An award-winning operatic love letter
to global frontline healthcare workers

“On Call: Covid-19” Winner of the 2020-21 National Opera Association Production Award. Created by librettist Christine Steyer, composer Shenton and director Carl Ratner, the 60-minute opera looks in on a series of “Zoom” calls by six medics struggling with the unfolding pandemic.

Calling in from Chicago, Seoul, Rio de Janeiro, Lombardy, New York City, and a Syrian refugee camp near Beirut, the colleagues provide each other a lifeline and ultimately discover that kindness and compassion can be as powerful a tool as a vaccine and ventilator.

Produced by Working In Concert’s Bellissima Opera as the first of our “Tales of Transcendence”, this work serves as a tribute to healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic around the world and as an homage to journalists whose reports provided the background essential to our story.

The April 2021 premiere was met with great acclaim and especially appreciated by medical workers for whom “it hit so close to home and felt very personal.”

In gratitude to the continuing efforts by healthcare workers, we are offering a free viewing of this opera. Please click on the image below to be directed to the viewing platform.

The opera is 60-minutes, in English with English subtitles. Subject matter appropriate for ages 8+.

​Contact Christine Steyer (773) 531-7927.

“On Call” is drawn from 200 articles about healthcare workers facing the pandemic. Each cast member has chosen their own character’s name to honor a Health Care Worker or someone who has died from COVID.

On Call poster with Free Viewing label

Testimonials from our audience

Bravo!!! This is incredible…I am in tears. Thank you so much to all of the creators, performers, producers and everyone involved with this beautiful and one-of a kind work of art! I loved every minute.—Family physician Sonia O.

I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute with tears in my eyes, as it hit so close to home and felt very personal, something that I lived and still do. The music was phenomenal. —Family physician Iryna A.

From the moment composer David Shenton’s music began with Gwendolyn Brown’s opening aria we leaned in, found ourselves holding hands, tears in our eyes, deep sighs of sympathy and solidarity. It’s such a love letter to health-care workers and, even more, it’s proof that music delivered in an intimate and personal way (even through a streaming media) has the power to lift us up and bring us together. —Cappy Kidd

I tuned into the WMU On Call performance. It was lovely to hear how David set the libretto and how brilliantly the young musicians brought the score to life. Please extend my regards to Carl and the young artists involved —Music critic Hannah Edgar

You deserve a huge round of applause for helping to keep music ALIVE here in Chicagoland. It’s such a difficult time for those who depend on live performance. —Harold Bauer

Bravo to all who brought this opera together. Brought tears to my eyes. To paraphrase Picasso: “Art is a lie that makes us see the truth.”—Carrie Hedges

The opera brought out many of the emotions that we all experienced over the last year. This should make it to a larger stage, even on PBS. The public will truly appreciate the performance. Most importantly, it will bring the world closer together to overcome this horrible pandemic, allow everyone to appreciate the compassion and struggle of the healthcare workers who gave their lives for all of us, and to create a sense of community. —Peter Tortorello

Absolutely magnificent! Inspiring! I loved the ending as it brought everyone back together in such an uplifting way. —Rich Pokorny

I am speechless and humbled by your stunning deep work! I was totally absorbed so that I wouldn’t miss a note or thought or facial expression! I am a nurse tho retired so the message invaded me deeply. I have a daughter who is a practicing nurse and a son who is a practicing doctor and would like to send this to them. What is the best way to support your amazing mission? —Mary Rose Lambke

A most poignant and passionate effort in a technically relevant and innovative format. Thank you for this powerful snapshot during a life changing time. Gratitude to you all!

