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After late start, opera singer comes on strong

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The young mezzo soprano hasn't sung a duet or shared a marquee with Placido Domingo just yet, but she is well within the musical sphere of the maestro.

For Magdalena Wor of Duluth, being chosen for the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program at the Washington National Opera Company is more than close enough.

"It's more than I could ever have hoped for," said Wor, 25, who was interviewed during a visit to the Duluth home of her parents, Andrzej and Teresa Wor (pronounced Voor). "This is a chance to be around the best in the business. It gives you tremendous possibilities."

In April, Wor was one of eight young classical music artists accepted into the program from among more than 300 applicants, according to program officials.

When she was called back for her second audition, she sang for an audience of Domingo and just one other person.

Not a word was spoken to her after her performance, she said, but she was later notified that she had been selected.

Although Domingo is not involved in the program's day-to-day operations, he is highly involved with the matters of who gets in and how things are done.

"It is [Domingo's] dream to further the advance of the next generation of opera singers," said Jennifer Empie, associate director of the program.

For the young artists, the program is two years of total musical immersion. The participants typically take minor roles in the professional productions of the National Opera Company, mostly at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Empie said. They also present their own productions at smaller venues, she said.

They receive a stipend for living expenses, along with training in their professional disciplines. They are given language lessons in Italian, the international language of opera, and they are encouraged to do things like watch from the wings while the best operatic professionals in the world perform.

Particularly for a mezzo singer like Wor, Empie said, such assistance is often vital for the development of the singer's career. Often, a mezzo's voice does not mature until the singer is in her early 30s; so young performers frequently must take jobs outside the music world to pay for the expensive lessons.

"This program is a bridge from the conservatory to a career," Empie said.

Wor didn't have clearly defined dreams of a career in opera when she and her parents emigrated from her native Poland about 14 years ago. At that point, she considered herself a tomboy.

The family moved to Atlanta in 1996, and Wor regularly sang in the choir for a Polish-language Catholic Mass. A member of the congregation, retired opera singer Magdalena Moulson, heard Wor and recognized her gift. Wor was then a senior at Chattahoochee High School and had never had a music lesson.

She enrolled at Georgia State University, where she received her bachelor's and master's degrees in voice. While there, she continued to take voice lessons from Moulson, and her accompanist and stage coach was Troy Palmer.

Some of her featured roles have included Rosina in Rossini's "The Barber of Seville," with the San Francisco Opera Center's summer workshop, 2003; Zita in Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi," with the GSU Opera Workshop, 2005; and the alto solo in Bach's "Magnificat," with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, January 2006.

"She had this enormous voice, but she didn't know how to control it," Palmer said in a 2003 interview. He added that Wor had the greatest potential for a career in opera than anyone he'd seen in his 10 years as a coach.

Now, that potential is being honed into a professional reality at one of the nation's premier training programs.

Empie said that anyone with Wor's talents could reasonably expect to live a life in the opera. Completing the Young Artist Program makes that expectation a much safer bet, she added.

"Placido Domingo is very involved in selecting the young artists, and influential in shaping the program and overseeing their careers," Empie said. "And that doesn't end when they finish here."

Only seven or eight years removed from being discovered singing in a church choir, Wor realizes that she has come a long way and that she still has much further to go.

"I started late, so I had a lot of catching up to do," she said.

She now finds herself much closer to achieving her dream of singing on the grand stages, like the Paris Opera. Nevertheless, she is still highly practical about her prospects: "When I'm finished here, I hope to be ready for the real work."

Copyright 2006 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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