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Published: Saturday, 10/11/2008

Young performers have big dreams and the talent to fulfill them

BY SALLY VALLONGO
BLADE STAFF WRITER

They grew up in and around Toledo.

But they know how to get to Carnegie Hall.

For talented classical performers Anna Noggle, Katherine Calcamuggio, and Shauna Cook, and others, the recipe for success is no secret.

Start with ample talent and blend in big dreams. Mix in parental support and good teachers. Add a pinch of luck. Then stir in years and years of practice. Bake in the fire of competition and, if possible, glaze with a little money.

It's a method nearly all successful artists follow to concoct success. Driven by talent and ambition, they must be relentless in their pursuit of perfection and the ability to make all their hard work look easy to others.

Toledo natives Dennis Russell Davies, the conductor and pianist; Constance Hauman, the operatic soprano, and trumpeter Duke Heitger have concocted international reputations the same way.

Their performances draw crowds and positive attention for critics. Some have even performed in Carnegie Hall.

When she headed off to Indiana University to study music in 1997, Oak Harbor native Anna Noggle didn't expect a cakewalk.

'I knew it would be a challenge because I didn't have the background there was no performing arts high school, no music theory. The kids I met there were much more advanced.'

Noggle didn't play piano, but she learned, at least enough to pass a proficiency test for her degree in vocal performance.

In the intensely competitive atmosphere of the Bloomington, Ind., campus, she stuck with it and practiced, studied, listened.

'I did the best I could and got through it,' Noggle says, adding, 'I did fairly well. I had a 3.6 GPA.' In graduate school at IU, Noggle continued working with her voice professor, Alice Hopper. 'She was a wonderful teacher very influential,' Noggle says. 'It was kind of like having a parent there taking care of me.'

Today, Noggle, a 2004 grad, has made her local debut with the Toledo Symphony and has sung in Rome, Bulgaria, and Panama, as well as New York City, where she's been a resident performer with the DiCapo Opera Theatre Co.

Clive Barnes of the New York Post made note of Noggle's performance in the company's production of Dangerous Liaisons last February. 'On the side of the angels, I admired Kristin Vogel, Lisa Chavez, and, particularly, Anna Noggle,' he wrote.

Noggle also has begun recording, her first album of music by Louis Moreau Gottschalk on the Naxos label.

But the professional gigs are still spaced too far apart to support Noggle, whose day job as a party planner allows her to audition for the next role.

'Basically, you try to do as many auditions as you can,' she says. 'You have to apply to auditions and pay fees; it's like going to college all over again. It's like a gamble.'

Noggle is now negotiating a contract with Opera Colorado, in Denver, to become an ensemble artist in the company, primarily doing outreach. It's a five-month residency that could mean a lot to the singer. This month she's appearing in the role of Liu in DiCapo's production of Puccini's Turandot.

Another vocal nova from the area is Calcamuggio, a mezzo-soprano who has performed with Florida Grand Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Glimmerglass Opera, and at the Aspen and Brevard music festivals.

'From the moment I decided that singing was going to be my path, I never looked back,' says the Rossford native. She credits teachers in public elementary and high schools with feeding her passion and leading her in the right direction.

Calcamuggio earned a bachelor's degree in music from Bowling Green State University and a masters of music from Northwestern University, where she studied on full scholarship. During two years as a resident with the Florida company, she earned warm reviews, particularly for her final role with the company Sesto in

Julius Caesar.

'No complaints about Katherine Calcamuggio's Sesto,' wrote Miami Herald critic Lawrence Johnson in April. 'The statuesque mezzo-soprano looked dashing in full-length leather and sang with pure tone and resplendent vocalism.'

On her new blog at www.katherinecalcamuggio.com, she writes, 'This summer I am incredibly excited to be singing in a summer concert for Syracuse Opera previewing their upcoming season.' Calcamuggio is booked into the Lyric Opera in Chicago this fall, then makes her company debut in Syracuse early in 2009.