I’m still processing the event—truly moving. In my mind, it’s good art when it makes me quiet for a bit. I don’t know about you, but in my current thinking of, “let’s get this pandemic behind us!”, this production is a wonderful archive that keeps the emotional toll of the events in the forefront. We’re so susceptible of short-term memory, and this will help us stay in touch with how bad it really was (and is!). Thank you for providing this opportunity to our students at CUC. It’s really cutting-edge work! —Chuck Brown

It was amazing, powerful, touching, and brilliant. I loved how you actually set it in Zoom rather than trying to work around Zoom, and I thought the dramatic arc was fantastic. You all are great on screen as well as sounding fantastic. Also, bringing together all those stories from around the world and raising our awareness of the wider issues in the world was really brilliant. —Dr. Eugenia Cheng

So wish I could give you a hug right now! What a moving story – brilliant premise, with health care workers from all over the world. Amazing cast.
Thank you so much – this will be a time capsule; I am so curious how it – and this entire year – will look in another 10 years. —Betsy Davis

Our Covid Opera Featured on ABC News

Watch our Covid Opera Trailer


The Bellissima Opera Cast

Gwendolyn Browncontralto: Chicago health care worker “Sandra Jazmond Walker”
Jeong Eun Joosoprano: Seoul health care worker “Jane Kim”
Christine Steyersoprano: Rio de Janeiro health care worker “Rolanda Couto”
Emanuel-Cristian Caramantenor: Lombardy health care worker “Paulo Zaninelli”
Russell Hokebaritone: New York health care worker “Mario Suffice”
Carl Ratnerbaritone: Lebanon health care worker “Gordon Cole”
David ShentonpianoCarl RatnerdirectorMark Wadevideo assembly

Our International Virtual Choir
Mark Allen
Kathryn Atwood
John Atwood
Nathaniel Bauman
Nicole Cooper
Stefanie Cruz
Evelyn Danner
Diane Deckert
Jenny Earlandson

​Miranda Flanagan
Dominique Frigo
Phil Frigo
Paul Geiger
Aaron Grace
Marie Labellarte
Shirley Lundin
Brinn Miller
Gillian Norris
Jean-Claude Orfali

Christina Ray
Katie Rub
Eleanor Sharpe
David Shenton
Erin Shields
Lydia Smith
Christine Steyer
Peter Storms
Suzanne Walsh
Jackson Wells

And members of the WMU University Chorale, Kimberly Dunn Adams, Conductor

“On Call” Opera Synopsis – 3 Scenes in 2020

Characters are identified by location, as in “Chicago HCW” (Health Care Worker). Each scene (April, September, and December 2020) begins with the actual COVID statistics of infected and deceased persons for each location. 

April—In a moment of crisis, the Chicago HCW connects virtually with 5 Health Care Workers with whom she has friendships. She expresses frustration by lack of supplies and questions returning to work. The New York HCW then admits he may have caused the death of his grandmother. The Lombardy HCW sings about the resiliency of Italians and the Seoul HCW translates it into English. The Chicago HCW resolves to return to work.

September—The Lombardy HCW is recovering from COVID; the Lebanon HCW explains the refugee situation is worsening due to the Beirut explosion; the Rio de Janeiro HCW states how deforestation spreads COVID. The Seoul HCW and the Lombardy HCW join in with other grievances. The Chicago HCW interrupts them to say that these calls should be a place of healing rather than an echo-chamber for disheartening news. The Chicago HCW insists that if they meet again, they should each find something good to share with the group.

New Year’s Eve—Everyone shares a positive anecdote. They also note that compassion is as precious a tool as vaccine and ventilator and that the lifeline they provide each other will extend into the larger world.

Gender Flexible Opera

“On Call” is currently scored for 3 high and 3 low voices. Any of the roles can be rewritten an octave higher or lower to accommodate a performance ​by any gender.

​The Collegiate WMU Premiere

The Western Michigan University Opera Department premiered “On Call: COVID-19″ on April 30 & May 2, 2021.

Interested in Licensing?

Looking to program that perfect opera for piano and six singers? Contact Working In Concert Executive Director Claudia Hommel.

