Eric Owens, a Philadelphia native, has a thriving career takes him all over the world. But luckily for Chicago’s classical music fans, the distinguished bass-baritone is spending more and more time in our city.
In May, Owens performed an all-Schubert recital with soprano Susanna Phillips and members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Center. Barely a month later, he’s returning to Chicago for performances June 13-14 with the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus at the Auditorium Theatre to sing the role of Friar Lawrence in Berlioz’s choral symphony Romeo et Juliette, conducted by Carlos Kalmar. (The concerts are indoors rather than outdoors at Millennium Park to avoid noise bleed from the Chicago Blue Festival, also running that weekend downtown.)
In September, Owens will be back at Symphony Center to open the CSO’s 2014/15 season as a soloist in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, conducted by CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti on Sept. 18, 20, 21 and 23. (Single tickets went on sale June 6 for the Symphony Ball performance on Sept. 20.) And in May 2015, Owens also will play a major role in the CSO’s survey of French music with guest conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. He will among the vocal soloists in Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges on May 7-9 and 15 and a concert version of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande on May 14, 16 and 19. In between, he returns to Lyric Opera of Chicago, where he made his house debut in 2007 in John Adams’ Doctor Atomic and last season appeared in Dvorak’s Rusalka. He sings Porgy in a revival of the company’s production of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, running Nov. 17-Dec. 20.
“It’s exciting. This will be the second time I’ll be doing the Berlioz,” said Owens in a phone interview from the Wolf Trap Festival in Virginia, where he was giving master classes to young singers. “I experienced it for the first time as a kid, around the age of 17 when I was growing up in Philadelphia. I heard it with Riccardo Muti, who was music director [of the Philadelphia Orchestra] back then. It was at an open rehearsal, and the singers were John Aler, Jessye Norman and Simon Estes.
“It’s a fantastic piece. And speaking of Beethoven, it was Paganini, I think, who said that Berlioz was the true successor to Beethoven. For me, just to be involved with these wonderful musicians making this music, it’s an honor, it’s a joy.
“And to open the season with Maestro Muti, who I think is so fantastic,” Owens continued. “That’s something special with me, having grown up in Philadelphia and going to many, many concerts that he conducted. All these years later, to be able to perform with him — and the CSO, which is just a phenomenal orchestra. It’s such a joy.”
Watch for more from Eric Owens, when the CSO fall season begins in September, on Sounds & Stories.
Wynne Delacoma, classical music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1991 to 2006, is Chicago-based writer, critic and lecturer.