It's not often that the Lyric Opera Chorus steps from behind the familiar proscenium of the Civic Opera House to perform in other venues, abandoning their usual wigs, costumes, and makeup in favor of street clothes and risers. It's even less usual for them to join with choristers from other groups, or to organize their own programs. They'll do so at 4 PM on Sunday, August 30, however, in a special benefit concert at the Newberry Library for one of their own, tenor Terry Stevens.
Stevens, in his late thirties, has the distinction of having performed with most of the Chicago area's professional singing groups, including the Chicago Symphony Chorus, the Grant Park Chorus, Chicago Opera Theater, and the Lyric Chorus, of which he's been a member for over a decade, and of which I am also a member. In the manner of struggling singers everywhere, he has also sung with a number of church choirs, including Saint Matthew's Episcopal Church in Evanston.
Six months ago, in March, Terry Stevens was operated on for a brain tumor. During surgery he suffered a brain hemorrhage; despite subsequent surgery to correct the problem, he remains totally incapacitated. His physicians have concluded that he will never again walk, speak, or eat. Normally, he has to wear medication-filled goggles to prevent ulceration of his eyes, which dry out due to the lack of a blink reflex. At present, his eyelids are sewn shut. His mind is clear.
Needless to say, the cost of his care has been hideously expensive. It will remain so for the rest of his life. To help with those costs the Lyric Chorus is giving its first-ever performance as a group distinct from the rest of the Lyric organization, albeit with management's consent and assistance. The benefit for the Terry Stevens Relief Fund, to be given at the Newberry, where Stevens worked for more than ten years, will feature favorite choruses from opera and oratorio, and will include the talents of soprano Winifred F. Brown and other area soloists and, as a break from the singing, several dance pieces by members of Chicago City Ballet. Some members of the Symphony and Grant Park choruses will join the Lyric Chorus for the day as well, in a tribute to their former colleague.
Soprano Marilyn Vitale-DeStefano, chairperson of the benefit committee, is pleased with the response of singers for the event--at present, more than 70 choristers are signed up, promising a truly magnificent choral sound.
Vitale-DeStefano isn't that surprised by the positive response of the musical community; Terry Stevens is a popular chap, distinguished in an oftentimes egomaniacal business by a low-key, good-humored approach to life. "He's a wonderful person," she says. "We were always paired together because of our size--we're both kind of short--and he was just a sweetheart to be with. Not everyone is that considerate of a partner. Terry is a very kind, very gentle person."
Adds Scott Holmes, a member of the bass section and the union representative for the men's chorus, "Terry has been absolutely devoted to the Lyric. He was a very faithful chorister and union member; in fact, he was the union representative for a couple of seasons. He served on the board of governors of the American Guild of Musical Artists, our union. And he was dedicated to the Lyric's backstage tours, where he told groups about what we do in the chorus. He was even featured in a segment of Two on Two for that."
Tickets for the benefit, which may be moved across the street to the Scottish Rite temple if the response is great enough, are $20. In return for that, contributors will hear two hours of great choral music ranging from Brahms's "How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place" to the "Wach' Auf" from Wagner's Die Meistersinger to excerpts from Handel's Samson and Puccini's Madama Butterfly, conducted by Lyric's chorus master, Philip Morehead, in addition to the variety of dances from City Ballet. Tickets are available by mail from Lyric Opera (where contributions to the Terry Stevens Relief Fund may be sent as well), 20 N. Wacker, Chicago, IL 60606; or in person and by telephone from the Beautiful Sound, 333 N. Michigan (726-7911), or the Newberry Library, 943-9090, extension 204.
Terry Stevens's quality of life will improve soon with the addition of a motorized wheelchair and electronic communication device, a gift of the AGMA Relief Fund. Despite his physical incapacity, he remains very much aware of what is going on--and appreciates the things that are being done for him. "Terry knows people when they come to visit. He hears what you tell him," says contralto Dorothy Byrne of the chorus. "When I talked to him before the operation, he admitted he was scared--but he wasn't worried. He told me, 'I feel so much love from so many people--if that doesn't get me through, it's God's will.'"