Conversation with a "Star of Chelsea Opera": Justin Ryan  
by Daniel Benevant Williams

Lara Stevens and Justin Ryan

Baritone Justin Ryan recently appeared as Father/Keith/Earl in Lee Hoiby’s This is the rill speaking, his fourth production with Chelsea Opera, where he has also sung the title role in Don Giovanni, Melchoir in Amahl and the Night Visitors and Horace Taber in The Ballad of Baby Doe. The native Texan answers a few questions:

Favorite role and why:
Don Giovanni, a supremely confident archetype who enjoys everything (and everyone) around him.

Some favorites:
Artists, Tita Ruffo and Lawrence Tibbett and Henri Rousseau. Performances , Len Cariou as Sweeney Todd, Giuseppe Giacomini as Canio in Pagliacci in Houston, 1993 and Maria Falconetti as Joan of Arc (1928) she never performed another role on film!

You played three roles in This is the rill speaking. Which
character(s) do you most identify with and why?
Definitely Keith. If you weren't this guy in high school, you wanted to be this guy in high school. Athletic and popular, Keith is small-town teenage royalty: star of the basketball team, he has a killer car and a pretty girlfriend.

And this is different from your life how?
Ha! I probably aspired to be that guy in high school, but my talents certainly weren't of the athletic sort. Anyway, we all know you can be the king of the  high school prom and still harbor a ton of insecurity. I liked to play Keith with a little more confidence than I had, or at least with less awareness of his insecurities than I had in high school. And as for my life today, well let's just say I have a very pretty girlfriend and leave it at that.

What did you especially love about This is the rill speaking?
The marriage of Lanford Wilson's poetic dialogue with Lee Hoiby's heartbreakingly beautiful music, particularly in the final minutes, when fragments of the individual dialogue are reprised and woven like thread into a beautiful operatic fabric, and the whole is so much more than the sum of the parts.

What is something about Chelsea Opera that you love?
The venue. Aside from Carnegie Hall, St. Peter's is truly the best acoustic I've heard in the City. From what I understand, it's continually booked for recording, and it's a wonderful place to listen to an opera. If only the seats weren't so hard... Ha! but it's worth it. Truly.

What is something about you that most people don’t know?
I love a good cheese enchilada. Oh wait, everyone knows that.  

When you are not singing you ______?
I am perfecting my recipe for the perfect cheese enchilada!

Update: Justin refers to having a “pretty girlfriend�? Her name is Lara Stevens, a soprano. Justin and Lara met during CO’s 2009 production of Amahl and the Night Visitors where Lara sang The Mother. And they have just announced their engagement with plans to marry later this fall!


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