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Opera Singer Has What It Takes to Get to Next Stage

September 17, 2000|SUSAN VAUGHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Julie Makerov could have chosen an easier career than professional opera singer. But she says opera is her only passion. And she's determined to succeed.

The 27-year-old USC graduate student has been singing since she was 5 and studying classical repertoire for 11 years.

Makerov said she devotes 10 hours a day to "singing and music-related activities" and funnels virtually every cent she earns, an estimated $20,000 from music jobs, into her opera career.

But does the Claremont resident have what it takes to one day land leading roles at the world's top opera houses? Makerov hopes so. Her voice teacher, Elizabeth Hynes, an assistant professor of music at USC, said Makerov's singing voice has "a strikingly individual beauty."

Makerov already has claimed several awards that seem to indicate she's got a chance: grand prize winner of Portland Opera's Eleanor Lieber Stars of Tomorrow award; showcase artist of the year from the Opera Buffs, a foundation that supports talented singers; and Cal State San Bernardino's outstanding vocalist of the year.

For career guidance and voice assessment, Makerov turned to world-renowned soprano Carol Vaness.

The two met at USC's Arnold Schoenberg Hall, where Makerov performed two arias for Vaness: "Mi Tradi quell'alma ingrata" from Mozart's "Don Giovanni" and "L'altra notte in fondo al mare" from Boito's "Mefistofele." Both arias are considered difficult and require great vocal control.

"Beautiful," Vaness said of Makerov's performance. "My goodness. You have a great voice, a tremendous voice." Vaness also complimented Makerov on her projection, an important ability for opera singers who must make themselves heard above large orchestras in 4,000-seat opera houses.

Makerov's big voice, stage presence and timbre may enable her to perform dramatic, demanding roles later in her career, Vaness said.

Vaness helped Makerov with her breath control and offered tips on how Makerov could increase her stamina. She also had Makerov "do vocalise"--sing difficult passages from her arias using vowels only--and encouraged Makerov to "brighten" her delivery.

Lastly, Vaness suggested other arias for Makerov to consider adding to her repertoire.

Vaness said she was surprised that Makerov had not yet been accepted by any prestigious opera apprentice programs, for Makerov had auditioned for several companies. But Vaness encouraged Makerov, who this season will be performing in the Los Angeles Opera chorus, to continue to try out for such programs.

Some of the nation's top opera authorities also offered these career tips to help young opera singers such as Makerov develop their careers:

* Develop superb vocal skills. Opera company representatives and competition judges look for young singers who not only have beautiful voices but also demonstrate excellent pitch, breath control, projection, rhythm and musicality.

They also appreciate vocal uniqueness--"a distinctive quality of tone and interpretation that compels one to sit up and take notice," said Roger Pines, editorial dramaturge with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, who also is a judge for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

To best present their vocal abilities during auditions, Makerov and other aspiring opera singers should prepare five very different arias, Pines said. The arias should be by different composers in a variety of styles, be in more than one language and show that the singer can perform a wide range of character roles.

Makerov should take care not to commit the mistake made by many young opera singers: overacting to impress her evaluators. The best operatic acting, said several opera authorities, is done from the neck up. Expression in the voice, eyes and delivery of text is far more important for an opera singer than "running around the stage, gesturing," said Christine Bullin, former director of the San Francisco Opera Center.

Richard Pearlman, director of the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists in Chicago, recalls how famed soprano Maria Callas demonstrated this. "She stood absolutely still on stage," Pearlman said, "but it was the stillness of a lion. She was using her eyes, facial expression and voice for dramatic effect. It takes a lot of courage to do that, but to me that's operatic acting at its highest level."

* Plan savvy career-building steps. Lotfi Mansouri, general director of the San Francisco Opera, suggested that young singers plan their careers in five-year increments. By taking care of their voices and not tackling overly ambitious roles prematurely, they may be able to continue singing into their 60s, Mansouri said.

As Vaness suggested, Makerov can continue to try to gain admission into a prestigious apprenticeship program, in which she would receive additional stagecraft and voice training.

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