Singers' Resource News Bulletin, September 29,
Soprano Maria Ferrante maintains a full schedule of performances on both the local and international stage while keeping strong connections to her native Worcester. Her up-coming engagements include Vaughan Williams' "Dona Nobis Pacem" with the Commonwealth Opera and the role of Micaela in Bizet's "Carmen" with the Worcester Chorus (see details below). She spoke with us about her background and training and about her latest CD, due out in the next few months.
The name of
Worcester-born soprano Maria Ferrante has become familiar to audiences all
over the world. over the last few years. A winner of the Mario Lanza Voice
Competition, she has been acclaimed by the Washington Post and the Boston
Phoenix. Richard Dyer of The Boston Globe has called her “a true singing
actress. Her eyes and hands and body know how to sing, and with her voice
she can act." Maria's performances have delighted audiences from New York
to the Virgin Islands, Prague and China as well as in local venues like
Jordan Hall and Sanders Theater. Her many operatic roles include
Cio-Cio-San ('Madama Butterfly'), Desdemona ('Otello'), Liu ('Turandot'),
Violetta ('La Traviata'), Despina ('Cosi Fan Tutte'), Barbarina ('Marriage
of Figaro'), Serpina ('La Serva Padrona'), and Gretel ('Hänsel und
Gretel'). She is also known as a recitalist, working locally with The
Masterworks Chorale, the Boston Civic Orchestra and the New England String
Maria's website, www.mariaferrante.com, shows a full schedule of performances of both familiar and new or less well-known works. She appears each year in the Bank Boston Showcase Series in 'Brown Bags for Kids' at Mechanics Hall, and has been heard live many times on WGBH Boston's 'Morning Pro Musica'. Since January she has sung with the Great Waters Music Festival in Wolfboro, NH and the Mohawk Trail Concerts in Charlemont, MA and she will be appearing later this year with the Commonwealth Opera and the Worcester Chorus.
As a student at Worcester's Notre Dame Academy, Ferrante dreamed of becoming a classical guitarist. It wasn't until she sang in a voice class, taken on a whim while a student at Temple University in Philadelphia, that her extraordinary voice was unveiled. "The professor asked if anyone in the class knew how to sing Schumann's 'Dichterliebe,' " she says. "No one would sing it. I said I knew it and then I sang 'Ich Grolle Nicht'. When I finished, the room was quiet. And then everyone just said 'You should sing!' " She took the suggestion seriously and began studying with "great teachers at Temple." And, after hearing a singer she admired and asking for the name of her teacher, she began commuting three times a week to study with one of the great tenors of the century - Franco Corelli - and his wife, Loretta Di Lelio Corelli. Subsequently, she has studied with such noted teachers in Boston as Phyllis Curtin, Sharon Daniels and Richard Conrad. In 2000, by special invitation, she received lessons from the renowned soprano, Elly Ameling.
Maria also received less traditional instruction from Warren Senders, a member of the New England Conservatory faculty. She speaks enthusiastically about him and recommends him to BSR readers. He is "really creative, a masterful Hindustani teacher. My singing was vastly improved by working on Hindustani opera (with him). The lessons were totally ear-based, so my ability to recognize patterns and shapes was constantly strengthened and challenged. And, if singers dare to venture out of the box, they'll find something really special with this kind of music. It enriched my singing."
Lately Maria has been doing a sort of musical archaelogy, digging deep into the archives of the American Antiquarian Society to unearth a treasure trove of forgotten American music. She is busy recording the gems she has found in a new CD with pianist Lincoln Mayorga and anticipates releasing this in late 2004 or early 2005. The album is titled 'Best Kept Secrets: A Treasury of Passionate American Songs'. It will contain a collection of little-known works written between 1850 and 1870. "Some of these pieces, I'm sure, haven't been performed since then," she says.
The CD's origins began with the discovery of an 1863 song by Benedict E. Roefs titled 'Mother Is The Battle Over?' "It was so beautiful that I thought, 'What else is out there that I don't know about?' " That question led her to the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, the largest collection of early american literature in the world, where she and an assistant, with guidance from the well-known Boston Symphony Orchestra musicologist and program note writer, Steven Ledbetter, began to pick through the 70,000 pieces of music that are stored there. "In six months we went through just the A's, B's and C's." But the effort was worth it, she says. It was "a beautiful experience to hold those pieces of music and to find things that touched me."
Her plan is to present music from well-known composers like Stephen Foster, Franz Abt and Louis Moreau Gottschalk - "I just adore (Gottschalk's) vocal works. Especially, for those coloraturas out there, his 'Le Papillon' is fabulous. I hope it will be on the CD." - as well as from unknown composers - "There's one song by a woman in New Hampshire. Nothing is known about her. She just sat down at her piano and made this beautiful music." For Ferrante, the songs can be transporting. Reading through this music "put me in the moment of that woman. I feel like I'm back there with her, in a way" and it has something to say to us today. "The reason I decided to go ahead with this CD is that I feel America might be interested in this kind of sentiment; art for art's sake. The songs are funny or they're sad. Or they have something to do with love or birds, but we're all in the same boat. We're just the same people that we were back then."
Connectedness is an idea found in many of Maria Ferrante's projects. "We're all in this together," she explains. An earlier album, 'Sea Tides and Time, recorded with pianist Alys Therrien-Queen (they call themselves the FireStar Duo), speaks of conservation and rivers and of the ocean's role in global ecology, about how we cannot continue to ignore our responsibilities to each other and to our children. A post-9/11 project from the Duo, entitled 'Journeys of the World, Journeys of the Spirit,' is about the journeys we must all make to bridge gulfs of cultural differences and misunderstanding.
The current album is being recorded at the new Center for the Arts in St. Mark's School in Southborough, MA. That site was chosen, in part, because of an early connection with the school. "It's sort of all the forces are coming together for me for this. I used to teach there while I studied in New York (with the Corellis) and they've been so nice to let me use their facility."
Where does Maria get the energy and focus to maintain this busy and varied schedule? "I would not be who I am today," she claims, "if I didn't do some major therapy and a major amount of meditation. I think that (the meditation) has helped my audience, too, because they somehow feel something, I don't know, something to do with contact of the breath on my vocal chords, through the air, to the ears. Singers have to think about this; what you're trying to do is meld your heart and your body together in meditation through the breath. I think that's what singing is about."
Additionally Maria advises; "What I like to say to singers out there is that, whatever you find important in your life besides singing, that will bring you to your better self and therefore, I think, to a better sense of artistry and passion and success. And it puts things into a perspective for you."