An award-winning operatic love letter to global front line healthcare workers

Looking to program the perfect one-hour opera?

  • A relevant work on healthcare workers confronting the first year of the COVID pandemic
  • Grabs the audience from start to finish
  • Inspired by 200 news articles from around the world
  • A one-act opera in three scenes
  • In English
  • Scored for 6 singers and piano
  • 3 roles are gender flexible
  • Each singer has memorable aria
  • Optional 4-part chorus
  • Subtitles and supertitles available

To peruse the score or purchase the Shenton & Steyer Opera Songbook, contact [email protected].

For licensing, contact [email protected]. 773-509-9360.


Bellissima Opera’s world premiere of On Call: COVID-19 is the Winner of the National Opera Association Production Award and 3rd place winner of The 2022 American Prize for Opera Production.

Created by librettist Christine Steyer, composer David Shenton and director Carl Ratner, the 60-minute opera looks in on a series of Zoom calls by six medics struggling with the unfolding pandemic.

Calling in from Chicago, Seoul, Rio de Janeiro, Lombardy, New York City, and a Syrian refugee camp near Beirut, the colleagues provide each other a lifeline and ultimately discover that kindness and compassion can be as powerful a tool as a vaccine and ventilator.

Free Viewing of
On Call: COVID-19 (premiere performance)


Sextet—”Our Snapshot of This Moment” —Bellissima Opera cast, April 2021


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David Shenton is an English pianist, violinist, composer, and arranger, based in New York City. Shenton has collaborated with musicians in diverse genres, including Vanessa Williams, Tony Bennett, Sierra Boggess, Denyce Graves, Renée Fleming, Sherrill Milnes, Sir André Previn, Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz.

Composing since the age of nine, Shenton has written hundreds of works including sonatas, concerti, a symphony, an oratorio, string quartets, numerous songs, instrumental works, and operas. 

Shenton’s career includes conducting his orchestra/big band at Carnegie Hall in 2014; Jazz @ Lincoln Center Rose Theater as a jazz pianist in 2008; classical piano at Lincoln Center’s Rubenstein Atrium for the 200th anniversary Schumann and Chopin celebration, and as music director/arranger/pianist for the Center’s 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Shenton is a founding member of the acclaimed classical crossover group, Empire Trio.

David Shenton, composer and pianist for "On Call"

A prolific arranger, Shenton has worked at Abbey Road and CTS Studios (London), on Hollywood movies, and Broadway shows. Shenton has co-created more than a dozen shows with lyricist Martin Charnin (Annie). He arranged and orchestrated for the long-running West End production of Howard Blake’s The Snowman, for Charnin’s last musical, Robin Hood: the Untold Story, and for Opus X, with trumpeter Chris Botti. Shenton has composed numerous art songs and collaborated with Steyer on Six Songs for Soprano. He is a composer-in-residence at the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop. His recordings include several albums for major record labels, including the award-winning solo piano CD, Sunnyside Blues. 

Shenton is composing Bellissima Opera’s Tales of Transcendence—a series of operas exploring our shared humanity. The first, On Call: COVID-19, honoring healthcare workers, will premiered in April 2021. Future Perfect, co-created with 1300 local students, will have its Chicago premiere in June, 2022.

As a performer, the soprano has distinguished herself as an artist of great versatility. In addition to being the recipient of national awards such as the 2020 Honored Artist of The American Prize for outstanding contributions to the arts, and the Johnny Mercer Award, Steyer has received acclaim for her portrayals of the title role in Madama Butterfly and Violetta in La Traviata. Since 2000, she has sung as a chorister and in several small roles in over 40 productions at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

A frequent recitalist, Steyer sang several concerts of Russian and American music with pianist Philip Morehead and concerts of Spanish music with guitarist Brandon Acker. In 2019 Steyer sang in France with The Chicago Paris Cabaret Connexion at the Montpellier Opera House, Paris’ Salle Olympe de Gouges and the Lapin Agile. Last year, she sang at the Schubert Festival at Unity Temple, in Oak Park, where Steyer shared the stage with Lawrence Brownlee and members of the Chicago Symphony and Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestras, and a recital at The 19th Century Club Music of Hope and Healing.

Christine Steyer, librettist and artistic director of Bellissima Opera

As a music advocate, Steyer has brought classical music to 23,000 youth in underserved areas with her organization, Bellissima Opera Outreach. She collaborates with other professional musicians to create new works on relevant, contemporary themes. She and composer Jean-Claude Orfali are writing a book of original cabaret songs. Steyer’s songbook, Six Songs for Soprano, was written with several musicians including David Shenton.

