Singer Profiles

Andrea Baker is a Chicago based soprano who most recently sang the role of Donna Elvira with Pensacola Opera. In the 2018-2019 season she was an artist in residence with Pensacola Opera where she covered the roles of Juliette in Roméo et Juliette, Rosalba in Florencia en el Amazonas, and was the soprano soloist in Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate and Rossini’s Stabat Mater. For three seasons she was an apprentice artist with Des Moines Metro Opera where she sang a role in Philip Glass’s Galileo Galilei, covered Liù in Turandot and Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus. She was also an apprentice artist with Sarasota Opera where she covered Marzelline in Fidelio. In 2016 Andrea was a winner of the central district of Chicago Metropolitan Opera National Council Awards. Other operatic roles include Alice Ford (Falstaff), First Lady (The Magic Flute), Viola (Twelfth Night) which was a world premiere by Joel Feign with DePaul Opera Theater, Countess (The Marriage of Figaro), Fiordiligi (Così fan tutte) with D’Angelo Opera Theater and Musetta (La bohème) with Erie Opera Theater.

Scott Bass is a countertenor and multi-instrumentalist based in Chicago, IL. Graduating from the Chicago College of Performing Arts in 2019 for vocal performance, Scott has done a variety of projects from opera to pop, both performing for ensembles around Chicagoland and digital performances and music releases throughout the pandemic. Scott is extremely excited to premiere Ode to a Nightingale, both to honor Francis and to share his voice with you all!

Marnie Baylouny is a soprano living in the Chicago area originally from New Jersey. She got her start in music during high school where she participated in the school’s honors choirs, as well as New Jersey’s County, regional, and all-state choirs. Marnie then went on to obtain her Bachelor’s degree in Vocal Performance from the Boston Conservatory where she studied under the tutelage of Patty Thom. During her time at the Conservatory, she understudied the role of Barbarina in Le Nozze di Figaro, performed in the chorus for Rake’s Progress, and played Euridice from Orfeo ed Euridice in a scenes program. 

Marnie has also participated in many summer programs, including American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria, International Performing Arts Institute, and Florence Voice Seminar. She made her operatic debut in 2017 as Papagena in Berlin Opera Academy’s production of Die Zauberflote, and returned the next year to sing Erste Dame in their same production. That same year, she performed in Astoria Music Festival’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro as Susanna. In 2019, Marnie attended Miami Music Festival where she reprised the role of Erste Dame. 

Marnie now resides in Chicago where she studies with Karen Brunssen. She is also the production manager and a co-founder of the Valkyrie Ensemble, a Chicago-based, feminist opera company.

Known for her floating high notes and “cello-like” lower range, versatile lyric soprano Hillary Esqueda is emerging in the opera scene. Described as a “powerful” and “solid” performer, Ms. Esqueda has sung across the Chicagoland and NYC areas in role ranging from Monteverdi to music theater. Favorite roles include: Drusilla (L’incoronazione di Poppea), Popelka (Comedy on the Bridge), and Marie (La Fille du Régiment). She was a young artist with Hubbard Hall Opera Theater, Pacific Encore Productions, and Opera Works. With EChO, she has created two roles (Mary in Joseph’s Gift and Gwendoyln in For Those in Peril, both by Francis Lynch) and also sang the Midwest premieres of With Blood, With Ink (Dying Juana) and Darkling (Soprano Anna). Hillary holds degrees from NYU and Roosevelt University and currently resides in Chicago where she studies with countertenor Mark Crayton.

Mezzo-soprano Shannon Keegan is quickly making a name for herself as one of opera’s most genuine and giving performers. Beginning in the summer of 2021, Shannon will join NetWork’s International Broadway touring cast of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music to cover the Mother Abbess. In 2020, Shannon was meant to join The Santa Fe Opera to sing Second Lady in Die Zauberflöte and cover the Third Woodsprite in Rusalka but the season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the summer before her Master’s, Shannon participated in Houston Grand Opera’s Young Artist Vocal and joined Des Moines Metro Opera as a young artist.

No stranger to the recital stage, Shannon has presented three full length programs of repertoire ranging from Bach to brand new world premieres by up and coming composers. Shannon is particularly fond of Hungarian folk music and has performed the repertoire extensively. Shannon holds a Master’s degree from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. She was featured in Ullmann’s Der Kaiser von Atlantis as Der Trommler. Also at Rice, she was seen as Annio in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito.

