Comedy and cooking combine in GSU production of ‘Bon Appetit!’

In the 1980s when his high school classmates listened to the hard rock band AC/DC, John Concepcion was enamored with Luciano Pavarotti, the internationally acclaimed operatic tenor.

John Concepcion

Concepcion, of Flossmoor, proudly proclaims the voice is his instrument and opera is “in my DNA.” He thanks his high school teacher for encouraging him to pursue a vocal career.

“He recognized that I had an interest in choral music and he encouraged me to think about singing professionally. He took a group of us to a Lyric Opera student matinee performance of La Bohème and I remember sitting in the audience thinking, ‘This is what I want to do. I want to be on that stage,’” he remembers.

Concepcion captured his passion for the voice, became a professional singer, and today not only performs as a member of the Lyric Opera Chorus but shares his love of music through the “Opera Up Close” series he created at Governors State University’s Center for Performing Arts.

Concepcion, who has lived in the south suburbs the past 10 years, had wanted to start a vocal recital series and was encouraged to do so by then Flossmoor resident Jeanne McInerney-Lubeck who was serving on the board of the Center for Performing Arts.

“She encouraged me to bring my vocal programming ideas to GSU, and five years ago I developed the Opera Up Close series. We do two or three programs a season. I usually open with a preview of the Chicago Lyric Opera season,” in which Concepcion is the narrator giving a brief history of the operas before singers perform arias or ensemble pieces for the audience.

“When I was a student at Simpson College, my vocal teacher was involved with the DesMoines Summer Opera and they had commissioned Lee Hoiby to write a work for them. When he came to Iowa, my teacher invited him to campus to perform his Bon Appétit! work with Jean Stapleton. Few people realize that Miss Stapleton (best known as Archie Bunker’s wife in the TV series “All in the Family”) trained as an opera singer. Lee had written the piece for her.”

In “Bon Appetit!” Julia Child, played by Sarah Ponder Brock, teaches the basics of making a classic French chocolate cake. The score, written by Lee Hoiby, takes listeners on a musical journey to match the cooking mayhem unfolding before their eyes, in classic Julia Child fashion. Songs range from “Be Our Guest” (“Beauty and the Beast”) and “Fin ch’an dal vino” (“Don Giovanni”) to “Votre Toast” (Bizet’s “Carmen”).

This season when Concepcion was designing the Opera Up Close series he remembered that presentation and thought local audiences would enjoy seeing soprano Sarah Ponder Brock recreate the role as a hilarious, fanatically whisking chef whipping up a decadent masterpiece.

Concepcion has packaged the program around a number of other “food related” musical pieces for a fun afternoon of song. Guests, who sit on the center’s stage rather than in the theater, will enjoy a variety of wine and food samplings throughout the show.

In his professional life, Concepcion is one of 48 singers that make up the Lyric Opera Chorus. Over the next two months, Concepcion will be singing in Wagner’s “Tannhäuser,” Puccini’s “Tosca” and a fairly new work, “The Passenger,” an opera set around Hitler’s Germany.

Concepcion joined the Lyric Opera Chorus 20 years ago, but his professional career has taken him throughout the United States.

After graduating from Simpson College, he joined the Chicago Symphony Chorus in 1987 and was a member for 11 years before taking to the road performing with opera companies across the country.

“I did that for about four years before deciding it was time to settle down. I returned to Chicago to live with my partner, Kevin Wall, and joined the Lyric Opera Chorus.”

Concepcion does some teaching, and can also be seen performing with the West Suburban Symphony Orchestra and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

And in January, the tenor played a part in the auction for the Homewood-Flossmoor High School Orchestra’s fundraiser agreeing to give a private performance for a lucky winner. His son, Santago Concepcion-Wall, a junior at H-F, is a member of the orchestra.

Related story:
Comedy and cooking combine in GSU production of ‘Bon Appetit!’ (The Chronicle, Feb. 8, 2015)

Contact Marilyn Thomas at [email protected]

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