Finding her voice - A recent Young Artist opens the Seattle Opera season

Fresh from Seattle Opera's 2004-05 Young Artist Program, Edlyn de Oliveira is well aware of the import of being cast in the lead female role in Jake Heggie's "The End of the Affair." De Oliveira will play Sarah Miles in the Friday-Sunday cast of the new work, which introduces Seattle Opera's 2005-06 season on Oct. 15. Mary Mills will perform the part in the Saturday cast.

"They took a huge chance to hire me in June to open their season in October," de Oliveira said. "As an emerging artist, if someone does that, takes that chance on you, that's something you always hope for."

Speight Jenkins, Seattle Opera's general director, is known for casting unknown but promising singers. "That's how Jane Eaglen got her start in the U.S., stepping into 'Norma,'" de Oliveira noted.

When Jenkins hired de Oliveira, he had some familiarity with the singer, since she had just spent seven months in the Young Artist Program. De Oliveira was also understudying two Rhine Daughters and the Forest Bird in Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen" at Seattle Opera this summer. "Speight had seen where I'd come from and what I've accomplished."

A prizewinner in the George London Foundation Competition and a semifinalist in Placido Domingo's Operalia Contest, de Oliveira already had performances under her belt with companies like Opera Omaha and Central City Opera. Although she graduated from Indiana University with a bachelor's degree in vocal performance and Rice University with a master's degree in music, she felt the Young Artists Program took her performance skills to the next level.

"To Speight, a complete artist is not just a great singer. He wanted to give us all the tools we would need: acting, languages, diction classes, learning to express ourselves through body postures."

De Oliveira, who has been living in an apartment on Queen Anne for the past year, grew up immersed in music. Her father, Mazias de Oliveira, is a tenor who still performs, a professor of music and de Oliveira's inspiration because he has continued to be passionate about his work. He would sometimes bring the entire family onstage with him to sing.

"When we were young, [my father] took [my brother, sister and me] to a music shop and had us pick out an instrument we wanted to play."

De Oliveira chose the viola, but her fingers were too small, so she ended up with a violin. She also studied piano. Still, de Oliveira didn't immediately recognize music as her calling. "I knew I loved it, but I was not sure I wanted to make it my career. I really wanted to be a doctor."

On a viola scholarship, de Oliveira attended Indiana University, double majoring in premedicine and viola. After the prospect of doing a viola solo made her so jittery that she switched to a vocal solo in a performance class, de Oliveira's teacher, David Harding, had a life-changing heart-to-heart with his student.

"'There's no doubt you'll get a wonderful orchestral job,' he told me. 'But what are you doing playing viola when you have a voice like that?' I'd heard it from my father, but always wondered if he was saying it as a father or a teacher."

De Oliveira switched to vocal performance, and the rest is history.

"The End of the Affair" is the story of Sarah, who makes a fateful bargain with God to save her lover, Maurice, during World War II. Based on the Graham Greene novel of the same name, the opera examines questions of faith and human fallibility.

De Oliveira said her Latin background - she was born in the United States to Brazilian parents - is helping her play Sarah.

"There is a simplicity and tenderness to the character of Sarah Miles, who lives life very much in the moment. There is a certain tenderness in the Latin culture, which is very family oriented. And you work to live, you don't live to work."

Freelance writer Maggie Larrick lives in the Seattle area and is the former editor of the News.[[In-content Ad]]