Creating “On Call”

“On Call” provided a meaningful and safe place for artists to engage in their craft during the COVID crisis. Each artist recorded their parts at home: Illinois, New York, Tennessee, Michigan & Indiana! The segments were then assembled to create the look of a ​live “Zoom” meeting.

The “On Call” Creators

David Shenton, composer and pianist for "On Call"
Christine Steyer, librettist and artistic director of Bellissima Opera
Carl Ratner, director

The “On Call” Cast

Gwendolyn Brown, contralto
Jeong Eun Joo, soprano
Emanuel Cristian-Caraman, tenor
Russel Hoke, baritone
Carl Ratner, baritone
Christine Steyer, soprano

“On Call” Creators and Cast Biographies

David Shenton–Composer

David Shenton is an English pianist, violinist, composer, and arranger, based in New York City. Shenton has collaborated with musicians in diverse genres, including Vanessa Williams, Tony Bennett, Sierra Boggess, Denyce Graves, Renée Fleming, Sherrill Milnes, Sir André Previn, Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz.

Composing since the age of nine, Shenton has written hundreds of works including sonatas, concerti, a symphony, an oratorio, string quartets, numerous songs, instrumental works, and operas. 

Shenton’s career includes conducting his orchestra/big band at Carnegie Hall in 2014; Jazz @ Lincoln Center Rose Theater as a jazz pianist in 2008; classical piano at Lincoln Center’s Rubenstein Atrium for the 200th anniversary Schumann and Chopin celebration, and as music director/arranger/pianist for the Center’s 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Shenton is a founding member of the acclaimed classical crossover group, Empire Trio.

A prolific arranger, Shenton has worked at Abbey Road and CTS Studios (London), on Hollywood movies, and Broadway shows. Shenton has co-created more than a dozen shows with lyricist Martin Charnin (Annie). He arranged and orchestrated for the long-running West End production of Howard Blake’s The Snowman, for Charnin’s last musical, Robin Hood: the Untold Story, and for Opus X, with trumpeter Chris Botti. Shenton has composed numerous art songs and collaborated with Steyer on Six Songs for Soprano. He is a composer-in-residence at the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop. His recordings include several albums for major record labels, including the award-winning solo piano CD, Sunnyside Blues. 

Shenton is composing Bellissima Opera’s Tales of Transcendence—a series of operas exploring our shared humanity. The first, On Call: COVID-19, honoring healthcare workers, will premiered in April 2021. Future Perfect, co-created with 1300 local students, will have its Chicago premiere in June, 2022.

Christine Steyer–Librettist

As a performer, the soprano has distinguished herself as an artist of great versatility. In addition to being the recipient of national awards such as the 2020 Honored Artist of The American Prize for outstanding contributions to the arts, and the Johnny Mercer Award, Steyer has received acclaim for her portrayals of the title role in Madama Butterfly and Violetta in La Traviata. Since 2000, she has sung as a chorister and in several small roles in over 40 productions at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

A frequent recitalist, Steyer sang several concerts of Russian and American music with pianist Philip Morehead and concerts of Spanish music with guitarist Brandon Acker. In 2019 Steyer sang in France with The Chicago Paris Cabaret Connexion at the Montpellier Opera House, Paris’ Salle Olympe de Gouges and the Lapin Agile. Last year, she sang at the Schubert Festival at Unity Temple, in Oak Park, where Steyer shared the stage with Lawrence Brownlee and members of the Chicago Symphony and Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestras, and a recital at The 19th Century Club Music of Hope and Healing.

As a music advocate, Steyer has brought classical music to 23,000 youth in underserved areas with her organization, Bellissima Opera Outreach. She collaborates with other professional musicians to create new works on relevant, contemporary themes. She and composer Jean-Claude Orfali are writing a book of original cabaret songs. Steyer’s songbook, Six Songs for Soprano, was written with several musicians including David Shenton.