She, too, has a recording an opera, The Greater Good, by the Glimmerglass Opera, on Naxos. Oh, yes, and she'll be in New York City for auditions later this year.

'Although it is a life that is filled with hardships that range from an immense amount of time away from those that you love, the insecurity of not knowing where and when the next paycheck is coming from, the language classes that push you to sound like an authentic Italian/Parisian/German/Russian, it has given me so many absolutely beautiful things,' Calcamuggio says of her career.

Shauna Cook was 3 years old when she saw her first Nutcracker, on TV. From that moment on she was in love with ballet.

Today, what started out as a childhood desire for the Adrian, Mich., teen has turned into a believable dream becoming a professional dancer. At age 16, Cook has leapt into that demanding, exciting new world.

This fall, as a full-time student at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, Cook now devotes 20 to 30 hours a week to classes, lessons, and rehearsals at one of the country's most respected schools.

But trading the sociable, fun-loving life of a high school student and the warm, encouraging atmosphere of Ballet Theatre of Toledo for a more ascetic, focused, and competitive existence in a city she barely knows is worth it, Cook has decided.

It's a gamble Toledo native Kristen Stevens, then a Toledo Ballet student, made a dozen years ago.

Her starting point also was Pittsburgh, the gritty setting for Flashdance, that 1983 film which triggered a renewed interest in both ballet and contemporary dance.

Stevens was 7 when the film appeared; Cook was a mere gleam in her parents' eyes. But in that story, the passion and energy necessary to make the leap from talented hometown performer to a professional became clear and, for many, compelling.

For Stevens, giving up college and partying was a trade-off that paid off big time with professional dancing gigs from Ballet Met in Columbus to Suzanne Farrell's New York City company and, finally, in Oslo, where she became a member of the Norwegian National Ballet.

'Being asked to join Suzanne Farrell's company was a huge high,' says Stevens. 'She's very charismatic.' She chose Farrell's group over Ballet Met and was working in New York City during the Sept. 11, 2001 attack.

Then along came the offer from Norway. 'I could hardly believe it happened. The competition is high, it's so much about luck,' says Stevens, adding, 'There's always someone who can do it better than you or at least as well.'

She appreciated the healthy lifestyle of Norway, as well as the chance to travel. 'The experience in Norway was as much about living as it was about dancing,' she says.

But today, at 32, she's leaving the path that put stars in her eyes 15 years ago.

'I had 11 years of working in good union companies. It's nonstop focus,' Stevens says of the dancing life, which also allows no letup in preparation and conditioning and can be injury prone. 'A dancer's life is only so long anyway.'

Now an undergraduate at the New School in New York, she is moving from the stage to the office, studying for a nonperforming role in arts and gaining hands-on experience in a position with the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

The success of pursuing her first love, dance, empowered her.

'I felt satisfied, like I had fulfilled my dream, gone as far as I could go.'

Occasionally, one of Toledo's local bright lights returns home, whether to perform and thrill the folks who knew them back when, or to resettle and share the wealth of their experience with up-and-coming artists.

Constance Hauman has sung with the Toledo Opera and Dennis Russell Davies has conducted in Detroit. Duke Heitger was in town this weekend to be inducted into the Central Catholic High School Music Hall of Fame.

Lisa Mayer Lang, a Toledo native and graduate of the Toledo Ballet, also carved out her own niche in professional dance on stages in New York and elsewhere. Her career spanned the worlds of classical ballet and Broadway which often overlap, Lang notes.

Today, she is back home, teaching and heading up her old company, which marks its 70th anniversary this year.

And, in a wonderful case of symmetry, Mayer Lang recently worked with Marie Connelly, a 10-year-old from Waterville who has been cast in the Broadway production of Billy Elliott even though she had never studied dance.

'Maria came here right away,' notes TB executive director Mari Davies. 'She was here every night for three to four weeks and took classes with Lisa.'

Now, Maria is deep in rehearsals for the Elton John musical at the Imperial Theater on Broadway.

Contact Sally Vallongo at: svallongo@theblade.com.



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