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Chamber Music Society of St. Louis to close season with special guest Sylvia McNair

Rhonda Ely

Soprano Sylvia McNair has sung in concert halls and opera houses all over the world. But she has a soft spot for St. Louis, where she got her start in opera with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 1983.

“Certainly in the 1980s, [Opera Theatre] was and still is a premier training ground for young American singers where you learn your craft from great directors and conductors,” she told “Cityscape” host Steve Potter. “I feel like Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is where I figured out how to walk in the opera business.”

McNair will return May 12 to St. Louis for the Chamber Music Society of St. Louis’ season finale. She’ll be the soloist in Paul Reuter’s “Temple Built in Trust and Hope” and will perform selections from The Great American Songbook. The concert will also include Mendelssohn’s Octet, an oboe quartet by Mozart and some Chopin piano music.

Chamber Music Society executive and artistic director Marc Gordon has a long history with McNair from his years in the orchestra for Opera Theatre productions. More recently he was in the audience for McNair’s 2011 concert of music from The Great American Songbook at The Sheldon. “To hear someone who is classically trained, an opera singer, sing that genre of music and not sound like an opera singer singing another genre of music was spectacular,” Gordon said. “It blew me away.”

In the last decade McNair has focused her career on The Great American Songbook. She commented, “I feel like I learned how to do opera. I learned how to do classical music. I learned that kind of vocal production, but what I am most comfortable doing, when I’m really living in my own skin, as they say, is when I am singing the American Songbook material. It just fits my personality, it fits my voice, I love it, I never tire of it… I feel when I’m doing that material like I’m doing what I was put on Earth to do and it’s a very nice feeling.”

At Tuesday’s concert McNair will sing selections by Sondheim and Gershwin and will close with a new medley about being happy.

Asked whether she’s happy, McNair responded, “You know, when I can sing music I love with people I love in places I love, I tell you, that’s as good as it gets in my life. And then when those things are in place, yes, I am extremely happy!”

Related Event:

  • What: Chamber Music Society of St. Louis presents "Hardcore Classics 2015" featuring Sylvia McNair
  • When: Tuesday, May 12, 2015, 7:30 p.m.
  • Where: Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington Blvd.
  • More Information

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis

Mary Edwards is a producer for St. Louis Public Radio's broadcast program, "St. Louis Symphony."