Young Talent and Community Initiative
Japanese-American Opera to Come to Chicago
• Chicago’s own Lyric Opera showcased its young talent and promoted its
effort to further ties with the local Japanese residents during an event
held at the Consulate General of Japan Residence in Chicago last December.
• The mini-concert on December 12 featured a 26-year-old
tenor Eric Ferring of Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center and was attended by the
members of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Chicago, Japanese
American Service Committee and Japan America Society of Chicago.
• Ferring, whose forte is in Mozart, dazzled the audience with songs from
“Magic Flute” as well as a Christmas classic “The Christmas Song,” accompanied
by Madeline Slettedahl’s piano.
• Lyric Opera’s General Director, President and CEO Anthony Treud, Major
Gifts Director Amber Cullen, and Lyric Unlimited’s Vice President Cayenne
Harris were also there, along with Matthew Ozawa, Director of the Production
of Lyric’s upcoming “An American Dream,” a contemporary opera based on
a story about a Japanese-American family during and after World War II.
• Lyric is by no means a stranger to Chicago’s Japanese
audience. Takaoki Onishi, a young baritone from Japan, has trained at
Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center until he moved on to the international arena
in June 2018 as a rising star. Since then, he won the grand prize at the
Premiere Opera Foundation’s International Vocal Competition in New York
in December, as well as the Dmitri Hvorostovsky Memorial Career Grant.
In February, he will sing solo in Sibelius’ “Kullervo” choral symphony
at the Carnegie Hall.
Eric Ferring Profile
• Hailing from Iowa, Ferring started singing in church
choir, school chorus, and local musical productions at the age of 9.
• In his senior year of high school, he failed to get a part in his last
high-school musical production. This devastated Ferring. Traumatized,
he then followed his voice teacher’s advice and competed in a classical
vocal competition - and it was an eye-opening experience for him. With
a newly discovered passion for classical singing, he began working toward
a career as an opera singer.
• After graduating from the Boston Conservatory with a Master of Music
in Opera Performance degree in 2016, Ferring became a Resident Artist
at Pittsburgh Opera for two seasons, where he performed Basilio/Curzio
in The Marriage of Figaro and The Protagonist in the world premiere of
Ashes & Snow (now known as Savage Winter).
• Now as a member of Lyric’s Ensemble of the Ryan Opera Center, Ferring
is also frequently cast in Lyric’s regular productions while receiving
training to become a professional singer.
• Ferring calls Lyric’s Ryan Center “the best program in the U.S.” It’s
a “sort of fellowship program” that prepares young talents like him to
move on to a full-time freelance position when they leave it after 2-3
seasons. That’s the benefit of training with Lyric: it attracts managers
and opera companies (large and small, national and regional), in other
words, it offers opportunities for aspiring singers for future careers.
• Covering major parts presents another opportunity for
a fledgling singer in the world of opera. It’s as difficult to be prepared
to cover a role as it is important for the whole production – you are
expected to give a high-level performance at a moment’s notice while you
don’t have much rehearsal time, and the chance to cover a major part may
• But when it comes, you can hit it big – that’s what happened to Onishi
when he was working at the Ryan Center.
• Knowing that full well, Ferring constantly prepares for a cover – he
covered three roles last fall, and will cover two in the spring.
• To be ready to cover gets him a lot of experience, Ferring says. He
even sets up his living room just like the set of the production so he
can practice at home.
• “It takes 10 to 15 years to be mature enough to play major parts. Just
like in every field, I think that perseverance and patience is the first
step to success in the world of opera,” he said.
Lyric Presents Opera about
Japanese American Incarceration
• Lyric Opera is one of the world’s greatest opera houses
- second largest in the world with 3,600 seats, only 100 less than New
York’s Metropolitan Opera. An average European opera house has about 1,800-2,200
• “Opera is the greatest form of entertainment as well as art,” explains
Lyric’s Treud. “It simply tells stories that are utterly universal and
transcends centuries and ethnicities. It’s absolutely accessible for everybody.”
• Seven years ago, Lyric launched an initiative to develop community engagement
through “relevant cultural and educational services.” A production of
a contemporary opera “An American Dream” in March is part of this initiative.
• It depicts a drama of two families - a Japanese-American and an American
– against the backdrop of the Japanese American internment during World
• Harris, who is in charge of the initiative, first saw this production
in Seattle, where she also had a chance to talk to some of the internment
survivors and their descendants.
• “This opera is incredibly emotional and beautifully written,” Harris
said. “It’s an incredibly moving story, a story that everyone needs to
understand and be reminded of. That’s why I thought we must bring it to
• Harris brought this project to Ozawa, whom she worked with a few times
• While his father was born at the Heart Mountain Relocation
Center in Wyoming, Ozawa himself was brought up simply as an American,
rather than a fourth-generation Japanese American that he is and away
from his Japanese roots.
• He encountered Kabuki performance while studying in Singapore, which
encouraged him to visit Japan many times. After living in Chicago for
10 years, he now teaches at the University of Michigan School of Music.
• “An American Dream” is based on the personal experience of the Japanese-Americans
who lived on the Puget Sound islands in Washington and were incarcerated
during the 1942-1945 war period.
• Ozawa asks: If you are suddenly forced to leave your home, what would
you take with you? Why those objects? Why are their connections to your
past so important?
• “These questions are unbelievably relevant in our times today,” he said.
“An American Dream”: Synopsis
• In 1942, American veteran Jim Crowley and his wife
Eva have come to buy a home on a Puget Sound island in Washington, where
Japanese American Makoto Kobayashi and his family live. While Eva, a German
Jew, waits outside, Jim tries to buy the Kobayashi’s farmhouse for a fraction
of what it’s worth. Then the FBI arrives and tells Makoto that he is under
arrest. Under the pressure, Makoto is forced to sell the house to Jim
at the offered price. As he is taken away, Makoto promises his daughter,
Setsuko, to return for her.
• Eva, who has arrived in the U.S. from Germany only
recently, desperately wants to bring her parents in Germany away from
the peril to the safety of the U.S.
• As Setsuko gets ready to leave the house with her mother, a letter arrives
from Germany addressed to Eva. In the moment’s anger from being forced
to leave her home, Setsuko steals the letter.
• A few weeks later, Jim and Eva moves into the house.
When Eva finds a beautiful hinamatsuri dolls left behind in the house,
Jim tells her to throw it away, but Eva hides it until she finds the owner
so she can return it.
• At the news of Germany’s surrender, Eva writes to Setsuko
in the camp and tells her that she has something that belongs to Setsuko.
• In August 1945, Japan surrenders and the war ends. Setsuko shows up
at the farmhouse to return Eva’s letter. From the letter Eva learns her
parents’ fate and collapses. As Jim tries to console Eva, there’s a knock
on the door. It was Setsuko’s father Makoto who had promised to return
“An American Dream” by
• Location: Harris Theater
205 E. Randolph St., Chicago
• Time: 7:00 pm, March 15 and 2:00 pm, March 17
• Tickets: $55 - $125