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2018 Fall Arts Guide

The Hometown Prima Donna

Janai Brugger returns to her roots for Lyric’s Idomeneo.

Published Sept. 24, 2018

Ever see kids at the symphony or opera dressed in an outfit from a Little Women dust jacket, drinking in the indulgent smiles of strangers? Ever wonder where they will be in 25 years?

One answer: They might be Janai Brugger. The 35-year-old native of southwest suburban Darien is now a veteran soprano of the Metropolitan Opera in New York and Covent Garden in London. She traces her musical lineage to the nosebleeds at Lyric Opera, where she heard the legendary singer Kathleen Battle. “I knew that I wanted to sing like her,” Brugger says, “and wear gowns like she did.”

After college at DePaul, Brugger did stints in Ann Arbor, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York but eventually found her way back to Chicago. Now she lives in Lincoln Park with her husband and kindergarten-age son. “We made a conscious decision that Chicago was the best place to settle,” she says. “And it’s way cheaper than L.A. and New York.”

It also offers her top-notch local performance opportunities. In the past year, Brugger has sung at the Grant Park Music Festival (she’s an alumna of the chorus), with the Chicago Sinfonietta, and — on the stage she once saw from so high up — at Lyric in last season’s Turandot.

This fall, Brugger sings the part of Ilia in Mozart’s Idomeneo. Even though it’s about a Cretan shipwreck, the work conjures Chicago for her. “This was one of my first major operatic roles in my DePaul days,” she says. A bonus: After each night’s show, she gets to sleep in her own bed.

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