As an Undergraduate at University of Cincinnati-CCM, Shannon was heard as Prince Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus, Dinah in Trouble in Tahiti , and Mum in Albert Herring. Shannon is currently based in Illinois with her Siamese cat and several cast-iron pans.

Puerto Rican tenor Karlos Piñero-Mercado is a Chicago-based performer who has appeared in three EChO productions, most recently as Pasquin/Captain Silvio/Doctor Miracle in Bizet’s Doctor Miracle, and previously as Howell/Whiteside in Lynch’s For Those in Peril and as Cornelius in Lynch’s Joseph’s Gift. Other recent performances include La théière in Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, the Lover in Menotti’s Amelia Goes to the Ball, Eisenstein in Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, Dr. Cajus in Otto Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, Brother in Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins, and the tenor soloist in Handel’s Messiah (Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra). In 2015, he was a finalist for the Central Region NATS competition, qualifying him as a finalist at the NATS National Convention. He received his Master of Music degree at Roosevelt University, studying under countertenor Mark Crayton. Mr. Piñero-Mercado enjoys making recordings for his fellow singers and taking artsy shots of his friends around the city.

Austin Sanders, a baritone from Onalaska, WI, has sung works ranging from Bach to Cipullo, Mozart to Strauss, Fauré and Barber. He has performed roles such as Ko-Ko in The Mikado, Polypheme in Acis and Galatea, and Aeolus in King Arthur and premiered Dorian Cunningham’s newest work as Prince Algar in Frideswide and the Devil.  Austin has finished his schooling at Roosevelt University where he obtained his Masters in Voice, and still continues his studies with Mark Crayton.  This summer, he had the opportunity to join the fellows of Altantic Music Festival where he performed the role of Don Alfonso in Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte. Later this fall he will reprise his role as the bass soloist in Carlos Jaquez Gonzalez’s Immigrant Mass over at the Auditorium Theatre in downtown Chicago. He won first at the 2018 Schubert Club Scholarship Competition in St. Paul, MN, and in 2016 he moved on to the regional round from the District Metropolitan Opera Auditions in Wisconsin.

Originally from Chicago, mezzo-soprano Marissa Simmons is noted for her “deep, evenly produced mezzo and theatrical magnetism” (South Florida Classical Review). She is also distinguished by her “comic precision” (San Francisco Examiner) and praised as “una formidable” (Especial/El Nuevo Herald). Simmons earned a Master of Music under Catherine Cook at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She received her Bachelor of Music in both Classical Voice Performance and Music Theory and Composition from the University of Miami Frost School of Music with Dr. Esther Jane Hardenbergh and Dr. Lansing McLoskey.

In previous years, Simmons has sung with prestigious programs such as the Des Moines Metro Opera, Music Academy of the West, Bay Area Summer Opera Theatre Institute, the Miami Music Festival, the International Vocal Arts Academy, and Chicago Summer Opera in collaboration with Candid Concert Opera. Simmons made her professional operatic debut with the Miami Lyric Opera in the role of La Maestra delle Novizie (Suor Angelica).

Simmons’ full performed roles include Prudence (Dust of the Road), Miss Todd (Old Maid and the Thief), Carmen (La tragédie de Carmen), Tisbe (La Cenerentola), Nerone & Ottone (L’incoronazione di Poppea), Cherubino (Le nozze di Figaro), Maria Callas (Jackie O), La Zelatrice (Suor Angelica), La Maestra delle Novizie (Suor Angelica), Roane Heckle (Great Scott), Dritte Knabe (Die Zauberflöte), and Soap Opera Director in the world premiere of Entanglements by Charles Mason.

Most recently, Simmons was a young artist with Virginia Opera where she sang the title role in the children’s opera, Pinocchio, and Dinah in Trouble in Tahiti.

Praised for the dark timbre and agile control of her voice, mezzo-soprano and Minnesota native Josephine Stracek enjoys performing for audiences throughout the United States. Her passion for poetry and language has brought her on a path of exploring art song, new and old. She loves to present unusual vocal repertoire, sharing undiscovered songs with her audiences.

