While Alexandria native Anthony Reed has been away from home, out in the world doing big, exciting career moves for more than a decade, he still finds things that remind him of home.

The separate neighborhoods of Chicago and the fact that they are community-focused remind Reed of Alexandria.

“There’s this charm that the Midwest has and I really like the pace here,” he said. “People seem to be nicer.”

Reed is a first-year Ryan Opera Center ensemble member at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The 2008 Jefferson High School graduate made his Lyric Opera debut as a prison guard in “Dead Man Walking.” The opera is running through Nov. 22.

The Ryan Opera Center is a training program that prepares emerging singers for careers in opera through comprehensive instruction.

Dan Novak, vice president, director and board endowed chair at the Ryan Opera Center said staff is delighted to have Reed as an ensemble member.

“He is remarkably talented, with a beautifully distinctive bass voice and superb musical and dramatic instincts,” Novak said.

“Dead Man Walking” has been one of the most artistically fulfilling projects he’s done, Reed said. The opera invites viewers to grapple with the death penalty, having sympathy for the convicted as well as wanting to punish the convicted for what he did. By the end of the night, audience members are emotionally exhausted, he said.

“You know you have an audience in your hand when there’s 30 seconds of silence on stage and you don’t hear somebody coughing or crinkling paper in the audience. It’s just 30 seconds of pure silence in the room with maybe two or three thousand people.”

His favorite part is walking to the train following the performance, because he enjoys hearing the conversations of audience members.

The cast is made up of some experienced singers who are passing along their talents to the next generation of singers. Reed said he’s learned to have a greater level of trust in his instincts and be who he wants to be rather than conforming to others’ expectations.

“Trying to fit within a specified framework is not the best way of having a career.”

A small town native in a big city

Before he landed this gig, Reed had never really explored Chicago much. He ended up loving the city and would enjoy staying there, making it his homebase. He would just follow whatever opera gig he got, staying in its respective city temporarily.

Even though he loves the city life, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t come back and visit Alexandria. His parents, sister and sister’s family still live here and he is planning on seeing them for Christmas.

They support the career path he’s chosen. He keeps in touch with them through social media and FaceTime. Still, Reed wishes he could be there for the milestones of his baby niece, who was born a little more than a year ago. He also misses the tastes of home, following his sister Sarah Patterson’s baking business, Dough-Phoria, on Instagram.

A strong start

Reed said opera is a long training process. He sings bass, and low voices take a long time to mature, he said. When he was a part of the Merola Opera Program in San Francisco in 2014, staff offered him a position in the program’s Young Artist Program. He learned how to pronounce languages he would be singing from this program.

He freelanced for a year and then was offered a two-year position at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. “At the Chicago Lyric, I’m starting to really develop who I am as an artist, coming out of that student shell and becoming a professional,” he said.

In the Lyric’s 2019-20 season, which started in May, Reed will also play a commissioner in “Madama Butterfly” and Narumoff in “The Queen of Spades.”

“Opera is a really good way of combining my love of music with my love of theater,” he said.

Reed is unsure where he will end up after his two-year contract is over. He’s exploring his options with his advisors in the Ryan Opera Center program, figuring out which route is best. And, he just turned 30, which Reed said is a big plus in the opera industry because his age shows his experience.

Another option he is pursuing is moving to a German-speaking country to be hired full-time with an opera company. But wherever he lives or works, he still hopes to have a family with children of his own and a Great Dane.

“He’s done great work in his short time here, and we’re excited for what the future holds for him,” Novak said.