Williams student studying to be surgeon to perform in 'Barber of Seville' today



No, Elaina Pullano says, she isn't a Rosina, but she'll sing Rosina's showy aria as if she were that scheming operatic vamp.

Rosina "definitely has some spunk," Pullano says of the heroine of Rossini's "Barber of Seville." Pullano, a Williams College sophomore and competition winner, describes herself as less "forward" than the character she'll portray. But, she says, "it's nice to see a powerful woman character in a role, which also makes it fun to sing."

Pullano, who went to Williams from Dalton and Wahconah Regional High School, will sing Rosina's "Una voca poco fa" with the Berkshire Symphony tonight. In the famous aria (the title translates as "a little voice, a while ago"), Rosina is out to win the affections of the disguised count she knows as Lindoro.

She gets her man. All the time, Pullano says, Rosina "knows it's going to happen because she's not going to have it any other way."

Pullano, a mezzo-soprano, will take the stage of Chapin Hall as one of four winners of the Williams-based orchestra's annual student soloist competition. The others will solo in a percussion piece by Joan Tower and movements from cello concertos by Shostakovich and Elgar.

In addition, the orchestra, under director Ronald Feldman, will premiere "Kagisano" by Laone Thekiso, a 2012 Williams grad. Rounding out the youth emphasis, the 8 p.m. program also includes Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra."

Seventeen students auditioned for the competition this year, according to Feldman. A pianist, wind player, string player and singer served as judges.

"Elaina had the most polished and mature voice" of the five singers who auditioned, Feldman says. He must approve all repertoire to prevent the program from overloading the orchestra, which is made up half and half of students and professionals.

Pullano graduated from Wahconah in 2011 as valedictorian -- and, until she injured herself in her junior year, a soccer standout. She never expected to attend Williams "because it was so close to home," she says.

"But my parents dragged me up for a tour my junior year -- probably close to literally, dragged - and when I toured it, I fell in love with it." What captured her was the liberal arts emphasis, which would allow her to take a premed curriculum and meanwhile keep her music going. She is taking a double major in biology and music.

Pullano credits her voice teacher at the Berkshire Music School, Sherri James Buxton, with really turning her on to classical music and opera.

"She started me with the basic show tunes and then we progressed to the more classical repertoire from there," Pullano recalls. "The more I sang it, the more I grew to love it."

Pullano began singing at 11, in choir in fifth grade at Craneville Elementary School. She had a solo in the Christmas concert that year. She forgot the words but Buxton, the choir teacher, spoke to her parents, Mark and Michelle Pullano, suggesting voice lessons.

At 13, Elaina participated in Berkshire Lyric's voice competition. Though she didn't win, the judges advised further study. She went on to win competitions at both Berkshire Lyric and the music school.

At Williams, voice teacher Keith Kibler steered her from soprano to mezzo-soprano repertoire, including "Una voca poco fa," which he recommended as her audition piece. She says the aria has helped her to develop her coloratura technique.

Last summer, Pullano got stage experience in the Hubbard Hall opera program for young singers in Cambridge, N.Y. Her major role was Dinah, the unhappily married middle-aged woman in Leonard Bernstein's one-acter "Trouble in Tahiti." (The character is often said to be modeled on Bernstein's own mother.)

The role posed a double challenge for Pullano, who had done little acting before and had to put herself into the position of an older woman. She "had to dig deep into myself and find parallel situations emotionally," she says.

Thinking of the "deep sadness and loss that she [Dinah] experiences throughout the whole show," Pullano drew on her feelings at the death of her grandmother during her senior year in high school. That helped her to understand how she would feel "if my husband were most likely unfaithful, not being the loving husband I knew him to be when I married him."

Pullano will spend July at an opera training program run by Oberlin College in Arezzo, Italy. In Italian repertoire, she'll understudy roles taken in performances by graduate students and participate in scenes sung by undergraduates.

The long-term goal is oral surgery, following in the career path of her father, a dentist in Williamstown. That means study in both dental school and medical school.

But she'll keep singing, she says, "in whatever capacity I can throughout med school, whether it's getting various jobs or roles, wherever I end up for school and whatever that entails. But definitely, I plan on keeping it going."

In concert

What: Berkshire Symphony Soloist Gala

Who: Winners of annual Berkshire Symphony student soloist competition

When: Tonight 8

Where: Chapin Hall, Chapin Hall Drive, Williams College, Williamstown

Tickets: Free

Note: Pre-concert talk at 7:15 in Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall


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