Chicago Shimpo
Lyric Opera Promotes
Young Talent and Community Initiative
Japanese-American Opera to Come to Chicago

• Chicago’s own Lyric Opera showcased its young talent and promoted its effort to further ties with the local Japanese residents during an event held at the Consulate General of Japan Residence in Chicago last December.

• The mini-concert on December 12 featured a 26-year-old tenor Eric Ferring of Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center and was attended by the members of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Chicago, Japanese American Service Committee and Japan America Society of Chicago.
• Ferring, whose forte is in Mozart, dazzled the audience with songs from “Magic Flute” as well as a Christmas classic “The Christmas Song,” accompanied by Madeline Slettedahl’s piano.
• Lyric Opera’s General Director, President and CEO Anthony Treud, Major Gifts Director Amber Cullen, and Lyric Unlimited’s Vice President Cayenne Harris were also there, along with Matthew Ozawa, Director of the Production of Lyric’s upcoming “An American Dream,” a contemporary opera based on a story about a Japanese-American family during and after World War II.

• Lyric is by no means a stranger to Chicago’s Japanese audience. Takaoki Onishi, a young baritone from Japan, has trained at Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center until he moved on to the international arena in June 2018 as a rising star. Since then, he won the grand prize at the Premiere Opera Foundation’s International Vocal Competition in New York in December, as well as the Dmitri Hvorostovsky Memorial Career Grant. In February, he will sing solo in Sibelius’ “Kullervo” choral symphony at the Carnegie Hall.

Eric Ferring Profile

• Hailing from Iowa, Ferring started singing in church choir, school chorus, and local musical productions at the age of 9.
• In his senior year of high school, he failed to get a part in his last high-school musical production. This devastated Ferring. Traumatized, he then followed his voice teacher’s advice and competed in a classical vocal competition - and it was an eye-opening experience for him. With a newly discovered passion for classical singing, he began working toward a career as an opera singer.
• After graduating from the Boston Conservatory with a Master of Music in Opera Performance degree in 2016, Ferring became a Resident Artist at Pittsburgh Opera for two seasons, where he performed Basilio/Curzio in The Marriage of Figaro and The Protagonist in the world premiere of Ashes & Snow (now known as Savage Winter).
• Now as a member of Lyric’s Ensemble of the Ryan Opera Center, Ferring is also frequently cast in Lyric’s regular productions while receiving training to become a professional singer.
• Ferring calls Lyric’s Ryan Center “the best program in the U.S.” It’s a “sort of fellowship program” that prepares young talents like him to move on to a full-time freelance position when they leave it after 2-3 seasons. That’s the benefit of training with Lyric: it attracts managers and opera companies (large and small, national and regional), in other words, it offers opportunities for aspiring singers for future careers.

• Covering major parts presents another opportunity for a fledgling singer in the world of opera. It’s as difficult to be prepared to cover a role as it is important for the whole production – you are expected to give a high-level performance at a moment’s notice while you don’t have much rehearsal time, and the chance to cover a major part may never come.
• But when it comes, you can hit it big – that’s what happened to Onishi when he was working at the Ryan Center.
• Knowing that full well, Ferring constantly prepares for a cover – he covered three roles last fall, and will cover two in the spring.
• To be ready to cover gets him a lot of experience, Ferring says. He even sets up his living room just like the set of the production so he can practice at home.
• “It takes 10 to 15 years to be mature enough to play major parts. Just like in every field, I think that perseverance and patience is the first step to success in the world of opera,” he said.

Lyric Presents Opera about Japanese American Incarceration

• Lyric Opera is one of the world’s greatest opera houses - second largest in the world with 3,600 seats, only 100 less than New York’s Metropolitan Opera. An average European opera house has about 1,800-2,200 seats.
• “Opera is the greatest form of entertainment as well as art,” explains Lyric’s Treud. “It simply tells stories that are utterly universal and transcends centuries and ethnicities. It’s absolutely accessible for everybody.”
• Seven years ago, Lyric launched an initiative to develop community engagement through “relevant cultural and educational services.” A production of a contemporary opera “An American Dream” in March is part of this initiative.
• It depicts a drama of two families - a Japanese-American and an American – against the backdrop of the Japanese American internment during World War II.
• Harris, who is in charge of the initiative, first saw this production in Seattle, where she also had a chance to talk to some of the internment survivors and their descendants.
• “This opera is incredibly emotional and beautifully written,” Harris said. “It’s an incredibly moving story, a story that everyone needs to understand and be reminded of. That’s why I thought we must bring it to Chicago.”
• Harris brought this project to Ozawa, whom she worked with a few times before.

• While his father was born at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming, Ozawa himself was brought up simply as an American, rather than a fourth-generation Japanese American that he is and away from his Japanese roots.
• He encountered Kabuki performance while studying in Singapore, which encouraged him to visit Japan many times. After living in Chicago for 10 years, he now teaches at the University of Michigan School of Music.
• “An American Dream” is based on the personal experience of the Japanese-Americans who lived on the Puget Sound islands in Washington and were incarcerated during the 1942-1945 war period.
• Ozawa asks: If you are suddenly forced to leave your home, what would you take with you? Why those objects? Why are their connections to your past so important?
• “These questions are unbelievably relevant in our times today,” he said.

“An American Dream”: Synopsis

• In 1942, American veteran Jim Crowley and his wife Eva have come to buy a home on a Puget Sound island in Washington, where Japanese American Makoto Kobayashi and his family live. While Eva, a German Jew, waits outside, Jim tries to buy the Kobayashi’s farmhouse for a fraction of what it’s worth. Then the FBI arrives and tells Makoto that he is under arrest. Under the pressure, Makoto is forced to sell the house to Jim at the offered price. As he is taken away, Makoto promises his daughter, Setsuko, to return for her.

• Eva, who has arrived in the U.S. from Germany only recently, desperately wants to bring her parents in Germany away from the peril to the safety of the U.S.
• As Setsuko gets ready to leave the house with her mother, a letter arrives from Germany addressed to Eva. In the moment’s anger from being forced to leave her home, Setsuko steals the letter.

• A few weeks later, Jim and Eva moves into the house. When Eva finds a beautiful hinamatsuri dolls left behind in the house, Jim tells her to throw it away, but Eva hides it until she finds the owner so she can return it.

• At the news of Germany’s surrender, Eva writes to Setsuko in the camp and tells her that she has something that belongs to Setsuko.
• In August 1945, Japan surrenders and the war ends. Setsuko shows up at the farmhouse to return Eva’s letter. From the letter Eva learns her parents’ fate and collapses. As Jim tries to console Eva, there’s a knock on the door. It was Setsuko’s father Makoto who had promised to return for her.

“An American Dream” by Lyric Opera

• Location: Harris Theater
205 E. Randolph St., Chicago
• Time: 7:00 pm, March 15 and 2:00 pm, March 17
• Tickets: $55 - $125

Eric Ferring of Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center sings The Christmas Song accompanied by Madeline Slettedahl’s piano.

Executives of the Lyric Opera and Japanese community get together at CG Naoki Ito’s official residence.