Chicago's burgeoning diva

Katherine Weber and Jesse Donner in Die Fledermaus. Photo courtesy of New Philharmonic.

Katherine Weber and Jesse Donner in Die Fledermaus. Photo courtesy of New Philharmonic.

What does it feel like to have a breakthrough?

With two leading roles with New Philharmonic (formerly DuPage Opera Theatre) and a star vehicle in Iolanta (a VAC Best of 2018) which coincided with the debut of Chicago Opera Theater’s Lidiya Yankovskaya, soprano Katherine Weber is in the middle of one right now.

A native of Holmen, Wisconsin, three years ago, Weber elected to make Chicago her home base over New York. “Chicago was an easy decision. I wanted to be close enough to my family that if I wanted to go home and visit I could.  My family is an important part of my life and they are my number one fans!” Like many talented Chicago singers, she worked (and for now, continues to work) retail jobs and sang at Fourth Presbyterian Church. “I knew there were opportunities here but I honestly had no idea how to break into it.  Not a clue.”

“I still can’t believe it happened,” Weber told VAC when asked about her impressive string of local engagements over the past 12 months. “This last year was such an exploration for me. I never thought I would be singing La Traviata, but Central City Opera gave me the cover and family performance, then Kirk Muspratt gave me the opportunity to sing Violetta here in Chicago.  Lidiya Yankovskaya also heard and saw something in me. [COT] offered me this job singing the title role of Iolanta in Russian. At times I had no idea what I was doing but had to trust in the process.  The end product was performing this beautiful Russian opera…and I have Lidiya and COT to thank for that.”

Besides her penetrating, gleaming tone, New Philharmonic’s Die Fledermaus will give Katherine Weber a chance to show off another skill. Trained as a dancer from childhood through her undergraduate studies, audiences are promised more than the park-and-bark when Weber performs one of the most taxing arias in the repertoire. “I don’t think I’ve ever been hired because I can dance, but it is very convenient when a director wants me to dance in either a leading role or chorus.  It can get me into trouble though.  For example, in a song like the Czárdás I just want to move!  So, at times I think I definitely push my body to the limit to see what it can do.”

There are two performances of Fledermaus, which also stars Ryan Opera Center alum Jesse Donner and the storefront opera stalwart baritone Aaron Wardell.

Eugenia Cheng and Nathalie Colas. Blurry iPhone photo by Oliver Camacho.

Eugenia Cheng and Nathalie Colas. Blurry iPhone photo by Oliver Camacho.

Other burgeoning divas whom VAC would consider some of Chicago’s best are in action this weekend. Soprano Henriët Fourie regularly leaves audiences agasp at her breath control and ethereal upper register. On Saturday, assisted by pianist Joann Cho, Fourie offers a rare recital of art songs in her native tongue Afrikaans in Oak Park. On Sunday, soprano Nathalie Colas returns as a soloist with the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest conducted by Maurice Boyer in a concert celebrating Mozart’s birthday. Colas will sing arias from Le Nozze de Figaro including the virtuoso alternative Act IV aria for Susanna “Al desio di chi t’adora.” Colas also lends her voice to the fourth movement solo, “Das himmlische Leben” in Mahler’s Symphony No. 4.

Schubert’s birthday is also around the corner, which means it’s time again for the PianoForte Foundation Schubertiade. Once a wall-to-wall festival of Schubert utilizing multiple performing spaces of the Fine Arts Building, the annual Schubertiade has survived by the sheer will and dedication to song of pianist/author/mathematician Eugenia Cheng and her numerous collaborators. This year’s Schubertiade alternates blocks of lieder with solo piano works. The lineup of singers features what can best be described as Liederstube regulars including the fascinating multi-fach vocalist Gregory Peebles, whose performing range spans four octaves; and the slightly less boundary-breaking, but nevertheless amazing countertenor soprano Carl Alexander. In the spirit of Schubert, the evening-length celebration boasts free admission and will conclude with a hymn-like group sing of An die Musik.