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Spring 2020 Lyric Theatre Newsletter
Message from Dr. Gunn
 Julie Gunn at piano in Cabaret

Dear Friends of Lyric Theatre:

As I write you from home during this frightening pandemic, I find myself filled with gratitude for all the things we are denied right now: close everyday interaction with our students, artistic collaboration, guest artists from all around the world teaching and inspiring us, and you, our audiences and supporters, sitting side by side in our beautiful halls experiencing the joy of live theater.

The professional performing arts have been hit particularly hard by this virus, which basically threw the entire industry out of work overnight. Broadway is dark, and the MET has furloughed the orchestra, chorus, and stagehands, and cancelled the contracts of all the principal singers. Most of our professional colleagues have no idea when they will be able to work again.

Fortunately we are still teaching our students to sing, act, compose, direct, and design, via Zoom, from their childhood homes; we are finalizing lists, budgets, and designs for future sets and costumes; we are conferencing with artists from all around the world about their methods for making bold, creative, collaborative work; but mostly we are waiting to start our work again.

It is because of you, our supporters, that we are confident about the future—that we will present A Little Night Music and the rest of next season to you when the Krannert Center reopens. That we are merely postponing and not cancelling our work. Your support in donations and ticket purchases has put us in a financially stable position for which we are profoundly grateful. More than 200 Krannert Center households have declined a refund for their unused tickets this spring—what a beautiful show of support!

This month we are eagerly awaiting decisions by the class of 2024 to enroll at Illinois. Please keep them and their families in your thoughts. We miss you all and hope you are staying safe and sound.


Julie Gunn
co-director, Lyric Theatre @ Illinois

Reflections on A Little Night Music by Jeffrey Magee
4 costume drawings for A Little Night Music by Larissa Almanza, Costume Designer
Larissa Almanza, Costume Designer

The thirteen-year-old girl observes: “If you cheated a little, it would come out.” She is watching a game of solitaire played by her grandmother, a former courtesan, who responds, “Solitaire is the only thing in life that demands absolute honesty. As a woman who has numbered kings among her lovers, I think my word can be taken on that point.”

These first spoken lines come from the mouths of the youngest and eldest characters, and they welcome us to the moral universe of A Little Night Music,where a little cheating can lead to an appropriate resolution, and where honesty to oneself matters above all. Easy advice to give, hard to follow. So this musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler takes the next two hours to reveal how acting on that advice leads characters into a “muddle” and ultimately toward more honest, “coherent” lives. The show’s endearing characters, comic plot twists, and memorable music have made it a staple of the musical stage for nearly a half century since its premiere in 1973. And one of Sondheim’s rare hit songs, “Send in the Clowns,” lives on as a staple of the Great American Songbook.

The source of the plot was Ingmar Bergman’s classic erotic comedy of manners, the 1955 film Smiles of a Summer Night. The “night” in question comprises about a week during the summer solstice, the time in late June known in Sweden simply as Midsummer, a national holiday promising romance and fertility. (It has been said that many Swedish babies are born nine months after Midsummer.) Nearly every character is in love or lust with two others, creating multiple triangles that tie them in knots. And our particular focus comes to bear on the married lawyer Fredrik Egerman and his former lover, an actress named Desirée.

The book and score magnify the number 3 in countless ways. The wise old Madame Armfeldt claims that the night smiles three times “at the follies of human beings”: at the young who “know nothing,” at the fools (the “clowns” of the famous song) “who know too little, like Desirée” (her daughter), and at the old “who know too much.” The characters represent three social tiers: the working class who serve others of a higher station, the middle class who are comfortable but must work for a living (or marry someone who does), and the aristocrats who enjoy inherited wealth or an allowance.

Sondheim composed every musical number (with a brief exception) in some form of triple meter, often redolent of the old-world operetta waltz. And he incorporated other “threes” cleverly into the score. For example, “Now,” “Later,” and “Soon” comprise three songs about three different times that ultimately combine to form a trio. There are songs for two people singing of an absent third (e.g. “You Must Meet My Wife”), and songs sung by one woman about three men of different social classes (“Liaisons,” “The Miller’s Son”).

What does this all add up to? In the world of this show, as in many classical comedies, threes are inherently unstable and couples represent stability. The endings of such comedies resolve the instability of threes into twos and establish a state of affairs that “feels right” as the curtain falls. By the end, everyone has cheated “a little” and life has “come out” better for them. Along the way, everyone has also become a bit more “honest” with themselves. The smiles of the summer night forgive them all for the transgressions that got them there.

Jessie Ragsdale: Alumni Spotlight
Jessie Ragsdale, Alumni Spotlight 
Jessie Ragsdale, Alumni Spotlight 

Lyric Theatre alumna Jessie Ragsdale (2019 MM in Voice Performance and Literature) has been hard at work post-graduation. Between young artist program auditions, working a side gig, and creating a new podcast with her friend Michelle Pina called Opera Offstage, Jessie has been embodying what it means to be a modern musician. 

What were some of the most useful things you learned at Illinois?
I think independence was the most important skill I learned during my time at U of I. In undergraduate programs, there are long lists of requirements, where in graduate school you have a lot more flexibility with your courses and focus. I started really exploring different ways of performing and creating music in graduate school. U of I is very good about allowing their students to cross-train in different areas than their main degree, and the Krannert Center draws such a wide variety of artists and performances. It really opened me up to possibilities beyond just opera and musical theater.


