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O.C. MUSIC : Soprano Starts Off on High Notes

August 24, 1994|CHRIS PASLES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Why not start at the top? That's what soprano Noelle Brooks, 21, felt when she skipped the easy stuff and went right to Mozart's formidable Queen of the Night when she began studying voice privately just three years ago.

"It's a lot of fun," Brooks said in a recent phone interview from Beverly Hills.

"Fun" is not the first word most singers would use to describe one of the most difficult coloratura roles in all of opera. But the high notes posed little problem for her, she said.

"The top extension was always there. When I was young, it was even higher. But I don't think those notes are really necessary. A or A-flat is as high as you need in really modern stuff."

Brooks will make use of that high extension on Saturday when she sings in Orff's "Carmina Burana" with conductor William Hall and the Master Chorale of Orange County at Pearson Park Amphitheatre in Anaheim. One of the solos goes up to a high D.

Born in Walnut Creek, Calif., Brooks grew up in Redondo Beach after her father, a phone company employee, was transferred there. "I'm a beach girl," she said.

Singing wasn't in the picture when she was a kid. "In the beginning I envisioned myself being a prima ballerina," she said. "But I had a weight problem. Lots of girls in ballet have problems with their weight. I was never fat. I (just) thought I had a problem."

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She had started ballet lessons when she was 5. "But those were just for fun. I started serious lessons at 9, at the Lichine Ballet Academy in Beverly Hills."

But she "just lost interest in ballet" after her parents got divorced. She was 12. At first, she tried switching to jazz dance, but found it was frustrating. "It was so different from ballet," she said.

One day she and a friend were noodling around on the piano, and her friend, Clyde Allen, then-music director of the Ballet of Los Angeles, began teaching her an aria from Puccini's "Gianni Schicci."

"My mother heard me and thought it was a recording," she said. "I was about 14."

But that didn't prove to be a decisive moment.

"I was still kind of floating," Brooks said. "I wasn't interested in anything specific. I was flirting with theater, jazz dancing, typical Hollywood professions."

All that is over, however. "I most certainly have decided now," she said about her pursuing a professional singing career. "I'm not floating any more. I decided when I was 18."

Brooks has been taking private voice lessons for the last three years with Judith Natalluci, who also teaches at USC. Her plans to study at that school didn't work out. "They gave me a scholarship," she said, "but it wasn't enough, not really. My family is not rich, not even moderately wealthy."

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Natalluci suggested she audition for Hall, who was looking for a soprano to take along on the Master Chorale's three-week tour of China in July. "Carmina Burana," Orff's setting of bawdy medieval poems, was on their program.

Hall picked her on the spot. "I auditioned four sopranos," he said in a separate interview. "We didn't have anyone in the group who could sing a high D well. She floats a high D. She's going to be one of the major lyric sopranos," he predicted.

Some people believe that Brooks will turn out to be a dramatic soprano. "But I really don't think so," she said. "You hear a dramatic soprano and she practically blows you out of the room. I don't think I do that. I would definitely call myself a lyrical coloratura with a very round sound, very light at the same time."

To build her career, Brooks plans to enter the Metropolitan Opera regional auditions next year. "That's really the way to go--to enter the auditions and see how you do," she said.

"This is not to say that they determine how your career goes. Many great singers never won a competition. They're not the determining factor. But they help pay for lessons and get you experience in performing, and also get you exposed to people who criticize what you're doing, which you'll get all along."

Unlike some young singers, Brooks also studies recordings to bolster her education. "It can be very useful in terms of styles of singing, very educational," she said. "But to try to sound like somebody else--I don't. If you do, the chances are you're not singing right for your voice."

Brooks also is interested in singing challenging modern repertory, such as Berg's "Lulu," a part she "would love to do. I just love that role, not that it has anything to do with my personality. I don't want to scare anyone. But it's a great role."

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Brooks sings every day. "I have ever since I was a little girl. But as far as vocalizing, I try to do exercises every day. I try not to sing much longer than four hours.

"It's certainly not a grind," she added. "I enjoy it. I don't really take vacations. I'm working on (my singing) most of the time. But I still have a personal life."

Hall will be conducting Orff's original orchestration of the work--percussion and two pianos--instead of the customary full orchestra.

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