During Andriana Chuchman’s first opera solo nearly ten years ago, people laughed at her—because she’s funny. Last December, the 28-year-old soprano extracted more (positive) chuckles, snorts, and cackles in a supporting role as the flirtatious Valencienne (doing the splits!) in the Lyric’s The Merry Widow. Now the beguiling Canadian, who currently calls Lake View home, shows off her range in a mythological tale opening April 24th at Chicago Opera Theater.
Chuchman is in the middle of preparing for a supporting role in Giasone (Jason), a salacious take on Jason and the Argonauts by the 17th-century Italian composer Francesco Cavalli. Earlier music such as Cavalli or Handel suits Chuchman, and it was a part in COT’s 2008 production of Handel’s Orlando that fully exposed Chicago audiences to a star about to go supernova. (Her crystalline voice and striking Ukrainian looks—both her parents are from Ukraine—completely upstaged her costars.) “I’ve always been told that I have a clean sound,” Chuchman says, “but it doesn’t allow me to have flaws in my breath because it’s detected instantly. If something sticks out, everybody’s going to notice.”
Growing up in Winnipeg, Chuchman got noticed very early in life. At age five, she started performing Ukrainian folk songs with her older sister. “We were little pip-squeaks, and it was so polished,” she jokes. Looking back, Chuchman says the Ukrainian folk tradition was a huge part of her life, but opera wasn’t on her radar until she attended college at the University of Manitoba. With opera, Chuchman realized, she could sing, act, and dance. “It’s the best of all worlds,” she says. “How could I not pursue this career?”
Three and a half years ago, Chuchman auditioned for several young-artist programs, including one at the Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center. She got a nice rejection letter. Two days later, the Ryan Center’s director, Gianna Rolandi, called, said there was an opening, and invited her to sing in the finals. “I think I fell off my chair when they said I would be in the program,” Chuchman recalls.
She leaves the center this year to be with her husband in Winnipeg, but, Gilbert and Sullivan fans, mark your calendars: Next December she returns to the Lyric to star as Yum-Yum in The Mikado.
Photograph: Brian Kuhlmann
Camera Assistants: Colin Beckett and Joshua Haines Wardrobe Stylist: Joslyn Beta Lawrence Makeup: Lia Rivette/Ford Hair: Sara Saltanovitz/Artists by Timothy Priano Location: Lyric Opera of Chicago