Soprano Laura Bumgardner (Miss Pinkerton) is excited to make her Evanston Chamber Opera debut as Miss Pinkerton in Menotti’s The Old Maid and the Thief. She has been celebrated for her lovely tone and authentic story-telling on the stage. Ms. Bumgardner’s roles include Rusalka (cover)/Rusalka, Donna Anna (cover)/Don Giovanni, Miss Pinkerton/The Old Maid and the Thief, Ann Putnam/The Crucible, La Bergére/La Chouette/L’enfant et les sortileges, and La maestra delle Novizie/Suor Angelica. Her partial roles include Marschallin/Der Rosenkavalier, Ellen Orford/Peter Grimes, Fiordiligi/Cosi fan tutte, Frasquita/Carmen, Marzelline/Fidelio, and Sandman/Hänsel und Gretel. Ms. Bumgardner has been a soprano in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus since 2018, and has sung in the opera choruses of Don Giovanni, L’incoronazione di Poppea, Susannah, and Suor Angelica. Her awards include the Farwell Trust Award with the Musicians Club of Women, and First Place in the Lower Advanced College/Independent Studio Women division in the Chicago Chapter of the N.A.T.S. Ms. Bumgardner has participated in master classes with Michelle DeYoung, Craig Terry, Darren K. Woods, and Rebecca Schorsch. Her formal education includes a Master’s Degree in Voice from Roosevelt University (2017) and a Bachelor’s Degree in Vocal Performance, with a minor in Musical Theatre from Southern Methodist University (2015). Ms. Bumgardner resides in Chicago and is a student of Alexandra LoBianco.
Known for her floating high notes and rich middle range, Hillary Esqueda (Laetitia) is a versatile lyric soprano described as a “powerful” and “solid” performer. Roles performed include: Mimi (La Bohème), Drusilla (L’incoronazione di Poppea), First Lady (The Magic Flute), and Frasquita (Carmen). She had the fortune to sing as a Young Artist with Hubbard Hall Opera Theater, OperaOggi, Underworld Productions, OperaWorks, and most recently she performed throughout the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico with OperaMaya’s 2022 Summer Festival. Hillary has a particular love for modern and contemporary opera, and starred in the Midwest premieres of With Blood, With Ink (Dying Juana) and Darkling (Soprano Anna). Hillary received her Bachelor’s degree in Music from NYU’s Steinhardt School and her Master’s from Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. She is excited to return to EChO for this show after previously creating three roles with them in their productions of Joseph’s Gift (Mary), For Those in Peril (Gwendolyn) and Voices at Domrémy (Yvonne), all by composer Francis Lynch. She currently lives in Chicago and studies with countertenor Mark Crayton.
Samson McCrady (Bob) is an American baritone from Tucson, Arizona. His 21-22 Season included being a National Semifinalist in the Metropolitan Opera’s Laffont Competition, Third Place in the Montserrat Caballé International Singing Competition, and singing Giorgio Germont in South Bend Lyric Opera’s production of Verdi’s La traviata. He recently covered the role of Sid in Chicago Opera Theater’s production of Britten’s Albert Herring, and this summer at the Merola Program he will sing the role of Tarquinius in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia. In summer 2021, he appeared in Merola’s award-winning feature film Through the Stage Door. As a Cafritz Young Artist at Washington National Opera from 2018-2020, Samson made numerous appearances on the Kennedy Center Opera House stage. Most significantly, he sang the role of Papageno in the beloved Maurice Sendak production of The Magic Flute under the baton of Eun Sun Kim. Samson also shared the honor of performing in Francesca Zambello’s presentation of Menotti’s The Consul for the United States Supreme Court. Samson McCrady is a student of internationally-renowned tenor Neil Shicoff and holds a Master of Music degree from CCM.
Emlynn Shoemaker (Julia Child) is an active mezzo-soprano in the Chicagoland area and is thrilled to be making her role debut with Evanston Chamber Opera this season. Later this year Ms. Shoemaker will be joining Cedar Rapids Opera to perform the role of Zita in Gianni Schicchi and covering the role of Hattie in American Gothic. In 2018 Ms. Shoemaker made her professional debut with GLOW Lyric Theatre as Buttercup in H.M.S. Pinafore. During her masters, she performed the role of Hannah After in As One (2014), and has since gone on to perform other new works such as the role of Barbara Thames in Stinney: An American Execution, the workshop for Kathleen Belcher’s A Musical Loveletter, and the world premiere of Laura Kaminsky’s choral piece titled A Brighter Light. Her recent credits include the title role in La Cenerentola with Lawrence Opera Theatre, the southeastern premiee of Stinney: An American Execution with GLOW Lyric Theatre, and The Pirates of Penzance with Cedar Rapids Opera. Ms. Shoemaker sings regularly with Chicago Symphony Chorus and Chicago Choral Artists. She is a former young artist of GLOW Lyric Theatre, Cedar Rapids Opera, Peach State Opera, and holds a Masters in Music from the University of Kansas where she studied with prolific mezzo-soprano Joyce Castle.
Originally from Chicago, mezzo-soprano Marissa Simmons (Miss Todd) is noted for her “deep, evenly produced mezzo and theatrical magnetism” (South Florida Classical Review). She is also distinguished by her “rawly sensual, dry, whiskey-toned voice” (San Francisco Classical Voice) 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.
Recently, Simmons has sung with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Virginia Arts Festival, Virginia Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, Charlottesville Opera, Teatro Nuovo, Music Academy of the West, and more. Simmons’ full performed roles include Dinah (Trouble in Tahiti), Pinocchio (Pinocchio), Margret (Wozzek), 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 & La Maestra delle Novizie (Suor Angelica), Roane Heckle (Great Scott), and Dritte Knabe (Die Zauberflöte).
Not only is she an opera singer, but Simmons is also a composer. She conducted the world premiere of one of her orchestral compositions in Austria at age 15. Her newest commissioned composition, “An Open Letter to Samuel Alito: Lament of the Choiceless” will have its premiere with Paradox Opera in March.
Born in Kiev, Ukraine, pianist Anatoliy Torchinskiy began his piano studies nearly forty years ago. As a small child, he won numerous competitions and eventually studied at the Central Ukrainian Music High School for Gifted Children. He studied with Olga Liforenko, Violetta Chernyshova, and Boris Archimovich. He performed as a concert pianist with both the Ukrainian Chamber Orchestra and the Ukrainian Symphony Orchestra on Soviet television. After immigrating to the United States in 1992, Mr. Torchinskiy continued his studies at the Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University under Pawel Checinski, earning both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Piano Performance. He began accompanying professionally in 1996 and has been heard in Italy, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, and the Chicago area, with companies such as da Corneto Opera, Chamber Opera Company Chicago, Genesis Opera, Bellissima Opera, as well as playing live on WFMT radio.
Although known primarily as an accompanist, Mr. Torchinskiy has also developed a reputation as a versatile pianist who coaches instrumentalists and singers alike. In 2018 he released a CD recoding of his January performance at Skokie Central United Methodist Church, entitled A Winter Evening of Classical Music. Mr. Torchinskiy is currently dividing his time between teaching, accompanying, and performance.
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 eighteenth year as organist and associate choir director at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Evanston, and can occasionally be found playing the musical saw.
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’ Guild, 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.