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Tuesday March 27, 2001

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New vocal-performance prof to display operatic talents

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By Angela Orlando

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Mezzo-soprano Wanda Brister admits that she's nervous about tomorrow's concert

One of the university's newest voices performs her debut faculty concert tomorrow night.

And she's a bit nervous.

"It's always exciting to do your first concert at a new school," said vocal-performance professor Wanda Brister. "I feel pressure in some ways because I'm performing in front of my students. You hope that they get what you're doing enough to be able to call you on (a mistake)."

At tomorrow night's concert, Brister will be accompanied by UA pianist Paula Fan. Three of her students - Cathy Letkeman, Josh Killingsworth and Dennis Tamblyn - will join her in singing the evening's last piece.

"It's an aria from an opera called 'Trouble in Tahiti,'" she said. "As a soloist, I would usually leave the (trio's) part out, but since I had access to three students in my studio who are all jazz ensemble people, I thought it would be a lot of fun to incorporate them."

Other numbers she will sing include Madeline Dring's "4 Night Songs," Henry Purcell's "The Blessed Virgin Expostulation" and selections by Richard Strauss, which will be performed in their native German.

Brister's musical career reaches back to an early age, when she first learned she could sing.

"I always sang as a child," she said. While she was accompanying the chorus in her high school, though, she "caught the singing bug." After hiding behind the piano for several years, she became a fearless mezzo-soprano soloist.

As a mezzo-soprano, her range is between F below mid C to high C, which is almost three full octaves.

Going from stage-frightened to limelight-loving is not a "quick process," Brister said. "It's an evolution."

The evolution requires commitment and a deep desire to learn. Classical singers must learn to project their voices without the help of a microphone, know a lot of different styles of music, and be comfortable with foreign languages, especially Italian, German and French, she said.

Singing classically has hidden benefits, she said.

"It opens your mind to other cultures, to poetry, sound and history," Brister said.

Since her metamorphosis into a solo performer, she has sung in 25 countries, in cities as "far east as Moscow and as far north as Reykjavik," she said. Her voice has resonated in 13 languages to date.

Brister's worldwide travels haven't diminished her love for the classroom, though. She said that she loves to teach.

"It's a way of sharing what I've gotten from other people. It's a way of giving back to them," she said. "It's passing the torch, and this art is a living art. It has to be handed down, literally, because there's no way to get what we do from a book."

"Good mentoring - I think that's one of the most important parts of what I do, by encouraging young people and letting them know that by no means should they limit themselves," she added, in a reflective moment. "You have no idea what's in store for you - it may be far beyond your wildest dreams. If you work diligently, and try to really develop your art, there are no limitations to what can happen."

Vocal performance professor Wanda Brister performs tomorrow night at 7:30 at Crowder Hall in the Fine Arts Complex. Paula Fan accompanies her on the piano. General admission is $10, UA employees and senior citizens $8, students $4. For more information, call 621-2998.