The San Diego Opera's 44th international season opens on Jan. 24, with Giacomo Puccini's renowned operatic thriller "Tosca." Along with featuring French soprano Sylvie Valayre and American tenor Marcus Haddock, "Tosca" also includes 16 local children.
North County's Sophia Linkletter will be among those children singing in Italian when "Tosca" unfolds at the San Diego Civic Theatre.
The children range in age from 9 to 15. Other North County youngsters include Daniela Camilleri, 13; Jackie Foster, 13; Hanna Prater, 13 and Kayla Stults, 11.
The primary source for youth singers comes from St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral or the San Diego Children's Chorus. Each child must audition.
Sophia, 13, is singing as an alter boy in this production. She came to the audition already a seasoned performer. She's been cast in several musicals as the lead as well as appearing on T.V. and in a music video. "Tosca" is the next step in her career.
"We had to sing a one-minute song of our choice for the audition," Sophia said. "I had done my homework. My family attends the opera so I was familiar with the story, and I had watched the DVD and listened to Italian CDs. I'm so excited to be in the show, and working with chorus master Todd has been incredible."
Chorus master Timothy Todd Simmons works with the children and finds them quick to imitate and absorb information, sometimes more quickly than adults.
"It's important in 'Tosca' that the children act with the sound that they produce and be able to change that sound based upon the dramatic needs of the moment," Simmons said. "I have always found the children in our opera choruses extremely willing to do whatever is necessary to give the appropriate dramatic sound needed."
Standing tall among the talents that perform in a typical opera might be intimidating for some children. Not for Sophia. Along with five years of performing under her belt, she's had a great mentor to advise her over her career. She's the great granddaughter of celebrity Art Linkletter, who is 96. Sophia regularly appears with her great grandfather to walk the red carpet at charity functions.
"He's awesome," Sophia said. "He's had a lot of experience in show business, and I cherish his advice. We recently went to the Power of Youth celebrity charity event at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, and it was fun to see so many people who admired him."
Singing in an opera opens new doors for the other children in "Tosca." They have a chance to work with and observe some of the world's most distinctive voice talents.
"With leads such as Sylvie Valayre or Marcus Haddock, the children understand the experience and knowledge these artists bring to their role," said Edward K. Wilensky, a spokesman for the San Diego Opera.
Because "Tosca" is a complex, mature-themed opera about sex, politics, corruption, violence and torture, some might question how children in the choir handle these subject matters. Sophia said Simmons explained the premise without going into detail.