Lyric Opera member eager to perform at her alma mater
Janet Mensen Reynolds of La Grange poses in her costume as a chorister for the Lyric Opera of Chicago's producton of "Showboat" earlier this year. | Photo courtesy of Janet Mensen Reynolds
Updated: April 11, 2012 4:37PM
After practically living in the music building at Lyons Township High School, Janet Mensen Reynolds of La Grange is looking forward to singing at her alma mater April 19 for the first time in many years.
The 1984 graduate just finished her 21st season with the Chicago Lyric Opera as a member of the chorus in productions including “Aida” and “Showboat” this year.
Mensen Reynolds will perform with two fellow Lyric choristers for LT’s spring orchestra concert, A Night at the Opera, in the Reber Center at the north campus in La Grange.
“I was excited to get that phone call,” she said. “It will be the first time in a long time I’ve sung over there. It will be fun.”
Mensen Reynolds said she has a hard time remembering classes besides music at LT, where she sang in the choir, madrigal groups and as the lead her senior year in “Anything Goes.”
In the music wing of the Vaughn Building, she also played French horn and was a drum mayor with the marching band for four years in between swim team practices and meets.
“Back at LT, I probably wasn’t thinking opera was going to be my thing, but everyone else was,” she said of her teachers. “Back then, I was thinking of Madonna and people like that. It would be great to be the next pop singer, but that was not the way my voice was going.”
Instead, Mensen Reynolds began to explore opera in college and develop her powerful voice as a mezzo soprano. After transferring from two other schools, she found her niche at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., where she graduated as the only music major in her class.
“For me a big school was not going to help me. I needed more personal attention, so we created my own class list of things to help me in what I wanted to do, like diction and opera scenes” she recalled. “It was very specialized individual training, and that’s exactly what I needed to thrive.”
Mensen Reynolds also credits her voice teacher of 31 years, Karen Brunssen, now at Northwestern University, with bringing out her best.
Just after graduating, Mensen Reynolds said she was “ecstatic” to be hired by the Chicago Symphony Chorus, where she sang for six months before getting the opportunity to audition with the Lyric Opera.
“They said they could squeeze me in at the end of the audition, so I sang for them,” she remembered. “They hired me the next day. It was very quick. I was so young, only 24. I’ve been there 21 year now, and it’s been great.”
Mensen Reynolds said she decided a while ago not to pursue principal roles, which entails extensive travel all over the world and is challenging to balance with family life. She and her husband, Mike, have a daughter, Lauren, a seventh-grader at Highlands Middle School, who has appeared in three Lyric productions as a supernumerary, or extra.
“I’ve gotten some small roles and some understudies, and it keeps me really happy to be able to do concerts and work as a soloist throughout the Chicago area,” Mensen Reynolds said. “That keeps me busy in the off-season and singing year round. I really enjoy it. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Mensen Reynolds also teaches voice lessons at her home and said the majority of her students are adults.
“They just want to sing better in their church choir or a community group, such as the Tower Chorale, based in Western Springs,” she said. “There’s a different level of commitment with adults, and not a parent behind they. They actually practice.”
For the LT concert, Mensen Reynolds said she will be performing her favorite aria, “Habenera,” from Bizet’s opera “Carmen,” as well as “Lascia Ch’io Pianga” from Handle’s “Rinaldo.”
“There are happy operas and songs, but a lot of it is sad,” she said. “People die and then there’s the curtain.”
One of the best parts of her job with the Lyric is the costumes.
“‘Showboat’ was such a fantastic experience. The costumes were spectacular,” she said. “It spans from the late 1800s with women having big bustles and parasols and fantastic hats through the 1920s with flapper dresses and bob wigs.”