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Stepping Up to the Marc

Music: With last-minute doubling up on Turandot, a role usually alternated, the soprano will go for six in a row with Opera Pacific in Costa Mesa.


Alessandra Marc figures that she already has set a record by recording, in one year, both soprano roles in Strauss' "Elektra". Starting Saturday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, she takes on six back-to-back performances as Puccini's Turandot for Opera Pacific and may be headed for record No. 2.

She was going to alternate in the killer role with Jane Eaglen. But Eaglen withdrew, finding her concurrent duties as Norma for Los Angeles Music Center Opera to be quite enough of a challenge. Faced with finding a replacement for Eaglen, Opera Pacific impresario David DiChiera broached the subject of Marc doing all six dates.

"My immediate reaction was, 'Sure,' " Marc recalled over coffee last week. "For some, maybe for most, it is [a killer role] because there have been people who probably have sung it who should never have sung it. But for me, I have thus far found that this role really, honestly fits my voice like a glove."

Besides, she added, she has done something even harder recently: She sang Aida in the Arena di Verona and Turandot the next night at the Macerata summer festival in Italy.

"That coupling--Aida and Turandot--is a much more difficult one, I feel, than doing Turandot back-to-back," Marc said. Still, "It's not something that I chose to make a main diet of, or my choice of how to guide my career. I think that would be insane, to do that on a regular basis."


The singer, who said she is in her mid-30s, was born in West Berlin, where her father, who worked in military intelligence, was stationed.

"We moved just about every two to three years. We lived everywhere. Most of my family now lives in Los Angeles." Her brother works for Xerox in Orange County. Her father lives in Del Mar. An aunt, uncle and cousin live in Woodland Hills. They all will be going to "Turandot" in Costa Mesa.

Marc lives with her husband, Bart, and their 2 1/2-year-old, Olivia Lynn, outside Washington, D.C.

She studied voice at the University of Maryland in College Park, where she was being steered toward the lyric soprano repertory. But she wasn't happy.

"That environment just wasn't nurturing my talent the way I felt instinctively I needed. And at some point, as fate would have it--or, you know, God, maybe, would have it--I was put in the right place at the right time."

Auditioning for a local opera company, she met teacher Marilyn Cotlow, the original Lucy in Menotti's "The Telephone." Marc remembers Cotlow describing her as a young dramatic soprano destined to sing the Strauss, Wagner and Verdi repertoire.

" 'Come and work with me,' Cotlow said, 'and I will give you the technique and the support that you need to survive in this.' "


So Marc left the university and studied privately with Cotlow for four years. Not only did Cotlow give her a good technique, but also "what was of equal importance to me was the emotional, psychological support that she gave me. That's so vital. Singers just by nature are very vulnerable, sensitive people.

"To be an artist, you have to maintain the vulnerability on stage, which takes a lot of courage, and at some point you have to allow the music and your artistry to pass through you, to be a vehicle for that. And that at some point has to come naturally, without any blockage."

That sense informs her interpretation of Turandot. "There's a real human aspect to the character which is revealed near the end of the opera, which is also in the music. She's not just a 'Princess of Ice' but also 'of Fire.' And the fire aspect, in my interpretation, is the human, passionate, womanly aspect of her character.

"Frankly, bringing that part of her personality alive makes more believable the character of Calaf as well."

Marc sang her first Turandot in 1992 with the Opera Company of Philadelphia and has sung it at the Royal Opera Covert Garden. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Aida in 1989 and has sung at the Vienna State Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the San Francisco Opera, among others. Her recordings include Chrysothemis in Strauss' "Elektra," under the direction of Daniel Barenboim, and the title role under Giuseppe Sinopoli (to be released shortly).

"If nothing else, I think I made history there" by singing both roles in one year, Marc said.

Still, she feels her career has not flourished as it should have in the United States. Has her large size kept her from being cast in some roles? "This is what I've been told. Look, we live in a fat-phobic society. This is a fact. We know it by the countless daughters and sons who are anorexic, bulimic and have all of these eating disorders. It's subject matter that's been discussed, I think, ad nauseam on talk shows.

"I do believe a prejudice against larger people--and I emphasize the word "people"--is still one of the last accepted prejudices in our society. This certainly has its detrimental influence, in my opinion, in casting for opera of a certain repertoire."


However, she feels that larger singers are "a godsend for opera and the repertoire that requires a woman or a man of a larger stature with the stamina to sing this repertoire." The issue, she said, is "extremely frustrating and puzzling, and it's certainly an aspect of my career, although I hope it would not be the focus of your article.

"I've always known that singing is my destiny. There's nothing else I'd rather do, and as long as I can be allowed to give my talents and my talents are appreciated, then I'll keep doing it."

* Alessandra Marc will sing the title role of Puccini's "Turandot" for Opera Pacific Saturday through Sept. 29 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Craig Sirianni and Eduardo Villa will alternate as Calaf. John Mauceri will conduct all performances. $22 to $89. (714) 979-7000.

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