There are three different tiers to the Lyric Opera Chorus: Regular (Full-time), Core-Supplementary and Supplementary. Until now, our interviews have been with regular choristers. Katie Bieber is the first person I have interviewed who is from our Core-Supplementary Chorus. Her first season at Lyric was in our 2014-15 season and her first show was Nabucco. Our Core Choristers are guaranteed to perform in 1 opera per year and must re-audition for their spot either every year or every other year depending on the needs of Maestro Black. Our Core members all have jobs outside of Lyric as do many of our Regular Choristers and all of our Supplementary Choristers.
Ms. Bieber juggles multiple work schedules and careers. She talks about how she is able to make her two schedules work and how accommodating and supportive her colleagues are at her other job. We are very lucky that we have Core members with jobs that allow them absences at their full-time jobs for daytime rehearsals. That is a rarity. At other opera companies, rehearsals and performances only take place in the evenings and on weekends and as a result, the rehearsal process takes more time and scheduling within the company becomes more difficult. Ms. Bieber works as a showroom manager at a prestigious couture alteration and bridal boutique on Michigan Avenue on the Magnificent Mile. In addition to coming to the Lyric to see her perform, her co-workers have also done alterations for members of the chorus for solo performance gowns for engagements outside of the Lyric (myself included).
Katie grew up in a large (she has 9 siblings) musical family in Kansas. Her mother is a pianist, and all of her siblings were encouraged to play an instrument. Katie plays multiple instruments and treasures the times when she and all of her siblings can play music together. What is her favorite thing about singing in the chorus at Lyric? She replies: “The goose bump moments!” Read on to see what she means by that. You will also find out what genre of music she enjoys singing outside of opera. (Lucky for us, she has provided a link to her album that she and her uncle produced and recorded.) Looking through the photos she has provided for us, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to find out that she has a close relative that was a runway model. I can tell you for certain that she is a woman of many talents and is the total package. She is just as stunningly beautiful inside as well as out.
Q: Where did you grow up?
Bieber: Manhattan, Kansas
Q: How long have you been singing at Lyric and what brought you to this company/city?
Bieber: My first show at Lyric was Nabucco in 2015. I was planning on moving to Chicago from Kansas for a change of pace and scenery and decided to audition for the chorus.
Q: What is your favorite opera and why?
Bieber: I’m not sure I can pick a favorite! I would say the most impactful opera for me was Carmen. It was the first opera that I heard as a child that interested me in the art form.
Q: What is your favorite opera production/cast/performance at Lyric that you have been a part of thus far?
Bieber: My favorite production has been Les Troyens. The music, particularly in Act 2 for the women, was so thrilling to learn and perform. To be called to arms by Christine Goerke and commit a huge act of defiance with all the women in the chorus was empowering and goose bump inducing every performance. The cast was powerful, but I especially loved Susan Graham as Didon.
Q: As a Core Supplementary Chorister, you have performed an average of two shows per year. What do you do in addition to Lyric Opera for income and what do on your days off from Lyric?
Bieber: I also work as the showroom manager of a couture alteration and bridal boutique on Michigan Avenue called The Dress Doctor. It is a lovely, family-run business and another highly creative environment. We sell bridal gowns, but we primarily make custom garments that range from basic suit pants to couture wedding gowns. It is such a rewarding process to be a part of: from making the pattern to fitting the final product on the client. On my days off you’ll find me outside in my garden or hiking on a warm day, but if it’s cold I’m usually inside enjoying a good book or watching movies.
Q: It must be a challenge juggling multiple jobs at the same time, how do you make things work at both places of employment?
Bieber: It is certainly a challenge as one part of my life leans right-brained on stage, and the other part is focused on left-brained, analytical administrative work. But I’ve found that I’m able to balance it all when I actively practice yoga and meditation. (Occasionally spending an entire day in my pajamas reading a good book or bingeing television does wonders, too!) I am incredibly lucky that The Dress Doctor encourages me to pursue my performance career. As huge advocates of the arts, they often attend my performances and support me in that way as well.
Q: What is your favorite thing about working at Lyric and singing in the chorus?