In 2014 Steyer, as librettist, and Shenton, as composer, began writing Bellissima Opera’s Tales of Transcendence: a series of new operas exploring our shared humanity. The first, On Call: COVID-19, honoring healthcare workers, premiered in April 2021. Future Perfect, co-created with 1300 local students, will have its Chicago premiere in June 2022.

Join us for the June 2022 Chicago premiere of Future Perfect—the next ​opera in our Tale of Transcendence Series.

Carl Ratner – director

Carl Ratner began his career as an opera director/stage manager and learned his craft assisting directors, including eminent composer Gian Carlo Menotti, at the world’s major opera houses, including the Royal Opera at London Covent Garden, the New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Munich Opera, the Spoleto Festival in Italy, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, New York City Opera and the Santa Fe Opera, among others. He has worked with such notable artists as Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Renata Scotto and Mirella Freni. He served as Artistic Director of Chicago Opera Theater from 1994-1999, and previously held the same post at Chamber Opera Chicago from 1985-1993.

After he had established himself as an opera director and producer, he began to study singing and earned his doctorate in vocal performance from Northwestern University.  An accomplished baritone, he has performed the title roles in Verdi’s Falstaff and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, as well as Papageno in The Magic Flute and John Proctor in The Crucible. A frequent soloist for oratorio, he has sung Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s Magnificat with The Bach Ensemble of Naples and Dona Nobis Pacem by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs with the Cedar Rapids Concert Chorale.

He received a Fulbright grant to teach and study at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in Russia, where he directed a chamber opera, gave master classes and lectures, coached voice students in multiple languages, and performed a recital of songs by Russian, American, and Russian-American composers. He subsequently toured this program around the Eastern United States, performing it at the Russian Cultural Center in Washington and the Chicago Cultural Center as part of a seminar called The Soviet Experience.

He currently serves as Co-Chair of Voice and Director of Opera at Western Michigan University.

Gwen Brown – contralto

Contralto Gwendolyn Brown’s more than 25-year international career includes performances in opera, symphonic music, classical art song and spirituals, as well as the contemporary and the avant-garde. She is received critical acclaim in these works and has performed in many large opera houses (Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington National Opera, Seattle Opera, New Orleans Opera, to name a few), and symphony homes in the United States including Boston Symphony, LA Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl and Tanglewood.

Her international career includes performances in Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic, Amsterdam and Australia. She has created roles for Anne LeBaron for the Contemporary Opera Company The Industry, and for George Lewis for new music festivals in the UK, and the Ojai Music Festival in California. Gwendolyn has also premiered and commissioned art songs and spirituals of up and rising young composers.

Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, Gwendolyn obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Music at Fisk University (Nashville, TN), and pursued the master’s degree in Vocal Performance at the University of Memphis (Memphis, TN). She completed her master’s degree at the American Music Conservatory (Hammond, IN). Her young artist development included The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center for the Lyric Opera of Chicago and The Des Moines Metro Opera Young Artist Program.

Ms. Brown currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee where she is the Assistant Professor of Music in Voice and Opera Workshop at her alma mater, Fisk University and is often asked to conduct Masterclasses in vocal technique, performance practice of Spirituals and Black/African American Art Song as well as career planning and advisement in the Classical music field.

Jeong Eun Joo – soprano

Jeong Eun Joo is a Korean soprano with a wide range of musical interests, from Baroque to contemporary repertoire. Ms. Joo is a skilled performer on the lyric stage with a flexible and rich vocal sound. She has been described as “a commanding stage performer, communicating with assurance and grace” and “having a technically-solid, lyric coloratura voice.”

Ms. Joo made her debut at the Eastman Theater’s Kodak Hall as Giulietta in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi and returned to perform the roles of Monica in Menotti’s The Medium and Euridice in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice.  She appeared as a soloist in Haydn’s The Creation and Mendelssohn’s Elijah with Chicago Oratorio Choir. She was also a soloist in Haydn’s Nelson Mass with Chicago Christian Chorale.