In 2014 Steyer, as librettist, and Shenton, as composer, began writing Bellissima Opera’s Tales of Transcendence: a series of new operas exploring our shared humanity. The first, On Call: COVID-19, honoring healthcare workers, premiered in April 2021. Future Perfect, co-created with 1300 local students, will have its Chicago premiere in June 2022.

Carl Ratner began his career as an opera director/stage manager and learned his craft assisting directors, including eminent composer Gian Carlo Menotti, at the world’s major opera houses, including the Royal Opera at London Covent Garden, the New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Munich Opera, the Spoleto Festival in Italy, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, New York City Opera and the Santa Fe Opera, among others. He has worked with such notable artists as Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Renata Scotto and Mirella Freni. He served as Artistic Director of Chicago Opera Theater from 1994-1999, and previously held the same post at Chamber Opera Chicago from 1985-1993.

After he had established himself as an opera director and producer, he began to study singing and earned his doctorate in vocal performance from Northwestern University.  An accomplished baritone, he has performed the title roles in Verdi’s Falstaff and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, as well as Papageno in The Magic Flute and John Proctor in The Crucible. A frequent soloist for oratorio, he has sung Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s Magnificat with The Bach Ensemble of Naples and Dona Nobis Pacem by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs with the Cedar Rapids Concert Chorale.

Carl Ratner, director

He received a Fulbright grant to teach and study at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in Russia, where he directed a chamber opera, gave master classes and lectures, coached voice students in multiple languages, and performed a recital of songs by Russian, American, and Russian-American composers. He subsequently toured this program around the Eastern United States, performing it at the Russian Cultural Center in Washington and the Chicago Cultural Center as part of a seminar called The Soviet Experience.

He currently serves as Co-Chair of Voice and Director of Opera at Western Michigan University.

Gwendolyn Browncontralto: Chicago health care worker “Sandra Jazmond Walker”
Jeong Eun Joosoprano: Seoul health care worker “Jane Kim”
Christine Steyersoprano: Rio de Janeiro health care worker “Rolanda Couto”
Emanuel-Cristian Caramantenor: Lombardy health care worker “Paulo Zaninelli”
Russell Hokebaritone: New York health care worker “Mario Suffice”
Carl Ratnerbaritone: Lebanon health care worker “Gordon Cole”
David ShentonpianoCarl RatnerdirectorMark Wadevideo assembly

Contralto Gwendolyn Brown’s more than 25-year international career includes performances in opera, symphonic music, classical art song and spirituals, as well as the contemporary and the avant-garde. She is received critical acclaim in these works and has performed in many large opera houses (Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington National Opera, Seattle Opera, New Orleans Opera, to name a few), and symphony homes in the United States including Boston Symphony, LA Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl and Tanglewood.

Her international career includes performances in Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic, Amsterdam and Australia. She has created roles for Anne LeBaron for the Contemporary Opera Company The Industry, and for George Lewis for new music festivals in the UK, and the Ojai Music Festival in California. Gwendolyn has also premiered and commissioned art songs and spirituals of up and rising young composers.

Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, Gwendolyn obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Music at Fisk University (Nashville, TN), and pursued the master’s degree in Vocal Performance at the University of Memphis (Memphis, TN). She completed her master’s degree at the American Music Conservatory (Hammond, IN). Her young artist development included The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center for the Lyric Opera of Chicago and The Des Moines Metro Opera Young Artist Program.

Ms. Brown currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee where she is the Assistant Professor of Music in Voice and Opera Workshop at her alma mater, Fisk University and is often asked to conduct Masterclasses in vocal technique, performance practice of Spirituals and Black/African American Art Song as well as career planning and advisement in the Classical music field.

Gwendolyn Brown is an artist of the award-winning Black Voices In Cabaret “Healing through Song” concert series.

Jeong Eun Joo is a Korean soprano with a wide range of musical interests, from Baroque to contemporary repertoire. Ms. Joo is a skilled performer on the lyric stage with a flexible and rich vocal sound. She has been described as “a commanding stage performer, communicating with assurance and grace” and “having a technically-solid, lyric coloratura voice.”

Ms. Joo made her debut at the Eastman Theater’s Kodak Hall as Giulietta in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi and returned to perform the roles of Monica in Menotti’s The Medium and Euridice in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice.  She appeared as a soloist in Haydn’s The Creation and Mendelssohn’s Elijah with Chicago Oratorio Choir. She was also a soloist in Haydn’s Nelson Mass with Chicago Christian Chorale.

