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Workplace romance always in the air at Lyric Opera

Singers Sam Handley AmandMajeski are among least 14 married or engaged couples working Lyric OperChicago. These couples are living Lyric

Singers Sam Handley and Amanda Majeski are among at least 14 married or engaged couples working at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. These couples are living the Lyric Opera's "Long Live Passion" slogan in their off-hours. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 16, 2013 3:14PM



Love that lasts forever. Love betrayed. Love worth dying over. Love worth living for. Love that starts as friendship. Love that kills. Love that lasts beyond death.

Night after night on the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s stage, cast and crew create musical tributes to love in its many forms including the most twisted and torturous.

Behind the scenes at Lyric Opera, though, love is also in the air.

And it’s largely the monogamous, married kind.

Lyric Opera is home to at least 14 married or engaged couples or long-term life partners.

There are chorus members married to other chorus members, musicians married to musicians, musicians married to office workers, singers married to singers, singers married to office workers, and the prop manager married to the head of wardrobe.

While it isn’t unusual for true love to blossom at a workplace, those working in the opera house say the number of married couples behind the scenes at Lyric is unusually high, particularly for a line of work in which star performers travel the world, singing in opera houses throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.

“We’re there with each other sometimes 16 hours a day,” said Charlie Reilly, the property master, who will be celebrating 18 years of marriage in 2013 to Maureen Reilly, Lyric’s wardrobe director.

“Sometimes our only interaction with other human beings is when we’re at the opera house. Work and home — I don’t know the difference.”

At Lyric, when it comes to love at work, it starts at the top.

Davis and Rolandi

Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric Opera’s music director, is married to Gianna Rolandi, now director of the Ryan Opera Center after a two-decade career as an internationally renowned soprano.

It’s that Ryan Opera Center that seems to be the epicenter of several relationships.

The competitive training program for up-and-coming opera stars joins young lovers who spend all their time together and are preparing to launch a career and, in some cases, a family.

Majeski and Handley

Amanda Majeski, the soprano star of “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg,” and Sam Handley, a bass who played the role of Hans Foltz in the production, were set to be married on March 9.

Majeski and Handley met in the Ryan program.

“We all are aware of how difficult a relationship with a singer can be,” Majeski said. “We warned ourselves to never date a singer.”

But the heart wants what the heart wants, which in their case includes a partner supportive of highly nontraditional work schedules and an ability to look past the thick sideburns Handley grew for “Die Meistersinger.”

“We found someone who understands our hectic schedule and idiosyncrasies,” she said. The sideburns were to be shaved before the wedding, she added.

Majeski said at the core of their relationship, she and Handley understand that, as opera singers, “most of the time you live a gypsy lifestyle.”

Both performing in the same show in the same city is unusual, they said.

“The rule is not to go two weeks without seeing each other,” Majeski said.

The pair send text messages, talk via Skype and estimate they connect on about five different technological platforms when they perform in different cities.

Chicago, however, is considered their home base. The two live in the Loop.

“I don’t know how couples in our situation did it back in the ’80s or ’90s,” Majeski said.

The Boyers

Alejandra and Evan Boyer, of Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, are about to learn firsthand how to manage the distance.

Alejandra Boyer is the manager of Lyric Unlimited, a program to bring opera to neighborhoods throughout the city of Chicago.

Evan Boyer, a bass, is finishing his time at the Ryan Opera Center. Following a March 30 performance, he will start traveling full time.

“I think it’s OK to be nervous about it,” Alejandra Boyer said. “A lot of people do it. So we’re not alone. Everybody has their own style of how they manage.”

The two met in 2006 while both were music students at Northwestern University. Alejandra Boyer, a former opera singer, attends every opening her husband is in.

“I have had to sit through how many ‘Magic Flute’ (openings) now?” she said, laughing. “Seven?”

Evan Boyer said Lyric and its married couples provide a support network for each other.

“There’s a strong sense of community,” he added.

Bedrocks of that community are Maureen and Charlie Reilly, who met offstage during a 1990 Lyric Opera production of “Alceste.”

“I had a cue on stage right and she had a quick change over there,” said Charlie Reilly, now Lyric’s prop master. “We would always talk.”

The Reillys

Maureen Reilly, Lyric’s wardrobe director, moved to Arizona but returned to Lyric to work a job in Chicago two years later.

They had a first date at the Lincoln Park Zoo, though Maureen Reilly planned to return to Arizona.

“I was getting ready to go back and he said, ‘I don’t want you to go,’ ” she said.

The pair married in 1995, live in Palos Park and carpool to work together.

They occasionally work on projects, like a bed used in the current production of “Rigoletto.”

Charlie Reilly built the bed and Maureen Reilly and her department created the bedspread.

“We’re not always on the same page,” he said. “She always tells me that I’m not wrong — her ideas are just better.”

Working at the opera company, Maureen Reilly said, isn’t just employment: “It’s a lifestyle; it’s not just a job.”

OPERA COUPLES

These 14 couples try to live the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s motto of “Long Live Passion” onstage and offstage:

♦ Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric Opera music director, is married to Gianna Rolandi, Ryan Opera Center director.

♦ Evan Boyer, bass at the Ryan Opera Center, is married to Alejandra Boyer, manager of Lyric Unlimited.

♦ Amanda Majeski, who appeared as Eva in“Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg,” was set to marry Sam Handley, Hans Foltz in “Die Meistersinger,” on March 9. Both are Ryan Opera Center alumni.

♦ Christoph Ptack, associate artistic administrator, is in a nine-year committed relationship with Scott Ramsay, tenor and Ryan Opera Center alum.

♦ Janet Reynolds, chorus, is married to Mike Reynolds, master electrician.

♦ Palos Park residents Maureen Reilly, wardrobe director, is married to Charlie Reilly, property master.

♦ Jack Zimmerman, subscriber relations manager, is married to Charlene Zimmerman, principal clarinet.

♦ Michelle DiBennardi, dresser, is married to Danny DiBennardi, carpenter.

♦ Claudia Nienow, chorus, is married to Mark Nienow, chorus.

♦ Sheryl Veal, chorus, and Ronald Watkins, chorus.

♦ Ellen Hildner, violinist, is married to David Hildner, violinist.

♦ Laura Miller, violinist, is married to Jon Boen, principal horn.

♦ Katie Brauer, violinist, is married to Mark Brandfonbrener, cellist.

♦ Melissa Trier Kirk, viola, is married to Lewis Kirk, bassoon.

Source: Lyric Opera of Chicago



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