Campus: CSU, Sacramento -- December 13, 1999

Student Readies for Prestigious Competition

Janelle Laurenti arrived at CSUS full of big dreams, raw talent and determination. Three years later, she's become one of the top young opera singers in the nation.

She's been praised for both the unusually dark quality of her voice and her strong technique. It's a striking combination that has made her the talk of the CSUS music program and helped her become the first CSUS student to win this region's Metropolitan Opera competition, held in San Francisco in October. Judges for that event couldn't say enough about the fine technique of the competition's youngest singer.

Now, the 22-year-old is preparing for the biggest competition of her life.

As this year's regional winner, Laurenti and winners from 16 other regional competitions in the United States, Canada and Australia have been chosen for the Metropolitan Opera National Council competition in New York. Scheduled next year for late February, it is the country's most prestigious opera competition. Entrants receive $5,000, travel expenses and a week of voice lessons in New York. They sing on the Metropolitan Opera stage before many of the top talent scouts in the opera world, and those chosen for a second appearance are able to sing with the Opera's orchestra.

Laurenti, who was born and raised in Manteca, has sung in church and community events for most of her life.

She decided to pursue a career in opera while attending San Joaquin Delta College. When she transferred to CSUS, she began studying voice with music professor Marla Volovna, who herself had enjoyed a successful opera career in Europe before coming to Sacramento five years ago.

Now, the otherwise typical college senior may be destined for a successful career on stage. She's benefited from a growing emphasis on performing and visual arts at CSUS, where a new School of the Arts has been established.

Laurenti says she couldn't imagine pursuing any other career.

"I like to be challenged, and opera does that," Laurenti says. "There is just so much to opera -- the language, the singing, the acting. Performing is an amazing experience."

The big question is how far Laurenti will go. Though she insists she could use plenty of improvement, the praise keeps rolling in.

The judges in the regional competition, of course, were impressed enough to send her to New York. Her voice coach, professor Marla Volovna, calls her student a rare talent.

"Janelle has a magnificent instrument," Volovna says. "However, I have taught students with great instruments before. Janelle has the vocal coordination that has enabled her to pick up my technique to the extent that her beautiful voice is evident.

"What will determine whether she will make a career is how much she is willing to work and how much discipline she has."

Volovna continues to push Laurenti to refine her voice. She stresses a technique in which her students try to fully relax their throat, drop their jaw wide open and sing from the diaphragm. Practice sessions feature a constant stream of reminders for Laurenti to "open up the sound," and "let more of it go, you have a better sound than that."

For the New York competition, Laurenti and Volovna have chosen a far more difficult repertoire than Laurenti took to San Francisco.

They are working on four pieces: "Lisa's Aria," "Ebben Neandro Lontana," "Dovo Sono" and "Voi Lo Sepete." Each is perfect for a "lyric spinto" such as Laurenti, though each requires much more voice control as well.

Singing "Lisa's Aria" also requires Laurenti to learn a bit of Russian because, as she says, "Tchaikovsky just doesn't sound right otherwise." She already speaks some German, Spanish and French, and is very strong in Italian after spending two months in Italy last summer. If she can find funding, she plans to spend time in France this summer.

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