athan Gunn hardly looks the operatic stereotype: with those shirtless pictures on the Internet, a casual Googler might peg the buff 36-year-old as an underwear model who occasionally sings. But it’s the Illinois baritone’s high-octane talent that has made him an opera star-and led to a first release on Sony, Just Before Sunrise, out in August. “I wouldn’t call it ‘crossover,'” Gunn says, explaining the mix of modern “classics” by artists like Gene Scheer with gems by Tom Waits and Sting. “It’s not music I shouldn’t be doing.”
Originally from South Bend, Gunn was groomed in the Met’s Lindemann program, before marrying the pianist Julie Jordan in 1992 and moving to Champaign-Urbana to teach in the U. of I. music school (says Gunn: “It’s not all about basketball and football!”). Chicago audiences can catch the rising talent in several upcoming performances. On August 17th and 18th, he joins local soprano Jonita Lattimore at Millennium Park, and next February, he performs the role of Figaro in the Lyric Opera’s Barber of Seville. He’s also scouting venues for more intimate recitals in tune with the music on his CD. “With a recording,” he says, “you are being welcomed into someone’s home.” Given his superb voice, Gunn would be a welcome guest anywhere.
PHOTOGRAPH: BILL PHELPS