Jessie and her friend Michelle recently launched their new podcast, Opera Offstage, where they discuss the challenges singers face in the modern world. They focus on many topics that are not usually covered in a traditional musical education.

How did you and Michelle meet? How did you decide to create this podcast?
Michelle and I actually met as freshmen music majors at Pepperdine University, and we've been friends ever since. I came up with the idea for Opera Offstage when I realized that there is very little good representation for classical singers in online spaces like YouTube, podcasts, Twitch, etc. It's a huge untapped market, especially for young singers. I reached out to Michelle about working together on this project because she has an incredible work ethic, and we really balance each other in terms of skills and focus, plus we have very similar senses of humor. I've always been interested in creating online content, but it wasn't until recently that I had an idea as to what I actually wanted to create.

Opera Offstage 

What is the goal of this podcast? How do you go about achieving that goal?
The ultimate goal of this podcast and YouTube channel is to help bring classical music into the modern world. We hope to accomplish this by being very open about what being a working musician is like—all of the funny, terrible, and wonderful parts of it. We also want to highlight the amazing work that is being created right now that is often overlooked. Our hope is that by pulling back the curtain on classical music, we will create a much stronger music community as well as invite interest from non-musicians who want to know more about classical music.

Go to www.opera-offstage.com for more information about this new and exciting podcast!

Next Season Announcement

Lyric Theatre @ Illinois’ production of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, originally scheduled for this spring, will be presented when the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts reopens. Due to the uncertainty of the present times, an announcement regarding the remainder of the 2020–21 season will be made at a later date.

Photos from Cabaret
Photos from HMS Pinafore
Photos from Michelle DeYoung Masterclass, Hello Spring! Rehearsal, Unified Auditions with LTI Alumni, and of Ann Evans Watson
photo collage 
Honor Roll

The following donors have made generous contributions to the funds that support our productions and scholarships for our students including the Illinois Lyric Theatre & Opera Support Fund, the Sara de Mundo Lo Opera Award, the Thomas Schleis Memorial Scholarship, the Joseph W. Schlanger Memorial Opera Fund, Opera Sponsorship Fund, the Jerry Hadley Memorial Scholarship Fund, The Krannert Center Lyric Theatre Student Excellence Fund, Albert C. and Priscilla S. England Scholarship in Voice Fund and the Illinois Opera Theatre Enthusiasts Fund.

Lyric Theatre at Illinois Legacy Society
Lifetime giving of $5,000 and above

Barbara E. Barnes
R. Bauer Foundation
Susan and Michael Haney
Richard and Jenny Harvey
Paul Herman
John Johnson and Patricia Coyne-Johnson
Ronald Johnson
Craig and Margaret Milkint
Tracy McCabe and Fabien Wecker
A. Mark Neuman
Marilyn Nichols
Thomas Nixon and Dan Sherbo
Paul Rosenberg and Karen Altay-Rosenberg
Frances Schlanger
Ginny* and Paul Uhlenhop
Pamela and Michael VanBlaricum
Sarah Wigley
Wigley Family Fund
Lizabeth Wilson

The Following Gifts are from 7.1.18-4.22.20

Barbara E. Barnes
Marilyn Nichols
Pamela and Michael VanBlaricum
Sarah Wigley

Ronald Johnson
A. Mark Neuman
Wigley Family Fund

Donald Bagby
Michael Bagby
Susan and Michael Haney
Thomas Nixon and Dan Sherbo
Cynthia Swanson
Lizabeth Wilson 

Mary and Kenneth Andersen*
Charles Boast and Marsha Clinard
Beth and David Chasco   
Anne Ehrlich
Roxanne Frey
Mary Hoffman
John Johnson and Patricia Coyne-Johnson
Timothy Killeen and Roberta Johnson Killeen
Margaret and Craig Milkint
Jane and Walter Myers   
Elizabeth Raiman
Lois and Ed Rath   
Stephen Sligar and Mary Schuler
Joy Thornton-Walter and John Walter
Class Act

Lisa De Angelis
Mildred Barnett
Shu-Jung Chuang
Terri and John Dodson
Ann Einhorn
Charles Matz and Yvonne Simpson-Matz
Douglas Nelson and Janet Ellis-Nelson
Colleen and Arnold Weinfeld 
Paul Weston
Brenda and Morgan Lynge 

Forough Archer
Susan and Donald Armstrong
Carol and Willis Colburn
Kadriye and Philipp Hieronymi
Linda and Charles Jordan
Saul Nache and Matthew Toland
J. and Donald Sherbert
Shirley Soo and Matthew Gorman
June and Ashton Waller
Richard Ziegler

Ellen and Eugene Amberg
Kathleen and S. E. Barton
Ying-Ying and Shau-Jin Chang
Chin-Chuan and Mu-Chin Cheng
Maxwell Feinberg
Sue and Aron Feinberg
Joli Ginsberg
Diane Gottheil
Nancy Johnson and Kenneth Bengoechea
Carol and David Larson  
Marina and Nenad Marjanovic
Patricia and James Mayer  
Lurie McAdow
Linda McKown
Anna Merritt
Lee Nickelson and Lynda Dautenhahn
Catherine Webber
Northwestern Mutual Life Foundation, Inc.

Hannah and Justin Brauer
Aaron Godwin
Calvin Lear
John Londrigan
Lily Mao
Anne Mauro
Edward Olsen
Melinda Powell
Dennis Schafer
Lydia Soo
Kris Spaulding Construction
Susan Spaulding
Elaine Vogel