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High Hopes

Emily Herrera soars toward stardom

"Nerves," said Ken after he left.
"And a lack of preparation," Emily added quietly, reminding herself how the little things could make a difference. It would be her turn soon.

Yet Emily had reason to feel confident. She had finally been invited to join Opera Colorado's Young Artist Center and had landed a number of upcoming roles: the female lead in Opera Colorado's Young Artists production of Hansel and Gretel set for February; the ingenue Zerlina in Opera Colorado's May production of Don Giovanni at Boettcher Concert Hall; Annina, the faithful lady-in-waiting and friend of the doomed heroine in La Traviata, coming this March to the Buell Theatre.

Even Anne agreed she was ready. There were many well-trained lyric sopranos with nice voices out there, but Emily, she said, had it all. Beauty. Presence. And a magnificent voice.

It was time to seize her chance at making dreams come true. In her dream, Emily is older, having sung her way around the world. Her voice has grown deeper and darker, like a well-aged burgundy. She is alone on the stage, wearing big diva hair and a beautiful nineteenth-century dress studded with gold and jewels.

She is Tosca, the actress-heroine from the opera of the same name. Her painter-lover Mario is imprisoned by the evil Baron Scarpia, who has just raped her. Lying on the stage, she tries to rise and sings a prayer to God for help. Vissi d'arte. Vissi d'amore.

I lived for art. I lived for love.
"Emily Herrera?" The woman coordinating the Central City auditions at last called her name. Emily gathered her music and headed for the audition hall.

"Good luck," Ken called after her.
"Thanks," Emily said, and smiled. She planned to make her own luck.
Head held high, Emily walked into the hall. But her heart fell when she saw who stepped forward to take her music. It was John Moriarty, the artistic director of Central City Opera, Anne's former teacher and a musical perfectionist if ever there was one.

Emily had known he would be one of the judges. But playing the piano, right alongside her? He'd know if she made the slightest mistake.

She smiled. He smiled back. Then Moriarty began to play. It was a little faster than Emily was used to singing the aria, but if that was Moriarty's pace, she thought, that would be the pace she'd sing.

Emily had chosen the aria "Ain't It a Pretty Night," from the Carlisle Floyd opera Susannah. That past summer, while studying in Italy, she'd driven far into the country one night, away from the lights of the city. Stepping from the car, she'd looked up at the sky. A shooting star arced across the heavens and she thought of the aria, which she had just begun to study.

When she sings this aria, Susannah is sitting on the porch of her Appalachian home, gazing at the sky and wondering what lies beyond the mountains.

Ain't it a pretty night
Just think, those stars can all peep down
an' see way beyond where we can.
They can see way beyond them mountains
to Nashville, and Asheville and Knoxville.

I wonder what it's like out there,
out there beyond them mountains.

As she sang, Emily became Susannah. Her hand floated above her to the starry skies. She was young and innocent and beautiful, her voice full of longing for the world beyond.

I aim to leave this valley someday
and find out for myself.

On Sunday, Emily tied for first place with two other singers at the Met competition district finals. That qualifies her for this weekend's regional competition, from which she hopes to move on to the Met nationals in New York next month.

Although the winners of the Central City Opera auditions have yet to be announced officially, Emily Herrera's name will not be included on that list. According to a Central City Opera spokeswoman, Emily was not selected for this year's apprentice program.

In a few years, Emily may be thought of as too old for a program designed for young artists. In the meantime, she plans to keep trying. "Winning would be fabulous," Emily says. "But if I don't, I'll just have to find another way to New York.

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