This year we welcomed a new full-time regular chorister into our group, Tyler Lee, currently the youngest member of Lyric’s regular chorus. His first performance on the Lyric stage was as a supplementary chorister in our 2015-2016 season. You might be surprised to know that Lee relocated from another state (New York) to sing here at the Lyric, but you shouldn’t be. Our chorus spots our highly valued and coveted, requiring a level of skills that echo those of a principal artist. Lee talks about how he has had the desire to perform from a very young age (first studying voice at age 6), and why he chose to be a chorister. He states “as long as I’m singing, I have the best job in the world.”
Q: Where did you grow up?
Lee: Merrick, Long Island NY
Q: Did you always know you wanted to become an opera singer? How did you get into the field?
Lee: I knew that I always wanted to perform since I was a kid- I had been impersonating people since I was very young. I started taking voice lessons when I was 6, but I hadn’t done any classical music until high school. I fell in love with it instantly.
Q: How did you end up at Lyric Opera of Chicago?
Lee: I had seen the audition posting in YAP Tracker (a site for young artists to find and apply for audition postings) and thought that I should give it a shot. I was given an audition time slot. So, I flew out here to sing for Maestro Black. My first year here I was in the chorus for Nabucco.
Q: This is your first year as a full-time chorister. Having heard you and many other members of the chorus sing as soloists, you and many of our members could be out having careers as such. Can you talk to me about what is appealing of being a full-time member of the chorus?
Lee: It is so nice to be able to have a home base- moving here from New York was a big step for me but it was well worth it. My career goal was never to be a big star, as long as I’m singing I have the best job in the world.
Q: How do you approach singing in a chorus differently than singing as a soloist and can you talk about the differences between the skills needed for both?
Lee: Fortunately, we have massive voices in the chorus in an equally massive theater, so blending has never been a problem for me. Mostly I focus on not standing out on stage-it is very off putting to be more animated than the leading roles.
Q: What is your favorite opera and why?
Lee: Postcard from Morocco by Dominic Argento. It is a modern opera that I did in my undergrad. I played the character Mr. Owen. The music is beautiful and complex. The opera helped me get through some tough times and it has a special place in my heart.
Q: Who is your favorite singer?
Lee: Of the ones who are alive I’d have to say Larry Brownlee. Working with him in Puritani was surreal.
Q: What is your favorite opera production/cast/performance at Lyric thus far?
Lee: Definitely Cendrillon. It is the cutest production I’ve ever seen and I wish I could see it from the audience. The process was incredible and the direction has been incredible.
Q: What do you do on your days off from Lyric?
Lee: I love playing board games and tabletop games with my friends.
Q: Do you speak any other languages? Does this help you as a chorister?
Lee: In school I had taken classes for Italian,German, and French. I am definitely not fluent in them, but it helps to know what I am singing about.
Q: What school did you attend to receive your vocal training and who was your voice teacher?
Lee: I did my undergraduate studies at Peabody Conservatory with Steven Rainbolt, and my graduate degree at NYU Steinhardt with Michael Ricciardone.
Q: If you could sing any role, what would it be and why?
Lee: I think Papageno would be such a fun role to play. I will never be able to, but it seems like it would be great.
Q: Tell me some of your most memorable moments from your time at Lyric?
Lee: The first time I saw out into the house during the Nabucco sitzprobe. It was the first (and not the last) time I was in total awe of where I was and what I was doing. I’ll never forget that feeling.
Q: Tell me about some mishaps onstage.
Lee: There was a Puritani performance where Larry was supposed to brandish a dagger to stop us from advancing on him, only he did not have the dagger when the scene started. So, when we got closer he reached to his belt to find nothing there, and instead pulled out his finger and pointed back at us with it.
Q: Do you have any interesting stories or events you were involved in from before you started at Lyric or not pertaining to Lyric (related to opera or otherwise)?
Lee: In high school I was in an off Broadway show called Feasting on Cardigans, I played a frustrated kid named Duncan who collected moths.
Q: Tell me about your career before singing at Lyric Opera of Chicago?
Lee: After grad school I went into waitering and bartending for a year or two- like most musicians- I hated it but I needed money. I had a church job on Long Island that I went to Thursdays and Sundays, but mostly I was in the service industry. After I was given the Supplementary position at Lyric, I moved and decided never to do that again.
Q: I understand you wrote an episode of a cartoon at a very young age and ended up on the Jay Leno show. Tell me all about what you wrote and your experience on the Jay Leno show.
Lee: Dexter’s Laboratory was my favorite show growing up. After watching an episode, I told my mom that I wanted to write an episode myself. So, I took a handheld tape recorder and locked myself in the bathroom, where I stream of consciousness spoke into it for about twenty minutes about my idea for an episode. I did not realize that my mother would take that tape and mail it into Cartoon Network. They ended up listening to it, and months later we got a letter from them saying that they wanted to air the tape and animate around it. They flew us out to California to tour the studio and meet the team, and I had a guest spot on the Tonight Show next to Howie Mandell and Dennis Rodman. It was so surreal – I remember Howie Mandell asking me if I watched Bobby’s World, and I replied that I did when I was little. Hulk Hogan was hanging out in the parking lot and we said hello to him as well.
Q: What composer would you want to write the opera of your life and why?
Lee: I think Mozart would do a great job- it would definitely be a role that I could put on my resume. I would need it to be a high fantasy opera though.
Q: What are your favorite hobbies outside of the Lyric?
Lee: I am a fan of all things nerdy. Dungeons and Dragons is my favorite game of all time (I think everyone should play at least once).
Q: Tell me a little about your family (partner, children, close relatives) and their significance in your life and career.
Lee: My family is the best. My parents have always supported me and sacrificed for me, even when I was a HORRIBLE child. When people meet my parents, they often say something like “Oh yeah, that makes sense.” Growing up I learned how tightly knit my family is- not just my immediate family but my cousins, my aunts, my uncles, my grandparents- we are all very close with each other. My parents instilled that quality in me, that the people you love are the most important things in the world and you need to hold them tight. My sister’s brilliance is only matched by her courage. She is extremely sharp and quick and will stand up for what she believes in against anything and anyone. I have learned so much from them and am still learning from them. They are the three best people I know, and I would not be even close to the person that I am without them.
Q: Do you have any performing / opera related things coming up?
Lee: I am most excited for the latter half of the Cendrillon run. I cannot stop gushing about it to my friends and family.
Q: If you weren’t a singer, what would you be doing and why?
Lee: I would be in voice acting for sure. I have always loved doing different voice and accents. I think it is one of the reasons I enjoy Dungeons and Dragons so much- it is essentially voice acting asa hobby.
Q: Do you have any performance rituals?
Lee: I do not, but I try meditating when I can.
Q: Do you play any instruments? If you don’t, which one would you want to play?
Lee: I play the ukulele very poorly, and I can play exactly Bohemian Rhapsody on piano, but that is about it.
Q: What kind of music do you listen to outside of the opera house?
Lee: I like classic rock the most. David Bowie is my favorite though, the man was a god.
Q: What do you do in your down time backstage in the dressing room?
Lee: Some of the others and I have a video game system set up, we spend a lot of our dressing room time playing.
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to share with us?
Lee: I feel so incredibly lucky to be here and to be making music as a career!
Q: Do you have a sore throat remedy?
Lee: Raw ginger tea, as much ginger as you can stand, cut it up and let it sit in boiling water for a long time. Use honey if you’d like.