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Budding Sonoma soprano eyes Carnegie Hall

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Local audiences have the chance to hear hometown soprano Morgan Harrington perform this week as The Ghost of Christmas Past in the Sonoma Valley Shakespeare Company’s production of “A Christmas Carol,” but it’s a rare opportunity. The 28-year-old opera singer and actress spends most of her time on stages that require some travel time.

After studying music theory and musicianship at Santa Rosa Junior College, Harrington earned her bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. She has performed in concerts, plays, recitals and musical theater throughout the North Bay, San Francisco and Monterey, and training has taken her to Vassar College in New York and the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada.

Last summer, she was among 41 young professional singers from all over the world chosen for iSING! International Young Artists Festival in Suzhou, China.

During the full-scholarship, month-long intensive western opera training program, she worked with coaches from the Metropolitan Opera, leading Chinese conservatories and other international faculty.

“I was incredibly thrilled and honored and excited,” Harrington said. “The caliber of the singers and staff was truly inspirational.”

In addition to studies in western opera, the festival introduced students to the new genre of Chinese modern opera and song literature and Mandarin. The curriculum included vocal coaching, dramatic coaching and practical applications such as career development and audition techniques.

Among the many highlights, Harrington performed with a full orchestra before some 1,000 concert-goers in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Along with singing in English, Italian, French and German, the soprano now adds Mandarin to her repertoire.

It was the Sonoma resident’s first visit to Asia, where her long, curly red hair captured plenty of attention. She was especially touched by the kindness of the Chinese people.

“Everyone I met was so nice and so welcoming. They were wonderful hosts,” she said.

Even with the “seemingly insurmountable obstacles” faced by young performers, Harrington can’t imagine any other career path.

“It helps to keep perspective, it helps to always have plans and dreams,” she said.

Harrington recalls singing along enthusiastically to Disney classics as a toddler and watching musicals like “Singing in the Rain” during her childhood.

She began piano lessons at 5 and performed in campus plays as a student at Summerfield Waldorf School in Santa Rosa. By middle school, she was performing Shakespeare. At 14, she started voice lessons.

“I’ve loved singing for as long as I can remember,” Harrington said. “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t singing.”

She has performed in concerts, plays, recitals and musical theater.

Her stage credits include Donna Elvira in “Don Giovanni” at Waffle Opera in San Francisco; Cicero in “Julius Caesar” with Sonoma Valley Shakespeare Co.; and Elsa Schraeder in “The Sound of Music” with Napa Valley Conservatory Theater. With each role, she challenges herself to bring her character to life and perform each song with deep emotion.

“If we can make our characters believable as performers, it’s golden. There’s no greater prize,” she said.

Critics have taken notice, one praising her “wonderfully expressive face and huge vocal talent,” and another commending her “spectacular vocals.”

She continues to develop her talent by taking private voice lessons from Sheri Greenawald, director of the San Francisco Opera Center. She’s passionate about singing and performing and hopes to one day take the stage at Carnegie Hall and in Europe.

Harrington dreams about roles as Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata” and the Countess in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Nearing 30, she is “still considered a young artist in the field of opera.”

“I love, love, love opera, but I’m not against crossover work,” she said.

Shy as a child, Harrington’s love of performing won over any stage fright. She still gets the occasional case of the butterflies but calms her nerves by getting in the “performing zone” and relying on her extensive training and rehearsals.

The emerging artist truly is at home in the spotlight.

“There is a light that goes on when I go on stage,” she said.

For more information, visit morganharrington.com.

For tickets to “A Christmas Carol,” running Friday through Dec. 23, visit sonomacommunitycenter.org or call 938-4626, ext. 1.

Contact Sonoma Valley Towns Correspondent Dianne Reber Hart at sonomatowns@gmail.com.

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