Now hailed as one of the classical music world’s leading bass-baritones, Eric Owens seemed fated for a different direction in life. After starting out on the oboe, the Philadelphia native sang in his high school choir. And then — la forza del destino.

His choral director “threw me a few solos,” Owens recalled earlier this year in an interview with the Baltimore Sun, “and one time he said, ‘You might consider voice lessons.’ ” Owens followed that advice and launched himself on a path that eventually led him to the foremost stages of the orchestral and operatic realms, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where he appears as a soloist in Rossini’s Stabat mater under Riccardo Muti on June 21-24, and Lyric Opera of Chicago, where he’s singing Wotan in the company’s multi-season roll out of Wagner’s Ring cycle.

However, he actually had been an opera fan since about the age of 8 or 9. “I listened to a lot of opera recordings. Something spoke to me,” he said. “Two recordings in particular: Mozart’s Don Giovanni with Cesare Siepi, and [Bellini’s] I Puritani with [Joan] Sutherland and [Luciano] Pavarotti — I was just blown away by that one. I saw my first opera in Philadelphia when I was about 15: [Puccini’s] Manon Lescaut with [Romanian soprano] Nelly Miricioiu. Seventeen years later, I made my debut at [London’s Royal Opera House in the role of Oroveso] in Bellini’s Norma, and the Norma was Nelly Miricioiu. That was just one more clear indication that I made the right choice.”

TOP: Backstage at Symphony Center, Eric Owens shares a laugh before a performance of Bruckner’s Te Deum with the CSO in June 2016. | ©Todd Rosenberg Photography 2016