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‘Music of the Universe’ concert blends voices, words and images

‘Music of the Universe’ Bellissima Opera, Unity Temple, 875 Lake St., Oak Park 6 p.m. Sunday, June 1 $30; $25 students and seniors; $5 off per ticket by using Universe in the password box or with your phone order; cash or check only at the door (800) 838-3006; universe2014.brownpapertickets.com

The talents of four opera singers, two musicians, a dancer, a narrator and a visual artist are all combined in Bellissima Opera’s “Music of the Universe.” The multimedia concert, Sunday, June 1 at Oak Park’s Unity Temple, was conceived by soprano Christine Steyer of Oak Park who produces, directs and performs in the show.

The title was taken from a poem by Oak Park poet Charlie Rossiter that Steyer commissioned composer David Shenton to set to music. The piece is one of the selections in this diverse program.

“The concert is unusual,” Steyer admitted. “It’s not an opera. It pulls together music from various sources. It’s representative of four centuries of music.”

The earliest piece on the program is “Stabat Mater,” composed by Pergolesi in 1736. “I love this work,” Steyer declared. “In my mind, it’s one of the most perfect pieces of music ever written.”

Steyer will perform the piece, which was written for two female voices, with mezzo-soprano Martha Kasten. Other selections will feature tenor Franco Martorana and baritone Ryan de Ryke. Steyer’s husband, Paul Geiger, narrates.

The program also includes art songs by Schubert and Tosti; the theme from “Schindler’s List,” performed by violinist Chris Nemeth of Oak Park; American favorites and arias by Verdi, Puccini and Bizet, among other selections. Dancer and Oak Park resident June Tanoue will perform a hula to John Fogerty’s, “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”

Pianist Marta Johnson will accompany the singers. She is particularly fond of David Shenton’s commissioned pieces. “The music is so expressive and so beautiful,” Johnson said. “Two of them are with piano and violin and one is Christine singing the ‘Music of the Universe.’ ”

Johnson also offers high praise for Steyer. “I think that Christine is brilliant and very creative, and willing to try new things,” she said. “I love that she is putting together a multimedia aspect to this concert.”

Steyer has gathered slides that will be displayed during the first half of the program. For the second half, artist David Robbins of Oak Park is drawing from his archives, as well as taking original photographs, to be shown with six songs. He estimates that he will provide around 180 images.

“It’s not a photography show,” Robbins emphasized. “It’s a multimedia musical experience. We’re not looking for people to get drawn into the photographs. We want the focus to be on the music and the singers.”

The artist reported that he is not creating literal images. “I’m looking for an abstract relationship,” he said, “subtler emotional notes that hopefully will be conveyed with the images and still have a relationship.”

By way of example, Robbins noted that for a Jacques Brel love song he is using nature photos to show, “the warm and cool tones of that emotional journey. I’m not trying to tell the story again in photographs. That’s the story in the song.”

“I feel there will be something for everyone,” Steyer concluded, “all of it tied to the mission of Bellissima Opera, which is a celebration of the classically trained human voice. I think we can work it in combination with other things without sacrificing the technique.”

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