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Marina Harris Talks About ‘Art Worth Saving’
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Sunday, March 19, 2023
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Soprano Marina Harris has a dog that’s very concerned about her singing and a daytime job working in a pipe organ factory.

Such is the life of one of the top singers of Wagnerian repertoire who will join Ashley Faatoalia singing  operatic, musical theater and pop duets Thursday night at the Sun Valley Opera House.

“My dog, a 28-pound Jack Russell-like rescue from Mexico, hates it when I sing,” she said. “He thinks that I’m dying, that something’s wrong with me. I tell him: ‘Don’t worry, Ruckus. Mama’s fine. But he’s still a little unnerved.’ ”

Harris will join Ashley Faatoalia, who appeared as Marco Polo in the Emmy-Award-winning and Pulitizer Prize-nominated “Invisible Cities,” in Sun Valley Opera’s last concert of the 2023 winter season at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 23, at the Sun Valley Opera House. Tickets are available at https://www.sunvalleyopera.com/tickets.

Accompanied by pianist Sean Rogers, the two will present a program titled “Duets: Music from Around the World.” They will sing such numbers as “Habanera” from “Carmen,” Pagliacci’s “Vesti la giubba,”  Sondheim’s “Moments in the Woods,” “Tonight,” and “Till There was You.”

“ ‘Till There Was You,’ from ‘The Music Man’ is a classic,” said Harris. “We’ll do some tried and true opera staples. And, of course ‘The Prayer.’ I did a show in Greenville, S.C., that was a mix of rock and opera and every night people got teary eyed with ‘The Prayer.’ It’s a simple song but people are really affected by it, especially after the pandemic. And it’s popular for people who would probably love opera but haven’t been exposed to it before.”

Harris, heralded by the San Francisco Chronicle for her “knockout combination of vocal power and expressive eloquence,” is an alum of the Adler Fellowship Program at the San Francisco Opera. She has performed with the company in four world premiere operas including “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene” and “Dolores Claiborne.”

She received national attention as a last-minute replacement in the role of Helena as in Helen of Troy in Boito’s “Mefistofele.” And she was awarded in the triennial International Wagnerstimmen Competition, securing her place as one of the top singers of Wagnerian repertoire worldwide.

She performed in Sun Valley in 2014 with Opera Idaho. And she is familiar with Idaho, having spent many summers at her grandfather’s cattle ranch in Eastern Oregon and visiting family in Coeur d’Alene.

“It’s so nice we’re in the Opera House because it’s historic and beautiful. I’m excited to see how our voices fill the space,” she said. “Definitely expect to be entertained because both Ashley and I have big voices—we’re loud. And we know how to fill a space with our voice.”

Harris and Faatoalia have been good friends for years.

“We sing with lots of different people but I’ve never sang before with Ashley. I can’t wait because our voices are so nicely matched,” Harris said.

One of the songs they plan to sing is “O Soave Fanciulla.” A romantic duet from Puccini’s 1896 opera “La Boheme” it’s sung by Rodolfo and Mimi when they realize they’ve fallen for each other.

“The title simply means, ‘Oh, sweet girl,’” said Harris. “Opera was the big popular music style back in the day. At the end, it was really pop music, just in Italian.”

That song has only been performed for Sun Valley Opera once before—when a full production of the opera was presented at the Community Campus, noted Sun Valley Opera Co-Founder Frank Meyer. “The famous duet ‘Tonight’ is also in Thursday’s program, and it was heard on the big screen not long ago in Steven Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story,’ he said.

Though Harris has made it, so to speak, in the opera world, she maintains a job in a pipe organ factory near her home in Long Beach.

“My dad was a pipe organ builder who had his own business for many years before retiring. The Disney Concert Hall flattop is sort of our claim to fame,” she said. “Working with the pipe organs lets me use my brain, my knowledge of music, so it’s really great. And the basic mechanics of singing and pipe organs are not all that different in a lot of ways—the airflow, engaging notes to make certain sounds…”

The job is also flexible, allowing her the opportunity to hold down a day job while traveling to sing. And the paycheck helps cover the cost of performing opera which, she said, is an expensive career by the time you figure in such things as $200-an-hour voice lessons.

“But there are moments on stage where you say, ‘There is nothing like this,’ ” she added. “I feel incredibly lucky and fortunate to be doing this at all. Being a millennial, it’s not what I thought I would be doing, but I’m so lucky with the amount of traveling I get to do. One of the biggest gifts is singing for people who may not have been exposed to opera before—we sang in China’s Sichuan province in a hall where no one had ever sung opera, and the audience was so appreciative. With the red curtain, they had not been exposed to a lot of western classical music.”

Harris said singing opera is like going to church for her: “Spiritually fulfilling and rewarding. We know it’s hard to be interested in an art that is so old. But it’s also an art that’s worth saving, an art that’s worth treasuring.”

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