Soprano Erie Mills, a Granite City native trained at the University of Illinois, hit a career high two summers ago singing the lead in the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis's revival of Dominick Argento's Dickens adaptation, Miss Havisham's Fire. A New York Times reviewer noted that "her vocal bravura can work hand in glove with variety of color and expression." Mills's talent was evident more than two decades ago, when she had a minor role in the Lyric Opera's production of Love for Three Oranges; in the early 80s, she also appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and at Grant Park. Yet while she's been busy, she hasn't turned out to be a darling of the major opera houses. It may be that her coloratura, while radiant, supple, and often thrilling, seems too thin for big auditoriums--though when given a shot, as when the New York City Opera cast her as Cunegonde in a presentation of Candide that aired on PBS, she's been impressive. And on disc, in Sondheim's Follies and Candide, she invests each number with intelligence and an attention to lyrics. I look forward to her recital at the Cultural Center, part of a new (and free) series called "Vocal Journeys." (It's launched just in time to fill the gap left by Symphony Center's suspended vocal recitals.) Mills's program indicates erudition as well as love for the new and unusual. The first half of her program includes arias by Handel, selections from Wolf's Italian Songbook, and four scintillating Debussy songs; the second is all American, with the world premiere of a cycle titled "From the Song of Songs" by Kenneth Frazelle and a revival of songs by Lee Hoiby, a conservative-minded composer who was once highly influential in the city's cultural life. Accompanying Mills on the piano is Jeffry Peterson. Wednesday, March 26, 7 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630 or 312-346-3278.