Josephine is a graduate of North Park University (BM ’17) and Roosevelt University (MM ’19). A favorite as a recitalist and chamber artist in northern Minnesota, she has been featured in series at the Fairlawn Mansion, Glensheen Mansion and Kitchi Gammi Club. She has appeared as a guest soloist in Handel’s Messiah with the North Park University Choir at St. Hilary’s Church in Chicago. Josephine has been a recipient of several awards, including the John Phillip Sousa Award, Outstanding Performance in Piano at the Head of the Lakes Jazz Festival, and the National Association of Teachers of Singing.

Josephine’s rich mezzo-soprano voice often enhances sacred services, opera, and choral choruses in the Chicago area. She has appeared in several operas including Zerlina/Don Giovanni (Mozart), Helen/Three Sisters Who are Not Sisters (Rorem), le Bergère and le Rossignol/L’enfant et les sortilèges (Ravel), and George de Planteville/Bagatelle (Offenbach). Josephine currently studies with Maria Lagios.

Baritone Jeremiah Strickler sang the role of Gilfen in EChO’s most recent production of d’Albert’s The Departure, as well as performing as Marcello in our recent concert performances of La Bohème.  He is excited to be involved in the musical community of the greater Chicago area. Originally from Montana, Jeremiah received his Master of Music in voice from Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of the Performing Arts and his Bachelor of Music in voice with a minor in piano from Indiana Wesleyan University. He currently studies with countertenor Mark Crayton and works for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Strickler has been fortunate to participate in staged and concert performances of such works as Mozart’s Die ZauberflöteDon Giovanni, and La finta giardiniera, as well as other choral and chamber works, including Handel’s Messiah and the world premiere of Samuel Pummill’s Consanguineal Requiem. He has also performed solo and collaborative recitals featuring both classical and modern repertoire. Mr. Strickler has begun exploring an interest in composition, including projects based on gothic horror literature, such as Dracula and the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

A native of Scottsdale, Arizona, tenor Jonathan Weyant has garnered praise for his “delicious pathos and splendid technique” in a variety of roles and performances and for his ability to create “unforgettable moment[s]” within an array of ensembles. In the 2018/2019 season, he made his debut as a tenor soloist in Bach’s Mass in B Minor with the Helena Symphony Chorale and as the tenor soloist in Bach’s St. Mathew’s Passion with Musica Lumina in Chicago. He also covered the role of Almeric in the Chicago debut of Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta with the Chicago Opera Theater. During the 2017/2018 season, he performed the role of The Librarian in the Midwest Premiere of Elizabeth Cree, a new opera by Kevin Puts produced in Chicago with COT.

The 2016/2017 season saw his debut with the Chicago Opera Theater in their production of Frank Martin’s Le Vin Herbé (The Love Potion). He was also seen in Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, performed first in Chicago with COT and later in California with the Long Beach Opera. During the spring, he sang The Evangelist in Bob Chilcott’s St. John Passion and debuted his first Bach St. John Passion as the tenor soloist.

Mr. Weyant earned a master’s degree at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts and completed a Professional Diploma in Opera with the Chicago Opera Theater. He currently resides in Chicago and studies with Mark Crayton.

Player Profiles

 

Flute

Cindy Fudala is is currently principal flutist of the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, Northwest Indiana Symphony, the Whiting Park Festival Orchestra, and is the flutist with Evanston Chamber Opera. She is currently the Instructor of Flute at Valparaiso University, Concordia University Chicago, and Lyons Township High School in La Grange, IL. She enjoys performing as the flutist in the Kaia Wind Quintet, and the New Chicago Chamber Orchestra Quintet, which did a concert tour of northern Italy in March 2013, and were guest artists at the International DiffWinds Festival July 2016 in Luxembourg. She has performed with many distinguished American orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Sarasota Opera, the Chicago Chamber Orchestra, and several regional orchestras. Ms. Fudala has been a Concerto Competition winner and featured soloist with university and professional orchestras in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, and enjoys an active freelance career in the Chicagoland area, in addition to being a regular soloist on the Bach Cantata series at Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, IL.

