Brotherly advice pushes Wheaton native toward opera career

Growing up in Wheaton, music was a big part of brothers Steve and David Govertsen’s lives.

“We didn’t have that athletic thing going for us,” David said. “It’s kind of what we found our way into, I guess.”

The choice has taken David Govertsen far. He teaches private voice at the College of DuPage. And he sings opera. In French, German and Italian.

He’s performed at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in “The Magic Flute,” “Boris Godunov,” “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg” and “Werther.” Next, he stars as Pooh-Bah in the New Philharmonic production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular opera, “The Mikado.” It plays the McAninch Arts Center at the College of DuPage Jan. 28 and Jan. 29.

“I’ve done ‘The Mikado’ before,” Govertsen says, “so it’s not too much new material for me. It will be fun to put this together.”

Govertsen, 38, started out as a trombone player in fifth grade. He kept with it through high school.

“I was an OK trombonist,” he admitted, “but I wasn’t at the competitive level I needed to be in high school to get into music schools.”

One day brother Steve sized up the situation and told him, “Why don’t you sing?”

“I took his advice,” David Govertsen said. “Now I sing. That’s the story.”

After graduation from Glenbard South High School, Govertsen spent two years at the College of DuPage, still playing trombone with local groups. Then, thanks to Steve’s suggestion, he received a full singing scholarship at Northern Illinois University.

He taught kindergarten and first-grade classes in a public school for seven years before finally taking another academic plunge, this time at Northwestern University, where he obtained a master’s degree in vocal performance.

No more trombone.

“I more or less sing in the same range as a trombone,” noted the bass-baritone, “so it was kind of the same thing, but in a different way.”

Govertsen has sung opera around the country. He met his future wife Mary at an audition for Operamoda, a Chicago company she co-founded. They now live in Park Ridge with their latest coproduction, 18-month-old baby Ben.

David continues to sing and teach, and sees connections between the two professions.

“Teaching is essentially performing, especially when it involves little kids,” he said. “With kindergartners and first graders, it’s all about putting on a show. I’d put on holiday programs for the kids. It’s easy to go from teaching to performing, a natural step, I guess.”

Brother Steve teaches as well, at West Chicago High School.

David Govertsen defends the performing arts in schools as “something of value that enriches your life.” He doesn’t think many people understand that music facilitates learning in other fields.

“Music is important,” he said. “When children are asked to recite the alphabet, they don’t just say the letters. They set it to song. It’s how we learn things.”

Yet, cash-strapped schools continue to put the arts on the chopping blocks first.

“Hey, let’s get rid of it and see how we do as a culture without the performing arts,” he said with a note of sarcasm.

“It’s going to be a not-as-healthy place to be.”

— Dann Gire

• Jamie Sotonoff and Dann Gire are hunting for suburbanites in showbiz who’d make good stories. Contact them at and

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