She holds a Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts in voice performance and literature from Eastman school of Music, as well as a Bachelor of Music degree at Seoul National University. Additional studies include graduate work and teaching assistantships at Seoul National University and Eastman School of Music, language study and coaching in Milan and Florence, Italy. She has taken masterclasses from Swedish baritone Håkan Hagegård, distinguished American soprano Benita Valente, and composer, Lee Hoiby. Performing credits in Korea and Chicago include numerous recitals, oratorios, and operas.

Emanuel-Cristian Caraman – tenor

Emanuel-Cristian Caraman is a Romanian tenor. He has appeared with opera companies, symphony orchestras and on recital stages in Europe, North and South America. He has performed with opera companies throughout the world. Operatic highlights include Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto, Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore, Rodolfo in La Boheme, Alfredo in La Traviata, Don José in Carmen, Fritz in L’Amico Fritz, Riccardo in Un Ballo in Maschera, Ernesto in Don Pasquale, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, Ferrando in Cosi fan tutte, Tamino in Die Zauberfloete, Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus and Alfred in Die Fledermaus.

Mr. Caraman has performed the tenor solos in Rossini’s Stabat Mater, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor, Mozart’s Requiem, Bach’s B Minor Mass, Bach’s Magnificat, Ramirez’s Misa Criolla, Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s Creation, Haydn’s Stabat Mater, Brukner’s Te Deum and Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. Mr. Caraman recorded Spanish composer Jorge Muniz’s vocal catalog written for tenor, cello and piano. For this project, Mr. Muniz composed a new song cycle specifically for Mr. Caraman’s voice. Cantos del Emigrante on Afinat Records.

Caraman is the recipient of the Michiana 40 under 40 recognition award, conferred by South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce, the American Prize Oratorio Award, for an outstanding vocal symphonic artist. He is currently the general and artistic director of South Bend Lyric Opera in South Bend Indiana.

Mr. Caraman received his doctorate in music from National Music University in Bucharest, Romania under professor Dr. Grigore Constantinescu. He is the visiting assistant professor of Music in Voice at Indiana University at South Bend.

Russell Hoke – baritone

Chicago baritone Russell Hoke has performed across the United States., Europe, and South America. He has worked with Metropolitan Opera’s Gail Dubinbaum and has been coached by several Maestros, including John Massaro, Pedro Yanez, Bill Powers, and Louis Salemno. Russell also toured the United Kingdom as a part of the Persuasion tour with The Chamber Opera of Chicago.

Hoke’s performance highlights include Die Fledermaus, Big Jule in Guys and Dolls, Marcello in La Bohème, Giorgio Germont in La Traviata, Zio Bronze in Madama Butterfly, Dottore Bartolo in Barber of SevilleThe Magic FlutePorgy and Bess, Balthazar in Amahl and the Night Visitors. He has performed with Gilbert and Sullivan Co. of Chicago, Sugar Creek Symphony, Elgin Opera, Windy City Opera, Light Opera Works, daCorneto Opera, Milwaukee Opera Theatre and many others.

He recently performed as The Villains in Les Contes d’Hoffman in Sao Paulo, Brazil with the Festival of International Operas of Americas, conducted by Michael Borowitz and John Massaro. He also performed the role of Pilisopio Tasio from Noli Me Tangere as the opera made its American début.

Hoke is also a vocal coach. Along with soprano Nicole Cooper, Russell runs Heart of Singing, a school offering voice, piano, guitar, and ukulele lessons for all ages. He was featured in the Chicago Tribune for his work with children in music in Elgin, Illinois. Hoke has a degree in vocal performance from Northern Illinois University. 

Original Poster for “On Call” world premiere by the Bellissima Opera Cast in April, 2021

poster for On Call: COVID-19 opera

Original Poster for the Western Michigan University Collegiate premiere of “On Call” in April/May, 2021

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