That voice: Sweet, crystalline, perfectly pitched — it’s no wonder she’s winning national recognition. “My voice has always been very high. I’ve had that since I was very little.”
Her heart has gone on: Maria’s parents adopted her from a Romanian orphanage when she was 3. Conditions at the orphange were “terrible,” she remembers. “No warm water or anything like that, few meals, so many kids crammed in a room, no heat.” When she came to the U.S., she spoke little English, but one day she heard Celine Dion singing “My Heart Will Go On,” the familiar theme from Titanic. “That song just stuck with me and I was determined to learn it,” and by the time she was 6 she was singing it in competitions. She got Dion’s autograph last year in Vegas. “She’s my role model.”
Old for her years: At the Patel Conservatory, where she took an intense vocal workshop at the age of 12, “they put me with the 14-year-olds by accident — they thought I was older.” And at the University of Miami, where she took part in the New York Lyric Opera’s 2013 National Vocal Competition (and was named one of only two Southern Region pre-college finalists), an instructor asked, “‘Hey, are you going to college here? If not, we want you.’” She had to tell him, “I can go to college right now if you want, but I’m 14.”
Schooling her classmates: A sophomore at Sunlake High School in Land O’ Lakes, she says that, when she was younger, “My friends didn’t understand opera. But now I’m telling people what opera’s about — they’re getting intrigued by it and they support me. They’re like, ‘Hey, I saw you in the newspapers.’”
So honored: “Making it to the finalists was just such an honor,” she says of the NY Lyric Opera competition. “When you make it past finalist, they tell you whether you go to NY and perform at the Met — that would just be so amazing.” She was also one of only 20 young singers this year to earn a scholarship to the California Opera’s summer training program.
So charitable: She’s a popular choice for charity events. “This is crazy, but I was a part of a rock concert — 10 rock bands and 1 opera singer. It was called Lick Breast Cancer.”
Her dream role: The title role in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, which someday she hopes to sing in big opera houses all over the world.
But you won’t find her on reality TV: “I did want to go on The X Factor, but I’m not sure I want to anymore. I have to protect my voice.” Her vocal teacher, Maestro Mario Laurenti, recommends against those shows, she says, because they foster “screaming,” not singing.
Still, she wouldn’t mind performing for Simon Cowell: “I would love to sing for him one day and get his approval for my voice — that’s on my bucket list.” She does a reasonably good imitation of the acidic Brit: “Wow, that was beautiful, Maria,” she imagines him saying, “I have no harsh words for you.”
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