Park Ridge native Thomas Forde was a soloist at Opera Zurich's International Opera Studio for two seasons. He has sung with opera companies across the country and overseas, and also has an impressive resume of musical theater performances.
And yet, Forde admitted that he was nervous when he performed with the Park Ridge Fine Arts Society two years ago. That's because he was "coming home to perform for all of the most important people in my life," he said.
Forde will be entertaining the hometown crowd again when he joins the orchestra Friday, July 1 for an "American Salute."
Musical Director and Conductor Barbara Schubert said they invited Forde back because, "He was so great. He's such a wonderful musician and a nice person to work with. We got very, very good reaction to his performance two years ago. I actually asked him to come back last year but he was performing out of town so I tried to grab him as early as I could this year."
"The set that I'm most excited about is from a musical called 'The Civil War' by Frank Wildhorn that has probably some of the most underrated, beautiful patriotic music that has been composed for musical theater," Forde declared. "It's not performed very often in a concert setting."
Schubert is creating special arrangements for the pieces selected from that musical as well as from "Ragtime," which Forde will also sing. "We're going to do some other related patriotic things — medleys of tunes from Civil War times and American folk tunes through the years," the conductor said.
Chances are Forde will have the same loyal fan base at the upcoming concert. He recalled arriving at Hodges Park at 4 p.m. for his sound check two years ago. His parents did, too, "so they could reserve all of the space on the lawn for the 75 people they had invited," the vocalist said. It's a good thing they did because over 2,000 people were in attendance that night.
Forde spent his early years in Chicago but his family moved to Park Ridge, where his parents still live, in 1997 so he could attend Maine South High School.
"I really wanted to go to a school that had a fine arts emphasis," he explained. "When I was younger, I wanted to be a serious actor."
He focused on acting for his first couple of high school years, and then someone heard him sing and encouraged him to take vocal lessons because they needed low voices. "It was sort of fate from there that I ended up majoring in voice at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign," the bass-baritone said.
Forde has particularly fond memories of his time at the Opera House in Zurich. That two-season stint led to other opportunities, including performing with Opera di Roma and Santa Fe Opera.
Forde is currently living in Rogers Park, after spending 10 years nearly constantly on the road. "I'm trying to make Chicago more of a home base," he explained.
One of his goals is to do more musical theater in Chicago. "My experience with Drury Lane Theatre in Oak Brook was very special—doing 'Les Miz,'" he said.
His focus now, though, is on the Park Ridge performance. Forde said, "It's an honor to be asked to come home and kind of represent Park Ridge in concert."
Park Ridge Fine Arts Society presents, 'American Salute'
When: 8 p.m. Friday, July 1
Where: Hodges Park at Vine, Main and Courtland, Park Ridge