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Opera world’s favorite ‘devil’ sings with Elmhurst Symphony

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‘The Devil You Say’

Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra, with Samuel Ramey

♦ 7 p.m. May 11

♦ Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church, 149 W. Brush Hill Road

♦ Tickets, $29, $27 for seniors, $7 for students

♦ (630) 941-0202;

There is a warning often heard in the musical world — “don’t paint the devil on the wall.”

But the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra is fearlessly concluding its 52nd season with a program titled “The Devil You Say,” — and in a church!

The soloist will be one of the opera world’s favorite demons, bass Samuel Ramey, who during his nearly three decade-long international career has given more than 200 performances as Mephistopheles in 20 productions of Gounod’s “Faust,” including several at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He has also triumphed in Boito’s “Mefistofele” and Berlioz’s “The Damnation of Faust.”

“Composers seem to think that people with deep voices should play the villains, the evil roles,” said Ramey, when reached at his Glenview home. “Actually, that’s been fortunate for me.”

Indeed, one of his most successful recital programs is titled “A Date with the Devil,” in which he sings 14 arias from his repertoire of operatic bad guys. He first presented it to a sold-out crowd at Avery Fisher Hall in New York in 1996 and continues to tour with that program. Just last month, he starred as the dreaded Bluebeard in Opera Omaha’s full production of Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle,” a role he played with Chicago Opera Theatre in 2007.

Ramey has the distinction of being the most recorded bass in history and he now serves on the faculty of Roosevelt University. “I lived for a long time in New York City,” he explained, “and I thought that if I ever left, it would be to settle in Chicago.

“We have a son who is almost 10 years old and Glenview is a great place for families,” he continued, adding that it doesn’t hurt that he can fly anywhere in the world from O’Hare.

The Elmhurst engagement came about when Ramey’s wife Lindsey Larsen introduced him to Stephen Alltop, conductor and music director of the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra. “We met at a party in February a year ago,” said Alltop, a member of the conducting faculty at Northwestern University for 18 years and director of the esteemed Apollo Chorus in Chicago for 15 seasons.

“Sam is so identified with the devil roles, I thought it would be great to have him do a program for us,” said Alltop.

The Elmhurst Choral Union and the Elmhurst College Choir will join the orchestra in the prologue and selections from Boito’s “Mefistofele,” Wagner’s “Pilgrim’s Chorus” from “Tannhauser,” and selections from his “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg,” as well as Berlioz’s “Rakoczy March” from “La Damnation of Faust” and “Royal Hunt and Storm” from his “Les Troyens.”

One of Ramey’s well-known roles, Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” is not on the program. But then, he was not originally from Hades, he just ended up there.

Dorothy Andries is a local free-lance writer.

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