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Visiting opera singer hits right note with students

(ran East, South, West editions)

Garrett Sorenson sang On the Street Where You Live from the Broadway musical My Fair Lady and thanked the students for their questions. As he was leaving the room, several students jumped at the chance to speak to him one-on-one.

Deondria Baines, 11, said she wanted Sorenson's autograph because she thought he might be famous someday.

In fact, Sorenson already is a rising star. The young tenor, an alumnus of the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, has performed with some of opera's greatest talents at venues like the Met and the Boston Lyric Opera.

Sorenson, 30, was visiting the Center for the Arts at Perkins Elementary School on Feb. 8 as part of his weeklong residency in St. Petersburg, sponsored by the Marilyn Horne Foundation. The foundation was founded in 1993 by Horne, a world renowned concert and opera singer, to preserve the art of the vocal recital.

Foundation executive director Barbara Hocher said a drastic shift in the entertainment landscape has made it harder for young classical singers to find work.

"When (Marilyn) Horne was beginning her own career, there were many more opportunities for young artists," she said. Hocher pointed to community concerts - a network of promoters across the United States who helped secure recital opportunities for up-and-coming singers.

The foundation's approach fulfills two equally important missions, Hocher said. The residency provides an artist the opportunity to practice his craft, while introducing classical music to a generation of future performers and aficionados.

"The mission of the foundation is, literally, to encourage support and preserve the art of the vocal recital through the presentation of recitals and related educational activities in communities across the country. We're trying to help build tomorrow's audience for the vocal recital," Hocher said.

Sorenson also performed at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School, Dixie Hollins High School and St. Petersburg College during his weeklong residency. His week ended with a performance Saturday night at the Palladium Theater, which worked with the Horne Foundation to schedule Sorenson's performances while in St. Petersburg.

Yvonne Franco, fifth-grade teacher at Perkins, shared the evening at the Palladium with her grandmother, local, former opera star Juliet Mastry Miller. "We had such a great time and it was great to be among so many opera lovers," Franco said.

Franco was put on the spot by her students during Sorenson's visit. Per students' request, and to their delight, the trained soprano sang part of the Italian aria O Del Mio Dolce Ardor. Franco, who began singing opera about nine years ago at the Henry Street Settlement (a school for the arts in Manhattan), said she was thrilled when she heard Sorenson would be giving a presentation at Perkins.

"It makes (the children) aware of what their possibilities are in the long run, what is really out there for them to pursue. They get to see professional artists in the theater world and it really allows them to see what all their hard work can get them to," Franco said.

Sorenson sang four songs during his visit to Perkins, including arias in Italian and German. He talked to the children about the mechanics of voice projection. "It doesn't come from your throat or your chest, it comes from your diaphragm," Sorenson said.

Students asked Sorenson how he prepared for a show and how many languages he sings in (six: English, German, Russian, Italian, French and Czech, the tenor said). Sorenson said he enjoyed his time spent with students in St. Petersburg, and complimented their "insightful" questions. Acoustically, Sorenson said, the theater at Gibbs was the best high school he has performed at.

Sorenson said he hoped his visit would inspire the kids by giving them the opportunity to see and hear a professional singer.

"I remember very well the opera singer that came to my university. It gave me the chance to ask questions of a working professional and it helped shape my decisions," he said.

TO LEARN MORE

For information on the Marilyn Horne Foundation, visit the Web site at www.marilynhornefdn.org/.

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