 

Oboe

Deb Stevenson has been a freelance oboist in the Chicago area for over thirty years. She is the founder of the Metropolis Oboe Quartet (www.metropolisquartet.com). She is also a member of the Metropolis and Lake Forest Symphonies, and is co-founder of The Mozart Journey – a collaboration with the St. Charles Singers to perform and record all of the sacred choral works of Mozart. Her newest project, Rendezvous Arts (www.rendezvousarts.org), was conceived during the 2020 pandemic and marries chamber music and visual art. Other groups frequently performed with are the Milwaukee Symphony, Ars Viva Orchestra, Handel Week Festival and the Apollo Chorus. Ms. Stevenson can be heard on recordings with the Chicago, Metropolis, Lake Forest and Milwaukee Symphonies, the St. Charles Singers, Stevie Nicks, Faith Hill’s Christmas Special, the Apollo Chorus, and numerous recordings for GIA music publishing company.
Deb is also a very proud member of the orchestral faculty of the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute festival. Ms. Stevenson has studied oboe and English horn at the University of Louisville, Northern Illinois University, Boston University and Northwestern University, where she received her Master of Music degree. She has studied with Grover Schiltz, Ray Still, Marion Gibson, Carl Sonik, and Larry Thorstenburg.

 

Clarinet

Gene Collerd holds B.A. and M.M. music degrees from Yale University. He is
Professor of Music at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he was active as a
conductor and now teaches clarinet, chamber music, and theory. He plays Principal
Clarinet with the Elgin Symphony Orchestra and Chicago Opera Theater. He is Assistant
Principal Clarinet with the Grant Park Symphony and a member of the Chicago
Philharmonic. For many years he was a member of the Ars Viva Orchestra and he has
been a guest with such notable ensembles as Music of the Baroque, Chicago Chamber
Musicians, Rembrandt Chamber Players, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Illinois
Philharmonic and the Chicago and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestras. He was recently
heard in recital on WFMT with soprano Nicole Heaston and for four years was seen on
stage in Joffrey Ballet’s new production of “The Nutcracker.” Gene also teaches privately
at his home in River Forest.

 

Violin I

In much demand as a performer throughout the Chicago area, violinist Thomas Yang’s work with numerous musical organizations has gained him widespread recognition from many audiences. He currently serves as concertmaster of the Handel Week Festival, St. Charles Singers, Chicago Master Singers and the Northbrook Symphony. In the past, he has acted as concertmaster for the Metropolis Symphony Orchestra, Lake Forest Symphony, Chicago Sinfonietta, and many other ensembles. Mr. Yang has played with esteemed groups including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Lyric Opera of Chicago, and he is a longtime member of the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra.

A versatile performer and contractor, Mr. Yang has performed with and provided orchestras for many of today’s popular artists and timeless classics. Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Josh Groban, Faith Hill, Lyle Lovett, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Smokey Robinson, Natalie Cole, John Denver, Bernadette Peters, and a host of others. He and a quartet even opened for rock legend Meatloaf!

 

Violin II

Dr. Kate Carter enjoys a varied career as a violinist specializing in chamber music. She is a
founding member of critically acclaimed Blue Violet Duo, who “excel at both extremes, from the nuanced and restrained to the incandescent and extravagant” (Stringendo magazine). Their debut album received a grant from Chicago’s DCASE and was selected as WFMT’s “new release of the day.” Dr. Carter has toured internationally with orchestras including Camerata Chicago (2013) and the Lucerne Festival Academy (2009). She has appeared with ensembles including the Lyric Opera Orchestra, Music of the Baroque,
Chicago Philharmonic, Fulcrum Point New Music Ensemble, the Grossman Ensemble, Access Contemporary Music, International Chamber Artists, the Grant Park Symphony, and the Elmhurst Symphony, where she is the Assistant Concertmaster.

Kate holds a doctorate in violin performance from Northwestern University and a Master of Music from the Eastman School of Music. A California native, she resides in Evanston with her husband.

 

Viola

Vannia Phillips is a professional violist, violinist, and teacher in the Chicago area. She has been a member of the Chicago Sinfonietta’s viola section since 1998. Vannia has performed with Chicago Opera Theater, Chicago Jazz Orchestra, Ars Viva, Lake Forest Symphony, Fulcrum Point, New Black Repertory Ensemble, and Joffrey Ballet. A lover of period instrument music, Vannia has played baroque viola in ensembles throughout the Chicago area. Vannia lives in Evanston with her husband Tim and dog Chickie. She is on faculty at the Music Institute of Chicago.

