Scaling the heights

The Baltimore Sun

To hear her parents tell it, 19-year-old Anna Wallis began singing almost as soon as she could talk.

"She could sing everything, and she sang all the time," said Tina Wallis. "In second grade, she really floored us when she sang a duet in front of the whole school."

Dave Wallis added, "She is still flooring us. She has just kept pursuing music. She just loves it."

Their daughter, a rising junior at the University of Maryland, College Park, is pursuing a double major in biology and music and has consistently maintained a 4.0 average. She sings at weddings and family celebrations, and is equally at home with pop music as with an operatic aria. She has opened games at Ripken Stadium with the National Anthem and sang "America the Beautiful" at the Little League World Series in Aberdeen.

And, on Friday evening, Anna Wallis will be performing in concert at St. Mary Magdalen Mission in Bel Air, a benefit that her family has organized to help fund her vocal studies in Italy this summer. Wallis has won a spot at the Ezio Pinza Council for American Singers of Opera. She leaves June 25 for five weeks of intensive studies that immerse participants in arias, opera and the Italian language.

The program, founded by Claudia Pinza, daughter of the renowned operatic basso, auditions singers and accepts only those "whose abilities indicate a realistic possibility for a career in opera," according to its Web site.

Wallis, who submitted a CD of several arias for her audition, is one of three apprentices chosen. Others in the program are at graduate levels in their studies or, in a few cases, already performing in operas. She views the program as a challenge that will give her more experience and a better understanding of the genre, in which competition is keen.

"There are not a lot of roles, and there are a lot of people who like to sing opera," she said. "They say you are more likely to become an NFL quarterback than a lead opera singer."

If any singer can find a place in opera, Wallis can, said Duke Thompson, president and founder of the Maryland Conservatory of Music in Bel Air, where she once studied. He will emcee the benefit concert.

"Anna's voice has a magical quality that is unique, beautiful and pure," Thompson said. "I am happy to support her studies and glad that she is taking advantage of this fantastic opportunity."

Such training will only make a great voice better, he said. Opera demands longer duration and broader range from the voice, qualities that his former pupil already shows, he said.

"The program will improve what is already there," he said. "At 19, her voice already has incredible quality. I think Anna will go places. She is already going."

For much of the program in Oderzo, a small town near Venice, Wallis will hone her studies by playing Cherubino from The Marriage of Figaro. She does not mind "a pants role," that of an adolescent boy besotted by women.

"It offers many arias about love," she said. "It is one of my favorite operas, because it's happy and it's Mozart. He always has two or three plots going on and spectacular sets."

Her voice repertoire varies from folk, blues, pop and Broadway tunes, but Wallis has favored opera ever since she saw Figaro and Cherubino crooning at the Lyric in Baltimore a few years ago.

"I like the stories, but opera is more about music than some deep meaning," she said.

She has studied Italian and learned many songs in the language, and she expects to converse in Italian while at Oderzo.

She has been rehearsing for Friday's concert at the piano in the family living room and with her former music teachers, Patricia Ballinger, choral director at Fallston High School, and Peter Anderson, music teacher at Youth's Benefit Elementary.

Her father and younger sister, Maggie, will also perform in what will be a 90-minute program that begins at 7:30 p.m.

Wallis plans to continue her studies in both science and music, still unsure which career path she will follow.

But, she knows, she will continue to sing.

"Whether it's for fun or it's my job, music is in my future," she said.

The concert will be held at 1716 Churchville Road. The $15 tickets are available at the door or at Information: 410-877-3209.

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