Maria Ferrante's discoveries
Sunday, October 13, 2002

By Richard Duckett
Telegram & Gazette Staff

'Best Kept Secrets'

When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Tuckerman Hall, 10 Tuckerman St., Worcester.
How Much: $30 and $27. For more information, call (508) 754-3231.
The songs were waiting to be discovered (or in this case, rediscovered). ... just like a glorious voice sometimes awaits discovery.
When Maria Ferrante, along with Lincoln Mayorga and Steven Ledbetter, started to go through boxes of mid-19th century music at the archives of the American Antiquarian Society, they soon came across musical gems that had long been stacked in obscurity by the passage of time.
A sampling of these hidden treasures will be offered Saturday night at Tuckerman Hall in a program titled “Best Kept Secrets -- A Treasury of Passionate American Song.” The concert, part of Music Worcester's 143rd season (and sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society), will feature the soprano voice of Ms. Ferrante, with Mr. Mayorga playing piano, and short lectures by Mr. Ledbetter.
“There's so much beauty out there, you just have to go out looking and find it. I went out there looking and found it,” Ms. Ferrante said of uncovering the songs.
But this is far from being the only musical discovery of Ms. Ferrante's career.
The most important came when, after extensive training as a classical guitarist, she entered a singing competition and won.
“When they called my name, I couldn't believe it. I couldn't get out of my seat,” she recalled.
Ms. Ferrante had always enjoyed singing, but until that moment she did not realize that it might be possible to be a soloist -- and even make a living at it.
“It really never dawned on me until I won.”
From her base in Worcester, Ms. Ferrante has steadily built a solo career for herself as well as significant credits with operatic roles. The latter have included Rosalinda in “Die Fledermaus,” Pamina in “The Magic Flute” and Mimi and Musetta in “La Boheme.” On Jan. 12 she will be Cho-cho-san in a production of “Madama Butterfly” put on by the Newton Symphony at Rashi School in Newton.
When she appeared at Mechanics Hall in a Music Worcester concert last year with clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and pianist Gilbert Kalish, a review described her voice as possessing “a wonderful range of musical emotion and variety of tone color.”
Thus, Ms. Ferrante's self-discovery has been one for audiences to enjoy as well.
Her current performance schedule is a busy one.
Yesterday, she was booked to give a recital in Spencertown, N.Y. She was performing at Tuckerman Hall two Sundays ago during the building's centennial celebrations. On Oct. 26, she'll give a concert at The Eliot Church of Newton in celebration of her new CD, “Sea Tides and Time,” as part of the duet FireStar with pianist Alys Terrien-Queen. (Her first CD, “Christmas in Worcester,” recorded in 1998 with organist Marjorie Ness, sold 2,000 copies in three weeks).
The phone is constantly ringing at her Worcester home.
“Things just come in, and if I have time to do them I do them, and if I don't I don't.”
She's still somewhat surprised by it all. “But I'm getting over that shock and realizing that's why I'm here,” she said.
Born in Worcester, Ms. Ferrante was a student at Notre Dame Academy and majored in classical guitar at Temple University in Philadelphia.
But after she won the singing competition, she started taking voice lessons.
Ms. Ferrante, who like many performers politely declined to give her age, taught voice for several years. But, to her regret, she said she doesn't have time now because she is so busy performing.
Engaging and often animated during her interview, the petite singer nevertheless acknowledged being shy.
Has this ever led to stage fright?
“Yes, at odd times. I can get stage fright just singing in front of a church. But I can sing at Mechanics Hall. ... When I sang with Stoltzman and Kalish, I wasn't frightened at all. It just catches you differently.”
The impetus for Saturday's Tuckerman Hall concert came about when Ms. Ferrante came across a 1863 song by Benedict E. Roefs titled “Mother Is The Battle Over?” that was performed as part of a children's concert she was involved with.
“It was so beautiful that I thought, 'What else is out there that I don't know about?' ”
The American Antiquarian Society provided tremendous help, along with providing “boxes and boxes” of original sheet music of 19th-century songs, Ms. Ferrante said, and the idea of a concert collaboration with Mr. Mayorga and Mr. Ledbetter began to take shape.
Songs they discovered -- and that are part of Saturday's program -- include “Tell Me, O Bird! Of the Merry Green-Wood!” by Franz Abt, and “The Katy Song” or “Katy-Did's Answer to Katy” by Thomas Baker. “O Loving Heart, Trust On!” by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, sold 35,000 copies of sheet music, Ferrante noted.
“These were just people who loved music, who wrote a few things -- popular songs of the day -- and that was their contribution.”
In putting together the program, “We had to agonize -- there were so many beautiful tunes,” she said.
On the other hand, just as in any era, there were some that were not quite so good, she acknowledged.
“It's like going antiquing. There's junk, but when you find that one thing, you go: 'Wow!' ” she said.
“I love antiques. They teach you something about the past, and the future, maybe.”
She had begun her research before Sept. 11 last year. But in the aftermath, Saturday's concert takes on an extra dimension, Ms. Ferrante said.
“It seems so important. There's so much ugliness out there, but we can all in our own way find something beautiful. ... I have to do that more and more the older I get. There are great things out there.”
Out in the world of performing, Ms. Ferrante said she has been pondering what direction her singing career is going to take.
“I've let my career take me. Now I've got to take my career,” she said.
She observed that she loves both solo singing and operatic roles, so it is likely to be a question of balance.
In the meantime, Ms. Ferrante is happy with her discoveries to date.
“I really feel blessed.”