Lyric Opera of Chicago

Ana María Martínez and Eric Owens named Community Ambassadors

For immediate release:
Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Lyric Opera of Chicago announces 
Ana María Martínez and Eric Owens 
as inaugural Lyric Unlimited Community Ambassadors

Lyric Opera of Chicago is pleased to announce that soprano Ana María Martínez and bass-baritone Eric Owens will serve as the inaugural Community Ambassadors as part of the Lyric Unlimited initiative. These two artists will strengthen and actively participate in new, ongoing, and future Lyric Unlimited programs that serve and engage schools and the larger community, including the Vocal Partnership Program, Youth Opera Council, Teen Opera Circle, Lyric's ongoing relationship with Latino communities, and other collaborative community events. Martínez and Owens are starring in Lyric's new production of Rusalka, which opens on Saturday, February 22 and runs through March 16.

The Community Ambassadors program stems from the vision for Lyric set forth by General Director Anthony Freud, Music Director Sir Andrew Davis, and Creative Consultant Renée Fleming, who anticipate inviting additional artists to serve as Community Ambassadors in the coming seasons. Launched in 2012, Lyric Unlimited aims to provide a relevant cultural service to communities throughout the Chicago area, including communities for whom opera and opera companies have been largely irrelevant.

As artists of international renown who will appear on Lyric's stage in operatic productions over multiple seasons, Martínez and Owens have a unique opportunity to build connections with children, students, and people of all ages, sharing their experiences as performers and helping to break down barriers to participation in opera. When in Chicago, they will visit a variety of sites-including schools, community centers, hospitals, and cultural institutions-engaging in activities such as speaking engagements, panel discussions, master classes, and more. They will also strive to make repeat visits to sites to build long-term relationships that evolve over time. Both are engaged for the upcoming 2014-15 season (Martínez in Don Giovanni and Owens in Porgy and Bess). Lyric has also announced that Owens will star as Wotan-a role debut-in its new Ring cycle, beginning in the 2016-17 season.

To officially launch this new program, Martínez and Owens visited with students at Young Women's Leadership Charter School (YWLCS) today, February 18, 2014. The students at YWLCS are currently studying Rusalka as part of Lyric's Teen Opera Circle program and talked with the singers about their roles, the production, and their careers as performers.

"We are thrilled that these two extraordinary artists have agreed to join Lyric Unlimited in taking opera beyond the stage into classrooms and the broader community," said Freud. "Ana María and Eric are ideal ambassadors for our art form."

"Ana María and Eric share my belief that opera is for everyone, and that 21st-century artists can and should share their passion with new audiences in unexpected venues," added Fleming.

"The performing arts are a life-altering vehicle for inspiration, joy and above all connection, and it's vital to share this message with children," said Martínez. "Whether a child chooses to pursue a life in the arts is not the end goal. It is about enriching the whole individual to develop a stronger sense of self and a connection with the entire community."

"Education and arts education in particular are very near and dear to my heart - they're the keys with which all doors are opened," said Owens. "As someone who grew up in the public education system when arts education was at its zenith, it behooves me to give back at a time when funding for something so important has fallen on such hard times."

Martínez and Owens will both make additional visits to Chicago-area schools while they are appearing in Rusalka. On March 5, Owens will speak with students at the Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts), a partner in Lyric Unlimited's Vocal Partnership Program. He will also visit with students at Providence St. Mel School on March 11. On March 12, Ana María Martínez will offer a master class for vocal students at The Chicago Academy for the Arts, also a participant in the Vocal Partnership Program. Students from participating schools will attend a special performance of Rusalka for an invited student audience at the Civic Opera House on March 13.

Martínez and Owens were chosen as Lyric's first Community Ambassadors because of their demonstrated commitment to reaching beyond the opera house into the broader communities in which they perform. Ana María Martínez has been visiting Chicago-area schools since 2009. She previously visited Young Women's Leadership Charter School in January 2013 and was the keynote speaker at the school's annual Girl Power Luncheon in March 2013. Martínez met with Lake View High School choral students in November 2009 and March 2013. She also visited students at the Gallery 37 Vocal Arts Program, another Vocal Partnership Program participant, in October 2013 while in Chicago starring in Otello.

Owens has given master classes for members of Lyric's Ryan Opera Center and visited the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center for a performance in September 2012 with Riccardo Muti as part of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's ongoing work with incarcerated youth.

Puerto Rican-born soprano Ana María Martínez is currently starring at Lyric Opera of Chicago in the title role/Rusalka, a heroine she has portrayed to great acclaim at Glyndebourne Festival Opera (released on CD) and Munich's Bayerische Staatsoper. Martínez has previously won acclaim at Lyric as Nedda/Pagliacci, Marguerite/Faust, Mimì/La bohème, and - opening the 2013-14 season - Desdemona/Otello. Other highlights this season include a recital at Washington's Kennedy Center, the title role/Carmen (Houston, Santa Fe), and the title role/Madama Butterfly (Munich). Martínez's remarkable stylistic versatility extends from Mozart's Donna Elvira (Covent Garden, Santa Fe, Houston), Countess Almaviva (Houston, Munich), Fiordiligi (Salzburg, Ravinia, DVD), and Pamina (San Francisco, Vienna, Bonn, Stuttgart) to Rossini's Rosina (Houston, Santa Fe); Puccini's Mimì (Berlin, Dresden, Santa Fe, San Juan), Butterfly (Vienna, Houston, Washington) and Liù (Amsterdam); and French heroines including Antonia (Paris), Micaëla (Metropolitan Opera), Mélisande (Florence), and Blanche (Hamburg). She has earned great acclaim as the heroines of Verdi's La traviata (Covent Garden, Los Angeles), Luisa Miller (Paris, Berlin) and Simon Boccanegra (Paris, Los Angeles, San Francisco). The soprano has appeared with many major orchestras, including those of Milan (La Scala under Gustavo Dudamel), Berlin, Moscow, New York, and Boston.

American bass-baritone Eric Owens is returning to Lyric Opera of Chicago this season for his role debut as Vodník/Rusalka, his third Lyric company premiere. He earned critical praise previously at Lyric in Handel's Hercules (title role) and John Adams's Doctor Atomic (as Gen. Leslie Groves, a role he created in San Francisco and reprised at Netherlands Opera and the Metropolitan Opera). Owens's association with the Wagner repertoire includes the Dutchman (Sydney Symphony Orchestra), Hunding (Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra), and his triumphant Alberich in Robert Lepage's new Ring at the Metropolitan Opera (HD, CD, DVD). He has created other challenging contemporary repertoire, including the title character/Elliot Goldenthal's Grendel (world premiere at Los Angeles Opera, subsequently Lincoln Center) and the Storyteller/John Adams's A Flowering Tree (Peter Sellars's New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna). Other operatic highlights include his debuts at San Francisco Opera (Otello) and Covent Garden (Norma); Rigoletto and Il trovatore (Los Angeles); Die Zauberflöte (Paris); Ariodante and L'incoronazione di Poppea  (London); and The Rape of Lucretia (Glimmerglass Opera).

Lyric Unlimited is supported in part by a generous grant from the Hurvis Family Foundation.