Workplace romance always in the air at Lyric Opera
BY KARA SPAK Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org February 21, 2013 8:32PM
Singers Sam Handley and Amanda Majeski in a Lyric Opera dressing room. There are 13 married couples working at the Lyric Opera; this story looks at 3 of them and why so many are living the opera's "long live passion" slogan in their off hours. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times
These 14 couples live the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s motto “Long Live Passion” on and off stage:
• Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric Opera music director, is married to Gianna Rolandi, Ryan Opera Center director.
• Evan Boyer, bass at the Ryan Opera Center, is married to Alejandra Boyer, manager of Lyric Unlimited.
• Amanda Majeski, currently appearing as Eva in “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg,” is marrying Sam Handley, Hans Foltz in “Die Meistersinger,” on March 9. Both are Ryan Opera Center alumni.
• Christoph Ptack, associate artistic administrator, is in a nine-year committed relationship with ScottRamsay, tenor and Ryan Opera Center alum.
• Janet Reynolds, chorus, is married to Mike Reynolds, master electrician.
• Maureen Reilly, wardrobe director, is married to Charlie Reilly, property master.
• Jack Zimmerman, subscriber relations manager, is married to Charlene Zimmerman, principal clarinet.
• Michelle DiBennardi, dresser, is married to Danny DiBennardi, carpenter.
• Claudia Nienow, chorus, is married to Mark Nienow, chorus.
• Sheryl Veal, chorus,and Ronald Watkins, chorus.
• Ellen Hildner, violinist, is married to David Hildner, violinist.
• Laura Miller, violinist, is married to Jon Boen, principal horn.
• Katie Brauer, violinist, is married to Mark Brandfonbrener, cellist.
• Melissa Trier Kirk, viola, is married to Lewis Kirk, bassoon.
Source: Lyric Opera of Chicago
Updated: March 25, 2013 6:09AM
Love that lasts forever. Love betrayed. Love worth dying over. Love worth living for. Love that starts as friendship. Love that kills. Love that lasts beyond death.
Night after night on the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s stage, cast and crew create musical tributes to love in its many forms, including the most twisted and torturous.
Behind the scenes at Lyric Opera, though, love is also in the air.
And it’s largely the monogamous, married kind.
Lyric Opera is home to at least 14 married or engaged couples or long-term life partners — chorus members married to other chorus members, musicians married to musicians, musicians married to office workers, singers married to singers, singers married to office workers, the prop manager married to the head of wardrobe.
While it isn’t unusual for true love to blossom at a workplace, those working in the opera house say the number of married couples behind the scenes at Lyric is unusually high, particularly for a line of work where star performers travel the world, singing in opera houses throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.
“We’re there with each other sometimes 16 hours a day,” said Charlie Reilly, the property master, who will be celebrating 18 years of marriage this year to Maureen Reilly, Lyric’s wardrobe director. “Sometimes our only interaction with other human beings is when we’re at the opera house. Work and home — I don’t know the difference.”
At Lyric, when it comes to love at work, it starts at the top. Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric Opera’s music director, is married to Gianna Rolandi, now director of the Ryan Opera Center after a two-decade career as an internationally renowned soprano.
It’s that Ryan Opera Center that seems to be the epicenter of several relationships. The competitive training program for up-and-coming opera stars joins young lovers who spend all their time together and are preparing to launch a career and, in some cases, a family.
Amanda Majeski, the soprano star of “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg,” and Sam Handley, a bass playing the role of Hans Foltz in the production, are marrying on March 9. Majeski and Handley met in the Ryan program.
“We all are aware of how difficult a relationship with a singer can be,” she said. “We warned ourselves to never date a singer.”
But the heart wants what the heart wants, which in their case includes a partner supportive of highly nontraditional work schedules and an ability to look past the thick sideburns Handley grew for “Die Meistersinger.”
“We found someone who understands our hectic schedule and idiosyncrasies,” she said. The sideburns will be shaved before the wedding, she added.
Majeski said that at the core of their relationship, she and Handley understand that, as opera singers, “most of the time you live a gypsy lifestyle.” Both performing in the same show in the same city is unusual, they said.
“The rule is not to go two weeks without seeing each other,” Majeski said. The pair send text messages, talk via Skype and estimate they connect on about five different technological platforms when they perform in different cities.
Chicago, however, is considered their home base. The two live in the Loop.
“I don’t know how couples in our situation did it back in the ’80s or ’90s,” Majeski said.
Alejandra and Evan Boyer of Wicker Park are about to learn firsthand how to manage the distance. Alejandra Boyer is the manager of Lyric Unlimited, a program to bring opera to neighborhoods throughout the city. Evan Boyer, a bass, is finishing his time at the Ryan Opera Center. Following a March 30 performance, he will start traveling full-time.
“I think it’s OK to be nervous about it,” Alejandra Boyer said. “A lot of people do it. So we’re not alone. Everybody has their own style of how they manage.”
The two met in 2006 while both were music students at Northwestern University. Alejandra Boyer, a former opera singer, attends every opening her husband is in.
“I have had to sit through how many ‘Magic Flutes’ now?” she said, laughing. “Seven?”
Evan Boyer thinks Lyric and its married couples provide a support network for each other.
“There’s a strong sense of community,” he added.
Bedrocks of that community are Maureen and Charlie Reilly, who met offstage during a 1990 Lyric Opera production of “Alceste.”
“I had a cue on stage right and she had a quick change over there,” said Charlie Reilly, now Lyric’s prop master. “We would always talk.”
Maureen Reilly, Lyric’s wardrobe director, moved to Arizona but returned to Lyric to work a job in Chicago two years later. They had a first date at the Lincoln Park Zoo, though Maureen Reilly planned to return to Arizona.
“I was getting ready to go back and he said, ‘I don’t want you to go,’ ” she said.
The pair married in 1995, live in Palos Park and carpool to work together.
They occasionally work on projects, like a bed used in the current production of “Rigoletto.” Charlie Reilly built the bed and Maureen Reilly and her department created the bedspread.
“We’re not always on the same page,” he said. “She always tells me that I’m not wrong —her ideas are just better.”
Working at the opera company, Maureen Reilly said, isn’t just employment: “It’s a lifestyle; it’s not just a job.”