 8th floor, turned and entered through an open doorway. So far, the only face I recognized was Alejandra, and with her welcoming smile, I sat down in between two of my fellow council mates. The chattering ended as Alejandra called us to order and began the agenda. "Let's go around the table and say our name, grade, school, and your favorite musical/theater moment of the past two weeks." As we went around the table, I heard musical/theater moments that confirmed one thing in my mind. This council might be made up of members from all walks of life, but one thing definitely united us: our love for the theater and opera.  

Photos from Youth Opera Council events: A Night at the Opera reception before Don Giovanni (left) and chalk drawing to promote Porgy and Bess (right). 

Wild Ride of Opera

Throughout the season, the Youth Opera Council was able to do some amazing things and I'm so happy I was a part of it. Everything from planning our Night at the Opera events for our classmates, chalk drawings, and special talk sessions with opera stars and important members of Lyric's staff made me realize how many different levels are involved in running an opera company and getting opera out to the masses.

An in-depth look at A Night at the Opera, created and edited by Youth Opera Council member Lauren Craig

One talk really stands out in my memory and that's when director Matthew Ozawa came to speak to the council. From the moment he stepped in with his bright smile and black framed glasses, I determined that Matthew Ozawa was my spirit animal. He told us about his performing arts company, Mozawa, and how its goal is "to break down the barriers that exist between differing artistic media and cultures." I realized that Lyric is trying to do the same thing, and I'm so happy that Matthew works with them because they both clearly have the same goal. Lyric Opera and Ozawa both want to show the world that opera is not just a stuffy art form for one generation, but an art form that should be admired by all for its technique and mastery.   

(clockwise from top left) Adina and Youth Opera Council members met with Lyric General Director Anthony Freud, soprano Amanda Majeski and mezzo-soprano Daveda Karanas, and Lyric creative consultant Renée Fleming. 

About Adina

Hello! My name is Adina Harris and I am a senior at Providence St. Mel. I will be going to Iowa State University in the fall to major in Animal Sciences. I love volunteering at my local animal shelter and participating in theater programs that expose me to all manners of theater.

Want to Learn More?

Here's a look back at the Youth Opera Council's inaugural 2013/14 season:


Photo credits:

  • Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park photo credit Robert Kusel
  • A Night at the Opera photo credit Jaclyn Simpson
  • Adina Harris photo courtesy Adina Harris

Ryan Opera Center Spotlight: Maureen Zoltek

Ryan Opera Center alumna Maureen Zoltek had the honor of being the Ryan Opera Center's new pianist for the past two seasons. Read on to learn more about Maureen's life as a pianist, what it's like to perform for Supreme Court Justices, and her adorable dog Henry! 

Pianist and recent Ryan Opera Center alumna Maureen Zoltek had the honor of being the Ryan Opera Center's new pianist for the past two years. In addition to receiving high-level instruction and experience in coaching singers—including study of repertoire and languages—she performed regularly with her Ensemble colleagues and served on the Lyric music staff for La Clemenza di Tito in the 2013/14 season and Tosca in the 2014/15 season. 

Some of her performance highlights included solo turns at the annual Rising Stars in Concert, several appearances as part of the WFMT Recital Broadcast Series, and accompanying Ryan Opera Center tenor Jonathan Johnson as part of Renée Fleming's conversation with Mark Strand at the Poetry Foundation.

Right now, you can find her in St. Louis for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis's spring/summer festival, and then she moves on to San Francisco Opera. Read on to learn more about Maureen's life as a pianist, what it's like to perform for Supreme Court Justices, and her adorable dog Henry! (To learn more about the role of a rehearsal pianist, read this interview with pianist Matthew Piatt.)

Name: Maureen Zoltek
Age: 32
Year in ROC: Alumna, graduated with the 2014-15 ensemble
Hometown: Bloomingdale, Illinois
Dream Job: Music staff for Lyric Opera of Chicago, of course!

When did you start playing piano, and when did you know you wanted to be a professional pianist?

 I started playing when I was 5. We had a lovely grand piano in our home, and I simply asked my parents if I could take lessons! I don't think there was any specific moment when I knew I wanted to be a pianist professionally. I had always loved performing, and I think it just seemed like the logical conclusion after years of study. After I successfully auditioned for DePaul to continue working with my teacher, Mary Sauer, it was just a transition from studying privately to studying for actual grades. 

Did you ever consider a career other than playing piano? And if you had to imagine an alternative career now, what would it be?

I considered a number of different career options over the years, from marine biology and paleontology when I was a kid to a British literature or history professor when I was a teen. But at the end of the day, I knew that a life in music would keep me happy, intrigued, and challenged for the rest of my life. I think that became clearer the longer I studied at college, and the deeper I understood and explored music history, theory, and performance. Although my undergraduate and graduate degrees are in solo piano, I started listening to and loving opera from a fairly young age—which is perhaps a bit surprising, considering no one in my immediate family ever listened to it!—and I was always very actively involved as a collaborative pianist throughout the years (vocal, instrumental, and orchestral). I realized around my mid-twenties that this collaborative world was where I was most happy, and at this point I couldn't imagine an alternative career...concertizing with singers and being in the opera world are far too much fun! 

