ST. CHARLES – An unusual production will debut in the Fox Valley and Chicago, when St. Charles native Evan Bravos co-stars in "The Fine Things of Youth," interweaving a 1935 novel by Willa Cather with art songs, primarily by Schubert.
The performances in word and music will be offered in January at the St. Charles Public Library and Norris Cultural Arts Center in St. Charles, as well as at venues in Elgin, Chicago and Evanston.
"The Fine Things of Youth" is an adaptation of Cather's "Lucy Gayheart," described as a haunting story about a brief, misbegotten affair between an impressionable young music student, Lucy, and a charismatic singer, Clement Sebastian, for whom Lucy becomes rehearsal accompanist.
The role of narrator is performed by actress Jill Anderson, and Shannon McGinnis is pianist. Thomas Gallagher, who conceived and directed the piece, will attend several of the performances.
Bravos, a baritone who sings the role of Clement Sebastian, is a graduate of St. Charles North High School and a rising young opera singer. He also is a chorister with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
"We're pleased to be partnering with The Willa Cather Foundation," he told Kane County Chronicle reporter Renee Tomell. "We really do hope that [the show] does get momentum from this tour – we hope to [bring it to] New York and other places that Willa Cather lived and worked." The following is an edited version of the rest of their conversation.
Renee Tomell: How do you characterize the show and what is its tone?
Evan Bravos: It's not really a play and not really an art song recital. It's a hybrid, a literary recital. It's very dreamlike and memory like.
Tomell: What drew you to this project?
Bravos: The piece really struck a chord. The piece is all about Lucy Gayheart [from] small-town Nebraska studying music in downtown Chicago. There's a lot of juxtaposition between prairie and city life, and so I really identify with that. I am from the Fox Valley [and went] to Northwestern University for graduate school. Chicago is a main character … it hit home for me.
Tomell: Does co-star Jill Anderson portray Lucy?
Bravos: She becomes the character a bit, [but] she is a rememberer of Lucy Gayheart. [She voices] an elder of the town into whose parlor we are all invited for this recounting.
Tomell: Since you don't converse with Lucy, how does the audience get to know your character?
Bravos: [The show] really keeps that dichotomy between small-town Lucy and the cosmopolitan distance of Clement Sebastian's character. The music does all the work for his character building. A couple paragraphs narrated by Jill dive into Clement's thoughts and feelings. Mostly, we discern who he is through Lucy's eyes.
Tomell: How were the musical pieces selected and what composers are represented?
Bravos: The songs themselves were selected by Willa Cather [in the novel]. Primarily Schubert ['Winterreise,' 'Winter Journey'], [and some] Mendelssohn and Mahler … and Charles Parry. It's a treat for me as an opera singer. Rarely do we get to sing art songs outside of an academic setting. Jill sings … one song, "I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls."
Tomell: Shannon is a devotee of art songs?
Bravos: She's … co-founder of the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago, dedicated to preserving art songs.
Tomell: You've been performing across the country?
Bravos: I have primarily been doing the young artists circuits around the country – Opera Santa Barbara, Opera on the James in Virginia, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. I'm going back to St. Louis for a second summer. [The company] is known as a launch pad for young singers.
Tomell: You appeared with the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra while growing up. Kathy Matthews of St. Charles, former executive director, played a hand in this tour?
Bravos: Kathy Matthews has been a huge influence in production – setting us up at the Norris Center and Carnegie Room at the St. Charles Public Library and Elgin Arts Showcase. So, I'm very excited.
If you go
WHAT: "The Fine Things of Youth"
WHERE: St. Charles, Elgin, Chicago, Evanston
LOCAL VENUES: 2 p.m. Jan. 7, St. Charles Public Library, 1 S. Sixth Ave.; 7 p.m. Jan. 13, Elgin Art Showcase, 164 Division St., eighth floor; 3 p.m. Jan. 14, Norris Cultural Arts Center, 1040 Dunham Road, St. Charles
TICKETS: Registration for library seating at shawurl.com/37f8 or 630-584-0076, ext. 1; $18 tickets for Norris' Music in the Gallery at norrisculturalarts.com or 630-584-7200; $18 tickets for Elgin at shawurl.com/37fc
INFO: Details on the full tour at willacather.org/fine-things-youth-chicago-premiere-performances