She holds a Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts in voice performance and literature from Eastman school of Music, as well as a Bachelor of Music degree at Seoul National University. Additional studies include graduate work and teaching assistantships at Seoul National University and Eastman School of Music, language study and coaching in Milan and Florence, Italy. She has taken masterclasses from Swedish baritone Håkan Hagegård, distinguished American soprano Benita Valente, and composer, Lee Hoiby. Performing credits in Korea and Chicago include numerous recitals, oratorios, and operas.

Emanuel-Cristian Caraman is a Romanian tenor. He has appeared with opera companies, symphony orchestras and on recital stages in Europe, North and South America. He has performed with opera companies throughout the world. Operatic highlights include Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto, Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore, Rodolfo in La Boheme, Alfredo in La Traviata, Don José in Carmen, Fritz in L’Amico Fritz, Riccardo in Un Ballo in Maschera, Ernesto in Don Pasquale, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, Ferrando in Cosi fan tutte, Tamino in Die Zauberfloete, Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus and Alfred in Die Fledermaus.

Mr. Caraman has performed the tenor solos in Rossini’s Stabat Mater, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor, Mozart’s Requiem, Bach’s B Minor Mass, Bach’s Magnificat, Ramirez’s Misa Criolla, Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s Creation, Haydn’s Stabat Mater, Brukner’s Te Deum and Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. Mr. Caraman recorded Spanish composer Jorge Muniz’s vocal catalog written for tenor, cello and piano. For this project, Mr. Muniz composed a new song cycle specifically for Mr. Caraman’s voice. Cantos del Emigrante on Afinat Records.

Caraman is the recipient of the Michiana 40 under 40 recognition award, conferred by South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce, the American Prize Oratorio Award, for an outstanding vocal symphonic artist. He is currently the general and artistic director of South Bend Lyric Opera in South Bend Indiana.

Mr. Caraman received his doctorate in music from National Music University in Bucharest, Romania under professor Dr. Grigore Constantinescu. He is the visiting assistant professor of Music in Voice at Indiana University at South Bend.

Chicago baritone Russell Hoke has performed across the United States., Europe, and South America. He has worked with Metropolitan Opera’s Gail Dubinbaum and has been coached by several Maestros, including John Massaro, Pedro Yanez, Bill Powers, and Louis Salemno. Russell also toured the United Kingdom as a part of the Persuasion tour with The Chamber Opera of Chicago.

Hoke’s performance highlights include Die Fledermaus, Big Jule in Guys and Dolls, Marcello in La Bohème, Giorgio Germont in La Traviata, Zio Bronze in Madama Butterfly, Dottore Bartolo in Barber of SevilleThe Magic FlutePorgy and Bess, Balthazar in Amahl and the Night Visitors. He has performed with Gilbert and Sullivan Co. of Chicago, Sugar Creek Symphony, Elgin Opera, Windy City Opera, Light Opera Works, daCorneto Opera, Milwaukee Opera Theatre and many others.

He recently performed as The Villains in Les Contes d’Hoffman in Sao Paulo, Brazil with the Festival of International Operas of Americas, conducted by Michael Borowitz and John Massaro. He also performed the role of Pilisopio Tasio from Noli Me Tangere as the opera made its American début.

Hoke is also a vocal coach. Along with soprano Nicole Cooper, Russell runs Heart of Singing, a school offering voice, piano, guitar, and ukulele lessons for all ages. He was featured in the Chicago Tribune for his work with children in music in Elgin, Illinois. Hoke has a degree in vocal performance from Northern Illinois University.

See full bio under “Creators”

See full bio under “Creators”

Mark Allen
Kathryn Atwood
John Atwood
Nathaniel Bauman
Nicole Cooper
Stefanie Cruz
Evelyn Danner
Diane Deckert
Jenny Earlandson

Miranda Flanagan
Dominique Frigo
Phil Frigo
Paul Geiger
Aaron Grace
Marie Labellarte
Shirley Lundin
Brinn Miller
Gillian Norris
Jean-Claude Orfali

Christina Ray
Katie Rub
Eleanor Sharpe
David Shenton
Erin Shields
Lydia Smith
Christine Steyer
Peter Storms
Suzanne Walsh
Jackson Wells

And members of the WMU University Chorale, Kimberly Dunn Adams, Conductor

Characters are identified by location, as in “Chicago HCW” (Health Care Worker). Each scene (April, September, and December 2020) begins with the actual COVID statistics of infected and deceased persons for each location. 

April—In a moment of crisis, the Chicago HCW connects virtually with 5 Health Care Workers with whom she has friendships. She expresses frustration by lack of supplies and questions returning to work. The New York HCW then admits he may have caused the death of his grandmother. The Lombardy HCW sings about the resiliency of Italians and the Seoul HCW translates it into English. The Chicago HCW resolves to return to work.

