Dorothy Andries – Pioneer Press

Sunny soprano shines in 2006

Soprano Michelle Areyzaga sings like an angel, and every time she performs she sounds better than the last time. When she sang with the Lake Forest Symphony in Grayslake in late October, it seemed that Mozart’s “Exsultate, jubilate” had been written just for her.

Areyzaga has been singing in the Chicago area since the late 1990s, but she seemed to burst onto the North Shore music scene in 2004, when she sang the enchanting “Les Nuits d’ete” by Berlioz with the Ars Viva Orchestra at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie.

She was engaged the following year to sing Benjamin Britten’s “Les Illuminations.” Last June she appeared with the North Shore Choral Society, under the direction of Donald Chen, for its big 70th anniversary concert at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall in Evanston. The work was Robert Schumann’s massive “Paradise and the Peri.” Areyzaga sang the Peri to tumultuous applause and critical acclaim.

In November she was a soloist with the Alan Heatherington’s Chicago Master Singers and his Ars Viva Orchestra in the Mozart “Requiem” in Techny’s Divine Word Chapel. The sunny soprano, who lives in Aurora, holds a degree in voice performance from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University and has become a favorite with area conductors. Not only has she been tapped by Heatherington, but she has come to the attention of Stephen Alltop of Northwestern University, conductor of the Apollo Chorus in Chicago and director of programs at Alice Millar Chapel in Evanston.

“She is so flexible and so easy to work with,” Alltop said, “in addition to that radiantly lovely voice.” He has engaged her to sing in the Apollo Chorus presentation of Handel’s “Solomon” the afternoon of March 4 at the Harris Theater in Chicago.

Areyzaga also has worked extensively with conductor Francesco Milioto, director of programs at the Chicago Cultural Center and assistant conductor of the Highland Park Strings. She sang Pamina in his production of “The Magic Flute” last summer and is scheduled to sing Samuel Barber’s powerful “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” with his New Millennium Orchestra Jan. 26 at the Cultural Center.

“Michelle sang Zerlina in the first opera I did in Chicago back in 1998 or ’99,” said Milioto, who hails from Canada. “She has such grace and poise. The audience falls in love with her instantly. There is usually a barrier between a singer and the audience — she doesn’t have one. In addition to her fantastic singing voice, she has this wonderful gift of making the audience feel she is singing just for them.”

As a member of the audience, this critic has been immediately bewitched by her dazzling smile, then grandly entertained by her ever-more-glowing soprano. And it was apparent that even as we enjoyed hearing her sing, she enjoyed singing for us just as much. Compelling reasons to spotlight Michelle Areyzaga as our Artist of the Year for 2006.

—Dorothy Andries – Pioneer Press – December 28, 2006 (Named “Artist of the Year”)