Aria ready for some opera?

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For the last quarter century, major classical music stars have been making the rare trip to River Forest, to perform at Dominican University's annual Trustee Benefit Concert. This Sunday at Dominican's Lund Auditorium, two renowned opera singers, mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade and bass Samuel Ramey, will appear together for the first time in the Midwest.

It's a special pairing that "befits the 25th anniversary of this event, which has been committed to bringing extraordinarily high quality arts to our neighbors and the western suburbs," says Dominican University President Donna Carroll. The concert, along with the reception, silent auction and dinner that follow, raises money for student scholarships.

Sister Candida Lund, the former chancellor of Dominican who died in 2000, was a huge supporter of the arts. She spearheaded the benefit from its beginning, personally persuading artists to participate. "Over time, a vigilant eye on quality built a history of fine performances," drawing musicians "who look at the previous list to gauge the quality of the event," says Carroll.

Musicians like von Stade and Ramey, who have appeared at Dominican (separately) three times over the years, also enjoy the opportunity to perform in a small setting, notes Carroll. That's a major selling point for the audience as well.

"To see a guest artist in the intimacy of the Lund Auditorium who you've only seen on the stage of the Lyric from 5,000 seats away is a treat," she says.

Von Stade and Ramey, accompanied by pianist Warren Jones, will perform solo and as a duet, mixing works by Hector Berlioz, Charles Gounod and Gabriel Faure with songs from Aaron Copland, Charles Ives and Jake Heggie. By tradition, artists choose their own programs, but with a nudge to add a "popular twist."

"The last time Ramey was here, his final song was 'Ol' Man River.' It knocked the socks off everyone. He's doing it again, and anyone who was there is standing in line to hear it again," Carroll says. Reportedly, the song will be a duet with von Stade this time.

Putting on such a major production requires an army of volunteers. This year's dinner chairs are Oak Parkers Gene and Clare McEnery. At the helm is Linda Breivogel, Dominican's director of stewardship and special events. She's been the "facilitator" of the benefit for the past 20 years.

"It's a good mission," says Breivogel. "The first year it brought in $35,000. Now we expect to raise $300,000, which says a lot for how it's grown."

A significant amount of money is raised from the silent auction, part of the post-performance gala that includes a cocktail reception (von Stade and Ramey have promised to attend), the presentation of the Bravo Award for distinguished contributions to the arts, and dinner by caterer George Jewell. This year the Bravo goes to the Lyric Opera, in recognition of its 50th anniversary.

Breivogel is particularly pleased by the terrific loot they've managed to gather for the auction. "We've got a lot of items from loyal supporters. We bleed them to death, and they're so good about it," she says.

Auction items, from a much larger list, include lunch for two and a tour of City Hall with Alderman Edward M. Burke; a trip to New York City to hear Renee Fleming perform, complete with airfare, hotel, limousine transportation and tickets for two (minimum bid $2,000); a year of movie preview passes; and African art objects from a private collection. There are also a number of sports-themed items, like box seats to a Cubs-Astros game, a Chicago Bulls United Center Skybox for 12, and a package of an autographed and framed Walter Payton jersey with dinner at Mike Ditka's restaurant with former Bear Revie Sorey (now a student in Dominican's Graduate School of Social Work).

To mark the 25th anniversary, all former Bravo recipients and benefit chairs have been invited to attend Sunday's concert. "This is a celebration of the maturity of this benefit and the decades of people who've provided leadership for it," says Carroll. "With the highlight of honoring the Lyric Opera on the occasion of its 50th anniversary and two renowned performers together for the first time, it all comes together in a coherent and powerful celebration."

The 25th Annual Trustee Benefit Concert, featuring Frederica von Stade and Samuel Ramey, is this Sunday, March 6, at 3 p.m. in Lund Auditorium at Dominican University, 7900 W. Division St., River Forest. Tickets for the concert alone are $50 and $75; $350 also includes the cocktail reception, dinner and auction. For more information or to make a reservation, call 524-6942.

"Laura Stuart

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