Stephanie Blythe that rare singer at home in a multitude of genres
BY WYNNE DELACOMA For Sun-Times Media October 15, 2013 6:06PM
Les Violons du Roy
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17
Where: Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph
Info: (312) 334-777;
Updated: April 14, 2014 4:49PM
Singers who can successfully handle all kind of repertoire are a rare species in the classical music world. Opera fans talk in great detail about “Verdi baritones” and “Wagnerian sopranos.”
But mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, who appears in a concert of Baroque music at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Harris Theater, is that rare singer who refuses to settle into a specialized niche. For her Harris Theater concert Blythe will sing works by Handel and Haydn with Les Violons du Roy, a Quebec-based ensemble led by Music Director Bernard Labadie. The program also includes orchestral pieces by Telemann and J. S. Bach.
Chicago operagoers first saw Blythe in 2010 when she made a much-belated debut with Lyric Opera. But what a debut season it was. Not only did she sing the darkly mysterious Ulrica in Verdi’s “A Masked Ball,” she followed up one month later as a hilariously flirtatious Katisha in Lyric’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado.” During Ravinia’s 2012 season she performed a recital of American standards made famous by Kate Smith, an immensely popular American singer during the 1940s and ’50s.
Last spring at the Metropolitan Opera she won raves as Fricka in the company’s production of Wagner’s four-opera cycle, “The Ring of the Nibelungs,” and she returns to the Met in December as Mistress Quickley in Verdi’s “Falstaff.”
“I’ve always had a wide interest in different kinds of repertoire,” said Blythe, who starred in her high school’s productions of Broadway musicals as a teenager growing up in Mongaup Valley, N.Y., about 100 miles northwest of New York City. “I basically believe that if something spoke to me and it fit my voice, there’s no reason I shouldn’t sing it or that I shouldn’t become accustomed to the style and learn how to sing it.”
Blythe’s career began to take off in 1994 when she won the Met’s annual National Council Auditions and was chosen for the company’s apprentice program. In 1995 she made her Met debut as an otherworldly, offstage solo voice in Wagner’s “Parsifal.”
“But I started out with Baroque roles,’’ said Blythe. “It’s sort of been a touchstone throughout my career, to try to get back to singing more early music because I think it’s such a foundation for good singing.”
One of Blythe’s greatest triumphs at the Met came in 2009 with her portrayal of Orfeo in Gluck’s “Orfeo et Euridice.” Hailing Blythe as “a once-in-a-generation singer,” the New York Times called her performance “vocally commanding and deeply poignant.”
“I don’t get the opportunity to sing Baroque music that often,’’ said Blythe. “So when I get the opportunity to do a concert like this, I jump at the chance. I love it because it’s terrific for the voice.
Baroque music is full of virtuous flights, often at a pace that approaches the supersonic. Blythe relishes the challenge to flex those particular musical muscles.
“It works like another part of your body,’’ she said. “If you want to keep limber and keep aging at bay, what do the doctors tell you to do? Move. Baroque music does that. It keeps your voice —and your mind — flexible.”
Wynne Delacoma is a local freelance writer.