 

Cello

Cellist Elizabeth Anderson is a member of the Chicago Philharmonic, City Lights Orchestra, and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic. She has performed with the Oistrakh Symphony of Chicago, the Northbrook Symphony, New Philharmonic, Chicago Opera Theater, Music Theater Works, Chicago Sinfonietta, Ravinia Festival Orchestra, American Ballet Theater and the Joffrey Ballet. As a theater musician she has played for shows at the Goodman, Court, Northlight and Chicago Shakespeare theaters, and for several productions with Broadway in Chicago. Elizabeth is on the faculties of the Music Institute of Chicago, and the Francis W. Parker school.

Production Profiles

 

Music Director/
Conductor/
Pianist

James Janssen made his debut as a pianist at age 13 performing Haydn’s Piano Concerto in D Major with the Anderson (Indiana) Symphony Orchestra. A native of Indianapolis, he received his education from Indiana University and Oberlin Conservatory’s Baroque Performance Institute, where he studied with such luminaries as Penelope Crawford, Patrick Allen, and Lisa Goode Crawford. He is the artistic director and co-founder of Haydn by the Lake, a period instrument chamber ensemble specializing in music of the Baroque and Classical periods. James has toured extensively in recital with Mark Crayton, countertenor. He has been broadcast on Chicago’s WFMT in recital with Crayton and in concert with Haydn by the Lake. He has appeared in the Chicago area with Music of the Baroque, Ars Antigua, and the St. Clement Orchestra. Outside Chicagoland, he has performed across the country, including appearances at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC and in recital at Carnegie Hall’s Wells Recital Hall. Internationally, he has played on the Amstelrande Concerten series (Amsterdam), Grosvenor Hall (London). and at the Handel & Hendrix in London. Musically, he most enjoys collaborating with singers, playing Classical chamber music, and supporting the choir and congregation from the organ bench. Equally at home at the piano, fortepiano harpsichord, and organ, James is also a composer. He is in his seventeenth year as organist and associate choir director at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Evanston, and can occasionally be found playing the musical saw.

 

Stage Director

Sally Craige Christensen has worked as an actor, director, and teacher for 40 years. She is a proud member of both Actor’s Equity and the SAG AFTRA unions. She has worked in regional theatre in the Northwest with Seattle Repertory Theatre, Tacoma Actors’ Gild, Seattle Children’s Theatre, Pioneer Square Theatre, and Skid Row Show; in the Southeast with The Alliance Theatre; and in the Midwest with New American Theatre, The Human Race Theatre, Collaboraction, Piven Theatre, and The Playwright’s Center. She has also applied her skills locally at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, where she is a member, to assist the lay readers program and to direct Palm Sunday readings of the Passion. In addition, she has worked in the corporate world, helping customer service departments to fulfill their mission while recognizing and preventing signs of stress in themselves.  For fifteen years, she worked at the YWCA Evanston/North Shore as an educator and manager of their Building Healthy Relationships program.

 

 

Composer/
Producer

Francis Lynch  traces the roots of his lifelong passion for classical music to childhood piano lessons. He began composing music while still in high school, but it was during his tenure as organist and choir director at an Episcopal Church in a Chicago suburb that he discovered the joy of writing sacred music, especially for chorus. A member of Chicago Master Singers for 20 seasons, he was privileged to have many of his choral settings premiered by that ensemble at their Christmas concerts, and his a cappella works have been performed from the Baltic to the Balkans as part of the program for two CMS European concert tours. In 2004, he led the orchestration team that adapted Kingsley Day’s sprightly music for the “lost” Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, Thespis, and in 2011, he created an orchestration of Florian Pascal’s setting of Eyes and No Eyes, an early work by Sullivan’s partner W.S. Gilbert. Francis founded Sheet Music Back In Print in 2009 to publish new editions of public domain works that might otherwise be forgotten. He also prepares scores for pianist, actor, and composer Hershey Felder. A resident of Evanston since 2000, Francis continues to compose new works and prepare new editions of neglected works of the past. He would like to express his profound thanks to the EChO board for agreeing to present this program as the company’s long-delayed 2021 production.