Call it the "Madama Butterfly" effect.
You never know when one small choice will lead to something life changing, says Anna Englander.
A secondary role in a show at the University of Colorado started the chain of effects that has her hopping on a plane Sunday to Italy. There, she will perform the key role of Suzuki for three performances of Puccini's classic "Madama Butterfly" opera.
The guest conductor for that seemingly minor CU show was from Italy. Back home, he invited her to do her own guest stint with Opera Futura, a Verona-based production company -- in the birthplace of opera.
"You never know what's going to lead to something else," says Englander, who was born in Hungary and moved to the United States when she was 12 because of her dad's job.
In fact, a group of her extended family members are flying from Hungary to Italy to see her show. For many, it's the first time they have seen her perform.
It's also Englander's first professional job, and she is the first CU student to participate in a new collaboration between CU and Opera Futura.
"It will be a very emotionally stirring day," Englander says.
The 22-year-old Boulder woman's introduction to opera was also fortuitous. She was in a jazz choir in high school when the student next to her casually mentioned, "Your voice sounds like it could be classical." She urged Englander to take a lesson with her voice coach.
The teacher turned out to be a music graduate from the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City, which fast-tracked Englander to an unexpected degree in music. She transferred to CU her sophomore year.
"I was discovered accidentally. If that one person had not told me about this teacher of hers, I don't know if I would have been a singer," Englander says.
We wanted to learn more about this budding opera star, so we sat down with her recently at a coffee shop on Pearl Street. Here's what we learned:
People always ask me, "Oh, you're so thin. You're not overweight." I get that all the time. You don't have to be big to sing, in weight or height. Volume doesn't actually correspond with physical size.
I thought opera was a very abstract thing, like people singing in a foreign language and doing movements, not really understanding it is a play. That's all it is. It's a story.
Sometimes people say to me, "Oh, you sing opera? You must not have any competition." That's not true. The same with age. It's an opera and has characters of various ages, just like a play, just like a musical.
But what makes opera different than a musical?
There are no microphones. There's a full orchestra. In this show in Italy, the orchestra is on stage, so it's even louder. That's the big difference between theater and opera, and that's why it sounds so different. In big halls, you have a full orchestra and one person singing over the orchestra, singing to the balconies. That's so special, such a magnificent feeling standing on stage doing that.
How does having no mics change the experience of the show?
We strive for a pure sound with no air or rasp. You need vibrato, fluctuation in pitch. To some, it's very affected.
There are many arguments about what's the pure sound. To me, I hear opera as a pure sound. I sometimes hear pop singing not as a pure sound -- overly nasalized, breathy. But it's all what you like.
What is the role of opera in modern society?
These works have been around so, so long -- and there's a reason for that. There's a reason opera hasn't died out. That's because the stories, you can still relate to them. I know the average person does not go to operas, but I think opera has a huge value. If you give it a chance and go, you can really relate to it.
Like the opera we are doing in Italy: It's the concept of love, of trust, universal emotions that we all have, and allowing yourself to be transported to those feelings through the music -- and music that has been around for so long. It's, for me, so beautiful. That volume, that the woman sings over the orchestra, that's extremely powerful. So yummy. So rich.
Was it challenging to start doing music at age 17, not as a young kid?
My family is Eastern European and Jewish, and there's a lot of classical music in the family. It's always playing. Even though I came into it late, emotionally relating to it is really easy -- luckily.
When I got into college, that was when it was really hard, because everyone around me had taken piano, music theory, all of these things, and there are no intro classes. I literally barely read music. That year was so depressing. I didn't like where I was living and I couldn't even catch up. I practiced day and night. Now after four years, I'm a decent musician.
How is a professional show different than what you've done at CU?
Here, we have a month of coachings with the conductor, practice sessions, then you start the stagings and after two months you put the show on. In a professional show, when you come in, you are done. You know the music, you have it memorized, you have potential staging ideas, you know the character, and you have to make it work.