September—The Lombardy HCW is recovering from COVID; the Lebanon HCW explains the refugee situation is worsening due to the Beirut explosion; the Rio de Janeiro HCW states how deforestation spreads COVID. The Seoul HCW and the Lombardy HCW join in with other grievances. The Chicago HCW interrupts them to say that these calls should be a place of healing rather than an echo-chamber for disheartening news. The Chicago HCW insists that if they meet again, they should each find something good to share with the group.

New Year’s Eve—Everyone shares a positive anecdote. They also note that compassion is as precious a tool as vaccine and ventilator and that the lifeline they provide each other will extend into the larger world.

Gender Flexible Opera

“On Call” is currently scored for 3 high and 3 low voices. Any of the roles can be rewritten an octave higher or lower to accommodate a performance ​by any gender.

​The Collegiate WMU Premiere

The Western Michigan University Opera Department premiered “On Call: COVID-19″ on April 30 & May 2, 2021.

Creating “On Call”

“On Call” provided a meaningful and safe place for artists to engage in their craft during the COVID crisis. Each artist recorded their parts at home: Illinois, New York, Tennessee, Michigan & Indiana! The segments were assembled to create the look of a ​live “Zoom” meeting.

Interested in Licensing?

Looking to program that perfect opera for six singers and pianist? Contact Working In Concert Executive Director Claudia Hommel. [email protected]

Produced by Working In Concert’s Bellissima Opera as the first of our “Tales of Transcendence”, the World Premiere virtual performance opened April 17, 2021. It was followed by the Western Michigan University collegiate premiere on April 30.

This work is in gratitude to global healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic and to the journalists who covered their stories:

Local Chicago news, PBS’s Frontline, Amanpour and Company, the Atlantic and journalist Ed Yong, who contributed substantially to both platforms and won the Pulitzer Prize for his brilliant journalism.

Collegiate performances:

Western Michigan University cast

On Call: COVID-19 was adapted for live performance at OperaFest XV, with the cast of Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts .

CCPA Cast: Anastasia Antropova, Adam Lehman, Laura Strickland, Cole Dziedzic, Charles Butler, Emily Thompson and director Cathy Dunn.
Not pictured, Music Director Shannon McGinnis.

Praise for “On Call”

I have deep respect and reverence for the great art you all have created. A most poignant and passionate effort in a technically relevant and innovative format. Thank you for this powerful snapshot during a life changing time. Gratitude to you all!

Charles Torpe

Newcomers to opera will be delighted by the English subtitles and deep emotions conveyed through the talented performers. The gift of this performance is the accessibility, validation of our shared experience during the global health pandemic and cathartic adventure On Call is able to move us through. The style and technique of this opera will be our archive for future understanding and healing. Many thanks.

Marcia E. F.

I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute with tears in my eyes, as it hit so close to home and felt very personal, something that I lived and still do. The music was phenomenal. 
Dr. Iryna A., family physician

What an amazingly important piece of music and writing you have created!  Heartfelt, creative and beautifully informative about what has been going on.  Your piece was especially moving to me…your voice,  words and action kept me wanting to hear more.
Diane Piette

Such incredible talent and ability to capture the essence of our unified experience. I appreciate how the opera validates and gives voice to healthcare workers around the world. We enjoyed this immensely – Brava!


A wonderful work and performance. Thank you so much for this timely and moving opera.

Helen Tintes

This opera is and will remain a moment in history. The talent and arrangement of the ZOOM opera production was spectacular – thank you and bravo!

Peter Storms

Today I tuned into the WMU On Call performance. It was lovely to hear, at last, how David set the libretto and how brilliantly the young musicians brought the score to life. Please extend my regards to Carl and the young artists involved.

Hannah Edgar (music critic for Chicago Tribune)

Congratulations on your opera! It was amazing, powerful, touching, and brilliant. I loved how you actually set it in Zoom, and I thought the dramatic arc was fantastic. Plus, you all sounded wonderful. Bringing together all those stories from around the world and raising our awareness of the wider issues in the world was really brilliant. Thank you for doing it.

Dr. Eugenia Cheng

I am speechless and humbled by your stunning deep work! I was totally absorbed so that I wouldn’t miss a note or thought or facial expression! I am a nurse tho retired so the message invaded me deeply. I have a daughter who is a practicing nurse and a son who is a practicing doctor and would like to send this to them. What is the best way to accomplish my support of your amazing mission?

Mary Rose Lambke