What was the most memorable performance you've given at this point in your career?

There have been many memorable performances for me over the years, but perhaps the most recent one would be performing for the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. this past November with Eric Owens and Alyson Cambridge. Not only was it a fantastic musical collaboration with two people I had not had the pleasure of working with before, but also a thrill to know who was in the audience! I was able meet with and speak to a number of the Justices afterwards, received a tour of the courthouse, and dined in the private dining room with Justice Ginsburg herself. It was truly a day to remember. 

After the Ryan Opera Center, how do you want to continue your career?

After the Ryan Center I'll have the pleasure of joining Opera Theatre of Saint Louis for their spring/summer music festival, and then will return to San Francisco Opera for their fall season. I also hope to continue working here at my hometown company, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and collaborating and concertizing with the fantastic singers I've met and worked with in the Ryan Opera Center.

Tell us about your dog Henry!

When I moved back to Chicago from NYC for the Ryan Opera Center job, I had been without a dog for about 3 years. I had been a proud standard poodle owner for 15 years prior to getting my doctorate, and had every intention of getting another one once things had settled down in Chicago...instead I ended up with Henry right away. Best "oops" ever. After contacting a breeder about a springtime 2014 litter, she mentioned that one of her breeder friends right then had a "canceled order" puppy still waiting for a home, the last of the litter. I wasn't really ready yet but thought I would at least go and see what this little guy was all about...and promptly came home with him. There was no resisting the red puff. Henry is the silliest, bounciest, cuddliest, most intelligent and incredible dog, and brings a smile to everyone's face (especially mine). Even non-dog people find they can't resist his permanently happy attitude, and I'm fairly certain that everyone in the West Loop neighborhood now recognizes him. People come up to me all the time asking what kind of a dog he is and complimenting him on his adorable looks; I am without a doubt the proudest dog “mom” and not ashamed to admit it!

Photo credits:

  • Maureen Zoltek portrait credit Devon Cass
  • Lyric Opera of Chicago event photos courtesy Robert Kusel, Todd Rosenberg, and Dan Rest
  • Photo of Maureen and Henry courtesy Maureen Zoltek



Opera 101 Summer Series: Visa Applications with Jason Byer (Rehearsal Department)

What happens at Lyric during the summer? Quite a lot! We kick off this new series with an interview with rehearsal assistant Jason Byer from Lyric's Rehearsal Department, who is obtaining visas for the 40 or so international artists who will be appearing on stage next season. 

Lyric's 2015/16 mainstage opera season might not start until September 26, with opening night of a brand-new production of The Marriage of Figaro, but that doesn't mean the company is at a standstill. Quite the opposite! The staff behind the scenes is busy preparing for all of the aspects that go into creating a new opera season.

Here's a look behind the curtain at what happens during the summer. We kick off this new series with an interview with rehearsal assistant Jason Byer from Lyric's Rehearsal Department. He is spending his summer working on visas for the 40 or so international artists who will be appearing on stage next season. Read on to find out more about how he makes sure everyone's travel documents are arranged and how he takes special care of every artist that comes through Lyric's doors. 

What are you doing this summer?

I'm finishing all the visas for the 2015/16 season, which means getting in contact with all of our artists' agents, helping them set up consular interviews—anything that will get them into the country.

Is this mostly done over the phone or email or a combination?

Most of it's done over email. I've never had to call a consulate. I do occasionally have to call agents, mostly European agents who maybe need things explained to them about the process. It's complicated. There's a lot of red tape and bureaucracy. I also collaborate with other companies, like San Francisco, the Metropolitan Opera, or Houston Grand Opera; if we share any artists over the season, we try to make it so they only have to get one visa. We combine the applications and make sure that we are authorized to petition on behalf of the other companies.

Why is this work essential?

If I didn't do this, then nobody would be here! We couldn't do any shows!

How does your job evolve once the opera season starts?

In addition to continuing the visa work for 2016/17 (hopefully 2015/16 will be done!), I go back to the rehearsal department where I help with scheduling, booking appointments for artists,  fulfilling the "I'm hungry, can someone go get me lunch" requests, and all of the assorted tasks that we deal with on a daily basis. It's the care and maintenance of our artists.

Byer backstage with Karen Slack, who portrayed Serena in Porgy and Bess in the 2014/15 season

What are you most looking forward to during the 2015/16 season?

I have never seen a full Rosenkavalier. I'm really, really excited for this cast. I've been copied on a bit of the correspondence from the director, and hearing some of the plans that are in the works is really exciting.

So that's another interesting aspect of your job, that you learn a little bit about what's going to happen on stage before it becomes reality?

I am privy to this wealth of information that I need to do my job, but it's funny for me as an opera fan to step back and think, "I'm working on Sophie Koch's visa!!"

What made you want to work at an opera company?

I graduated from Northwestern last year with my degree in voice. I knew that I wanted to sing as my career, but I felt like I had a really terrible sense of the business and that I didn't know anybody. So I said, "You can always go back to school, but here's a job that you should go and do now." I started interning at Lyric last year doing visas, and it was a really natural transition to go to the rehearsal department. And now suddenly I'm Facebook friends with Laura Osnes, which is pretty cool!

