Julie Gunn is a pianist, educator, music director and producer who is co-director of the Lyric Theatre, a hybrid opera and musical theater acting program, at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Gunn has performed on many of the world’s most prestigious recital series. In her role at the U of I, she produces several mainstage operas or musical theater works a year at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
She is currently producing the Lyric Theatre’s Studio Scenes, free performances on December 6th (7 p.m.) and 7th (3:30 p.m.) in the Tryon Festival Theatre at KCPA. I recently spoke with her about the production.
Smile Politely: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me. Can you tell readers a little about yourself?
Julie Gunn: I’m a Professor of Music and the Co-Director of Lyric Theatre at Illinois. I am a pianist and music director by training.
SP: How did you get into singing; who inspired you as a young person and student?
Gunn: When I was a child I sang with my family quite a bit, and in a few musicals and choirs at school. At about 15 years old, people started asking me to serve as the music director of musicals and other small groups. I have always enjoyed a wide variety of music.
SP: How did you end up here at the University of Illinois?
Gunn: My teacher, John Wustman, a celebrated pianist, who played for many of the great opera stars in recitals around the world, asked me to come study with him.
Smile Politely: Can you tell me a little about Lyric Theatre? What is it like being the co-director?
Gunn: It is a huge joy for me to help lead Lyric Theatre. Our community of faculty and students is absolutely devoted to sung theatre, to telling a wide variety of stories that are made even more impactful and compelling with great music and the emotion that singing always brings. There is so much repertoire and yet we continue to learn about works from different parts of the world, and to develop new works ourselves.
SP: How did Lyric Scenes come about?
Gunn: Lyric Theatre has Studio Scenes and Opera Scenes, usually on different nights. One is for undergraduates, to learn more about all the different styles of musical theatre and opera. This semester they’re focusing on Baroque opera and the musicals of Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell, Pippin). The other is for graduate students and some upperclassmen, to study opera more in depth — sometimes they take the form of workshops of new works, but this semester they are an in depth study of what we call bel canto repertoire — the famous Italian operas of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They require virtuoso singing and are a great challenge for our advanced students.
SP: What should audiences expect from this event?
Gunn: To hear some beautiful singing, but also to be moved.
SP: What do you hope audiences take away from the performances?
Gunn: I hope audiences will connect with the singers. I feel like I know someone so well once they have sung for me — it’s like it reveals more about someone than anything else.
SP: Do you have any dream roles and have you played them?
Gunn: I played Julie Jordan in Carousel once. That character’s name was actually my name as well, so that probably won’t happen again.
SP: When you’re not working or catching shows at KCPA, what do you like to do in C-U?
Gunn: I like to cook dinner for my family and friends. I like to go out to Allerton Park and take walks in the woods there. I read a lot.
SP: What’s some of your favorite musical/theater acting moments that everyone should see and learn from?
Gunn: Too many to choose.
Lyric Theatre Studio Scenes
Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
500 S Goodwin Ave
Tu Dec 6th, 7 p.m.
W Dec 7th, 3:30 p.m.