Bieber: …the goose bump moments. There is something transcendent that happens when the chorus is super focused in a powerful production with a particularly strong principal cast. Sometimes you experience it in the rehearsal space, and sometimes it is on stage. These moments inspire me and remind me why I’ve chosen to pursue this career.
Q: Do you speak any other languages? Does this help you as a chorister?
Bieber: Like most opera singers, I studied Italian, French, and German during college. However I am most proficient in German and Spanish. It certainly helps to understand any language that we sing in because you can more accurately convey plot and emotion. A lot of times as choristers, our job is not to comment on the action, but to react to it. So it is always important to translate our scores so that we can stay fully engaged during our time on stage.
Q: Where and what did you study? Do you have any degrees in music or any outside of music?
Bieber: I completed my Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees at The University of Kansas.
Q: If you could sing any role, what would it be and why?
Bieber: Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier. I love performing pant roles, (they really suit my six foot frame), but Octavian is special. I would love the challenge of his physical comedy, and additionally the music is divine. Singing the act three trio with a full orchestra would be both musically and spiritually fulfilling.
Q: Tell me some of your most memorable moments from your time at Lyric?
Bieber: The first time I stepped on the Civic Opera House stage was very special, just standing there and imagining all of the legends that had stood in the same spot. I also remember calling my best friend after my very first music rehearsal. I had never been a part of such an esteemed and qualified group before and I was so inspired.
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)?
Bieber: My uncle and I produced and recorded an album of folk rock music. You can hear me singing something completely opposite of opera here:
Q: What composer would you want to write the opera of your life and why?
Bieber: The introverted part of me would pick the subtle elegance and Shakespearean quality of Mozart. However I am also extremely romantic and would love to hear what Massenet or Richard Strauss would have to say about my life!
Q: What are your hobbies outside of singing Opera?
Bieber: I am an avid hiker and enjoy any chance to get out and recharge in nature. I love cooking for my family and playing board games! My current obsession is Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle. It is a cooperative deck-building game.
Q: Tell me a little about your family (partner, children, close relatives) and their significance in your life and career.
Bieber: I am currently dating a member of our full-time chorus! We met at the opening night party for Nabucco three years ago and it was a perfect date. I couldn’t remember ever laughing so hard, and we’ve been laughing together ever since! It is wonderful to be with someone that understands the demanding schedule and the societal importance of this career. I am one of ten children, and my parents still live in Kansas. My mother is a classical pianist and encouraged all of her children to take up an instrument. Her parents introduced me to opera on a record player at a young age. (My grandmother sang in the Shreveport Opera chorus for over thirty years!) My father is a Vietnam veteran and was a preacher for some time. He spent the last thirty years of his working life as an ER nurse on an army base. He taught us the genius of The Beatles, CCR [Creedence Clearwater Revival], and 60’s soul. Music was a huge part of my childhood and I have no doubt it impacted my pursuit of an artistic career. It was a lively childhood and I am very close with my siblings. I treasure any rare occurrence that we are all able to get together and pick up our instruments!
Q: Do you have any performing/opera related things coming up?
Bieber: I’ll be singing in Greg Nelson’s Passion at Christ Church of Oakbrook next month.
Q: If you weren’t a singer, what would you be doing and why?
Bieber: I would love to be a location scout for film production and get to creatively interpret the needs of a script. My other dream is to own a plant nursery. I love the inherent peace of a greenhouse and the satisfaction of watching things grow.
Q: Do you play any instruments? If you don’t, which one would you want to play?
Bieber: I played French horn for nine years but haven’t picked one up in quite some time. It certainly made me appreciate the embouchure and dedication of any professional brass player! I also play the guitar and ukulele recreationally.
Q: What kind of music do you listen to outside of the opera house?
Bieber: I listen to a huge range of music, but I currently have Emily King, Vulpeck, and Kacey Musgraves on repeat.
Q: What do you do in your down time backstage in the dressing room?
Bieber: I like to bring books, listen to podcasts, and write.
Q: Do you have a sore throat remedy?
Bieber: My mother always gave us slippery elm lozenges and had us gargle salt water. I love sipping on Throat Coat and you can never go wrong with hot water, lemon, honey, and raw ginger.