Why do you love working at Lyric?

I love working in a theater. I love that my job involves sitting at a desk for part of a day, but then I get to go and run around backstage or I get to run up and see rehearsal. I like being around creative people; even if I'm not creating art myself, it's important for me to be around people who love theater or at the very least have an appreciation for the creative process.

What's your favorite opera?

Thinking about the 2014/15 season, I loved Tannhäuser because it's one of my favorite scores, but my favorite overall production would absolutely have to be The Passenger.

What is your favorite Lyric moment so far?

My favorite moment is really just how wonderful it is to work with opera singers. In the rehearsal department, we're always going the extra mile to make sure that the artists have a wonderful experience when they are at Lyric, but I didn't expect them to notice. On one of my first days here, Marina Rebeka, our Donna Anna in Don Giovanni. stopped by the office to thank me for everything I'd done to ensure her arrival in Chicago was absolutely seamless. It was a great introduction to working with and helping opera singers. They're grateful people!

Byer with Marina Rebeka at the Diamond Ball

When you're not at your desk, we'll find you…

Practicing or cooking. I love to cook. I also actually just did a cabaret at Davenport's, where I accompanied a friend on piano. 

Photo credits:

  • Jason Byer portrait by Lyric Opera of Chicago
  • Backstage photos courtesy Jason Byer


Ryan Opera Center Spotlight: Will Liverman

Baritone and recent Ryan Opera Center alumnus Will Liverman is off to a stellar start in his career. This Juilliard grad just released his first album and he's currently in rehearsals at Opera Philadelphia to create the role of Dizzie Gillespie in the world premiere of Charlie Parker's Yardbird (June 5-14). Read on to hear more about his recording project and his funniest Lyric moment.

Baritone and recent Ryan Opera Center alumnus Will Liverman is off to a stellar start in his career. This Juilliard grad just released his first album and he's currently in rehearsals at Opera Philadelphia to create the role of Dizzie Gillespie in the world premiere of Charlie Parker's Yardbird (June 5-14).

He had a busy 2014-15 season at Lyric: he appeared in the mainstage productions of Capriccio and Porgy and Bess and starred as Papageno in the brand-new children's presentation The Magic Victrola. Liverman also was a featured performer in the Harris Theater for Music and Dance's new "Beyond the Aria" series last season, which was curated by Ryan Opera Center music director Craig Terry. In previous seasons, he appeared in The Barber of Seville, La traviata, and Werther, among others. Read on to hear more about his recording project and his funniest Lyric moment.

Name: Will Liverman
Age: 26
Voice: Baritone
Year in ROC: Alumnus, graduated with the 2014-15 season
Hometown: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Dream Role: Cavaradossi in Puccini's Tosca (yes, I know I'm not a tenor!)

When did you start singing? When did you know you wanted to be a singer?

I started singing in choir when I was really young around age 5 or 6. I didn't realize I wanted to really pursue singing until I sang in the supplementary chorus at Lyric Opera when I was in college. The whole experience of being surrounded by amazing talent and getting a chance to perform on a big stage was when I really knew that this was something I wanted.

Did you ever consider a career other than singing? 

If I wasn't singing I probably would've continued to pursue composition and a music education degree.   

What was the most memorable performance you've been in at this point in your career?

Actually the most poignant memory I have was being a part of the chorus in Cavalleria Rusticana at Lyric Opera. We got to the big Easter hymn with Dolora Zajick singing Santuzza and never before had I been overwhelmed with such emotion from just the sheer grandeur of what opera can be.  Being surrounded by the glorious singing of the chorus, the orchestra, Dolora's glorious voice singing over us, the amazing set, looking out to the big hall, and just singing my little heart out was a special moment.  Going back to the previous question, that exact feeling and moment was one that inspired me to pursue this.

What is your most hilarious Ryan Opera Center moment?

There are too many hilarious moments! I guess the funniest would have to be my Ivan persona in Die Fledermaus. It was only a speaking role but it sure was a lot of fun. My character's speaking role is announcing the guests as they arrive to the party and one day just for fun I decided to announce the names as loudly as I possibly could and people thought it was hilarious. So every time after that my goal was to yell the names even louder than I did for the previous show. Sometimes I almost couldn't keep a straight face because of how ridiculous it got by the last performance.

Liverman (c) in Die Fledermaus with Emily Fons (l) and Adrian Eröd (r)

Can you tell us a bit about your recently released album?

I just released my very first album entitled Steal Away. It is a collection of spirituals arranged by the very talented composer Shawn Okpebholo. He is a composition professor at Wheaton College, and he heard me sing at an event there and asked if I would be the featured artist on this project. After listening to a few of the spirituals, I was sold. It was so much fun! It was also cool to sing again with fellow Ryan Opera Center alumna J'nai Bridges, who was a featured singer on a few of the spirituals on the album. Overall, it was a great experience and I hope to record something again one day!

Photo credits:

  • Will Liverman portrait credit Devon Cass
  • Lyric Opera of Chicago production photos credit Dan Rest and Todd Rosenberg



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