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A handle on Handel: Mark S. Doss returns for holiday tradition


Chicago has been something of a second home for bass-baritone Mark S. Doss during his top-level international operatic career, which has taken him to such distinguished stages as Milan’s La Scala and London’s Royal Opera House.

After an apprenticeship with the Santa Fe Opera in 1983, the Cleveland native was chosen as a two-year ensemble member of the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists, the predecessor of today’s Ryan Opera Center, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s artist development program.

Since then, the 57-year-old African-American singer has performed at least 10 major roles with the company, including Cinque in the world premiere of Anthony Davis’ “Amistad” in 1997-98 and Escamillo in “Carmen” in that same season.


When: 3 p.m. Dec. 21; 7 p.m. Dec. 22

Where: Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph

Tickets: $15

Info: (312) 334-7777;

Doss returns to Chicago for performances of the International Music Foundation’s “Do-It-Yourself Messiah” on Sunday and Monday at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. In these presentations of Handel’s ever-popular oratorio, attendees are seated by voice type and serve as the chorus, singing along with conductor Stanley Sperber and an orchestra and four soloists.

During an interview with the Sun-Times, Doss spoke about his career, his relationship with Lyric Opera and his fondness for the “Messiah.”

Q. What aspect of your career has given you the most satisfaction?

A. The spirituality element is really important, because I started out in the Catholic seminary. I wanted to hook into the things that I thought were important about my life, not just the career. Was I really able to make a contribution to society, and how in this art form of opera would I be able to really make a difference in the world? Doing such things as Sarastro in “The Magic Flute” and then going on to Zaccaria in “Nabucco,” [Giuseppe] Verdi’s dramatic sort of upper roles — even Amonasro [in “Aida], that I’ve done so many times, has this sense of spirituality.

Q. What has been the biggest surprise for you about your life as an opera singer?

A. That there are so many of those opportunities [for a spiritual connection] that exist. When I started out, there was a sense that maybe this will just be about the glory, just about the spotlight.

Q. How many times have you sung at Lyric Opera of Chicago?

A. I started out doing some of the smaller roles, and I lose count. It comes out to something like 18 or 19 times. Basically, the larger roles are in the range of 10 to 12.

Q. Is there one production that stands out for you?

A. “Amistad” was very poignant during the time it was done. I went down to New Orleans, and I was singing there just a few months before the production started in Chicago, and I went to the place where most of the artifacts are held [Tulane University’s Amistad Research Center] and a lot of the information is there. It was inspiring, and I got the book [“Amistad: A Novel”] and I started reading through the whole situation. And when the [Steven] Spielberg movie came out just about the same time, within a month probably of when we opened at Lyric, that was extremely inspiring.”

Q. How often you done the “Do-It-Yourself Messiah”?

A. We’re over five times now.

Q. What do you feel is the appeal of this participatory approach?

A. It’s about being part of a group. It’s always a sense that two can be better than one, and if you bring that all together with these different forces, it can be something extremely powerful and have a ripple effect that can ignite people and get them excited about what they are doing in life, not just for a “Messiah.” We’re being led to something that is extremely important. These words are important. People identify with that. People identify with the music of Handel. Or they just identify with being part of something.

Kyle MacMillan is a local freelance writer