Naperville soprano Tamara Wilson makes Lyric debut in 'Il trovatore'

  • Naperville native and soprano Tamara Wilson makes her Lyric Opera of Chicago debut as Leonora in Verdi's tragedy "Il trovatore."

    Naperville native and soprano Tamara Wilson makes her Lyric Opera of Chicago debut as Leonora in Verdi's tragedy "Il trovatore." Courtesy of Cassandra Kay

 
 

For more than a decade, Tamara Wilson has sung leading soprano roles on the world's great opera stages. Yet Wilson, who grew up in Naperville, is only now making her Lyric Opera of Chicago debut this season in "Il trovatore" ("The Troubadour").

"A lot of my family and friends from the suburbs would go, 'Are you sure you're an opera singer? Because you haven't sung at the Lyric,'" laughed Wilson. "Now I can prove it to them."

Wilson plays the Spanish noblewoman Leonora in Giuseppe Verdi's 1853 revenge tragedy. Leonora is romantically pursued by both the title troubadour, Manrico (American tenor Russell Thomas), and Count di Luna (Polish baritone Artur Rucinski). These rivals are mortal enemies, but also (in a melodramatic twist) long-lost brothers.

"Verdi writes for sopranos in a way that requires all the faculties of their technique and drama," said Wilson, adding that Leonora's vocal range goes from A below middle C to a D above high C.

Blacksmiths provide extra percussion to the "Anvil Chorus," arguably the best-known tune in "Il trovatore." The Lyric Opera of Chicago revives its 2006 production of Verdi's 1853 tragedy with Naperville native Tamara Wilson in the lead soprano role of Leonora.
Blacksmiths provide extra percussion to the "Anvil Chorus," arguably the best-known tune in "Il trovatore." The Lyric Opera of Chicago revives its 2006 production of Verdi's 1853 tragedy with Naperville native Tamara Wilson in the lead soprano role of Leonora. - Courtesy of Robert Kusel/Lyric Opera of Chicago

Wilson previously performed Leonora in Houston, as well as in France and Spain. But this is the first time Wilson has appeared in director Sir David McVicar's acclaimed 2006 production, which updates the action from 1409 to the early 19th century during the Spanish War of Independence from Napoleonic France.

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"The biggest challenge is when (St. Charles native) Sondra Radvanovsky debuted in the McVicar production, they staged a lot of it with Leonora on her knees," Wilson said. "It makes the singing even harder, but it's something you have to do to convey all of the emotions through physicality."

Wilson's Lyric debut is also a reunion of colleagues. Italian conductor Marco Armiliato paced Wilson in the 2004 Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finals and in her 2014 Met debut in the title role of Verdi's "Aida." Wilson has previously performed with her "Il trovatore" co-stars Russell Thomas and mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton.

Opera soprano Tamara Wilson grew up in Naperville, where she attended Gregory Middle School with music teacher Sandra Stoneham, left, and librarian Nancy Young, right. Her former teachers traveled to surprise her during a Miami performance in 2016.
Opera soprano Tamara Wilson grew up in Naperville, where she attended Gregory Middle School with music teacher Sandra Stoneham, left, and librarian Nancy Young, right. Her former teachers traveled to surprise her during a Miami performance in 2016. - Courtesy of Tamara Wilson

After her Lyric debut, Wilson be paired with Thomas again this season in Verdi's "Otello" for Canadian Opera Company in Toronto. She'll later make her debut at Italy's most esteemed opera house, La Scala in Milan, in the title role of Richard Strauss' "Ariadne auf Naxos."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Wilson is glad to be in a position to artistically support her hometown. After she started singing professionally, Wilson created a scholarship fund for the community choruses of the Young Naperville Singers.

"It's nice that I can give back to something that had me start chorally and learning how to sing," said Wilson, citing the early support of her Gregory Middle School teacher Sandra Stoneham, who helped steer her toward choral music.

In 2015, Naperville native Tamara Wilson starred in the title role of Bellini's "Norma" at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, Spain. Wilson also starred as Leonora in Verdi's "Il trovatore" at the same venue in 2017, the same role of her Lyric Opera of Chicago debut.
In 2015, Naperville native Tamara Wilson starred in the title role of Bellini's "Norma" at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, Spain. Wilson also starred as Leonora in Verdi's "Il trovatore" at the same venue in 2017, the same role of her Lyric Opera of Chicago debut. - Courtesy of A. Bofill/Gran Teatre del Liceu

"(Wilson) was ahead of the curve with her vocal maturity, even before she entered high school," remembers John DeGroot, who taught Wilson during his years as choral director at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora from 1976 to 2005. "It was obvious to me that she had an incredible future ahead of her."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

DeGroot, now retired to Winter, Wisconsin, is driving down to Chicago for Wilson's Lyric debut. The fact that so many of Wilson's family and friends will be in attendance through her Lyric run is slightly unnerving her.

"When I go to a place where I've never sung before and I don't really know anyone, I don't have to worry. I can just go and do my job," Wilson said. "But since I have so many people coming for these shows who know me personally and have seen me since I was 10, that kind of familial and friend pressure is almost worse for me. But we'll persevere."

• • •

"Il trovatore"

Location: Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, (312) 832-5600 or lyricopera.org

Shows: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17; 2 p.m. Nov. 21, 25 and Dec. 9; and 7 p.m. Nov. 30, Dec. 3 and 6

Tickets: $39-$279. Sung in Italian with projected English translations.

"Beyond the Aria" recital with Tamara Wilson, Jamie Barton and Josh Lovell

Location: The enclosed stage of the Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park, 205 E. Randolph Drive, Chicago, (312) 334-7777 or harristheaterchicago.org

Shows: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28

Tickets: $65-$175. Sold out, but call for potential turnbacks.

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