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New Orleans opera star sings a summer concert

Opera singer Elizabeth Futral will perform Sunday at Roussel Hall.

Opera singer Elizabeth Futral will perform Sunday at Roussel Hall.

New Orleans opera lovers always feel a little starved over the hot summer months, waiting, as they must, for the return of full scale performances in October. But this Sunday, for one afternoon only, the musical desert will bloom briefly with the glorious sounds of coloratura soprano Elizabeth Futral, a local talent whose name now shines brightly on the world stage.

Futral will be singing at 4 p.m. in Roussel Hall on the Loyola University campus in a concert open to the public. The concert and a private patron dinner that follows are  in support of Amici, the volunteer group of the Gulf Coast Region of the Metropolitan Opera National Council which raises funds for the annual Met Opera auditions in New Orleans.

Futral grew up in Covington, one of four daughters of the minister at First Baptist Church. She learned to play the piano at age 5, and, as she got a little older, to sing in her father’s church choir. While she left Louisiana in her senior year in high school, moving with her parents to Kentucky, she still has fond feelings for this part of the world. For it was here, singing in the church choir, that she began to understand her talent.

“Music was something I loved,” she recalled in a recent telephone conversation. “It was something I gravitated to and had a natural instinct for. I don’t think I dreamed of being an opera singer when I was a kid. I didn't really know opera that much. The opera stuff really came into play in college.”

By the time Elizabeth graduated from Alabama’s Samford College, she knew she wanted a solo singing career. So she applied and was accepted into the graduate program at Indiana University. This extraordinary academic institution was, and still is, noted for its superior and huge music school, and for that school’s ferocious competitive culture. While that chews up the spirit of many a talented musician, Elizabeth managed not only to survive, but to succeed.

She says her graduate student experience more than prepared her for the larger, competitive world of opera. When she entered IU, approximately 2,000 students were enrolled in the music school; around 200 of them were voice students. Each year the music school mounted eight fully staged operas, complete with orchestra. Futral auditioned in her first year, as all voice students did annually.

“I marched out there and did my thing, too stupid to know what I was doing, too stupid to be scared,” she recalls with a laugh. While she did not get a major part, she did get a role, which for a first-year grad student was quite a coup.

Futral has gone on to a successful career, singing in the United States and across Europe.

“IU turned out to be a great place to learn,” she says. “True, there was extraordinary competition among students and teachers as well. But it prepared me very well for the competitive nature of the business.”

In fact, Futral says, the real world of opera "has never been as bad as it was at IU."

After graduate school, Futral entered and won the Metropolitan Opera Chicago regional competition, going on to win the national competition in New York. Her career is noted for acclaimed performances in both the beloved traditional operas of past centuries, and in world premieres of those more contemporary. She starred as Stella in Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire, and sang alongside Placido Domingo in Chinese composer Tan Dun’s acclaimed masterpiece,The First Emperor.

In Sunday’s performance, Futral says she is going to do a lot of singing and a little talking about some of the roles she has played, performing arias that are important to her.

“Hopefully, it’s going to be a fun little journey I’m going to take,” she says.

For more information about the Amici concert and patron dinner, contact Sonya Moore at [email protected], or call 504-717-6036. Tickets for the 4 p.m. Sunday, July 21 concert at Roussel Hall, LoyolaUniversity, are $25 each and may be purchased at the door with cash or check only.

Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]