by Kat Friedmann
When John Irvin stepped onto the open-air stage of Chicago’s Millennium Park this summer, 10,000 fans patiently awaited his performance. It was a special occasion, the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s annual free summer concert. But then, to Irvin, every performance is special because every performance is unique.
“I like that each operatic experience is individually tailored to the evening in which the audience member goes to see it,” Irvin says. “And once that experience is had, it won’t ever be had again in the same way. Live music is just different and special in its own way.”
Irvin, 27, who attended Georgia Perimeter College from 2005 to 2007, has always been partial to live music. He learned the clarinet in third grade and majored in piano when he first began his studies at Florida State University.
The rising cost of out-of-state tuition brought him back to his home in Atlanta’s Candler Park neighborhood, where his parents still reside. He turned to Georgia Perimeter, where he could continue to pursue his piano major.
“The fact that a [two-year] school like GPC had a fine arts program and had the teachers that it did was quite unique and quite incredible,” remembers Irvin. “I think the fact that they were there and they were giving students who wouldn’t get a chance otherwise the chance to expand on their abilities as singers and instrumentalists was not just important for me, but important for a lot of people who were going to GPC.”
While at Georgia Perimeter, Irvin chose to join the choir as an elective. He had never sung before in this type of setting, but he recalls choir teacher Susan Sigmon asking him what his voice type was on the first day of class. Irvin, thinking he was a bass, sang a short solo in front of the class, and Sigmon appropriately placed him in the tenor spot.
“My now fiancé, who was also in the choir, encouraged me to take extra lessons with Evelyn Hughes, who used to work at GPC and is retired now. So I started taking voice lessons with her,” says Irvin.
Hughes is artistic director for the Peach State Opera and a former associate professor of music at Georgia Perimeter, where she directed the voice and opera programs.
“At the time he was majoring in piano, but when I heard such a promising tenor voice I suggested that he consider changing his major,” Hughes recalls. “In addition to his vocal ability, he is one of the brightest students I have ever had and has never failed to take advantage of the opportunities that have come his way.”
“[Hughes] really encouraged me to be a singer … from the time I knew absolutely nothing about it. She really helped to expose me to opera and to classical thinking,” says Irvin.
Following a year of studying with Hughes, Irvin transferred to Georgia State University and officially changed his major to reflect his new passion. After graduating from GSU, Irvin was accepted into Boston University’s Opera Institute. There he completed his artist diploma in spring 2012 as part of the institute’s young artist program.
“Young artist programs serve as training programs to gain the necessary stage experience that one needs to become a professional opera singer,” Irvin explains.
Irvin then earned entry to Chicago’s highly competitive Ryan Opera Center, the development program for the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Out of hundreds who apply annually, he was one of only 11 ensemble members accepted for the 2012-13 season.
“This is an extremely prestigious, internationally known program and will establish him firmly in his chosen career,” Hughes said. “I am extremely pleased to have worked with John and very proud of his successes.”
Now Irvin is gaining experience singing in smaller shows while studying for the bigger shows on the main stage. According to The Lyric Opera’s website, the company is one of the most popular in the world, averaging 90 percent attendance annually.
After he completes his training in Chicago next spring, Irvin looks forward to making his international professional debut in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performing Beethoven’s ninth symphony.