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She is a courtesan, allowed to play with, but not considered equal to, Paris’ nobility. But in truth, she is the only genuinely noble character in Verdi’s La Traviata.

And that’s why Patricia Racette (’88) loves portraying her.

“There is so much depth and truth to Violetta. She’s smart and fun, and loving and kind, but I’ve yet to completely master the role,” Racette says.

That’s just her opinion.


The perfect part

When Racette opened La Traviata at the Met (New York’s Metropolitan Opera) in November, she sang the role so convincingly that opera critics called her “a new star.”

And when she played the role in Dallas, Morning News critic Olin Chism (’54, ’64 M.M.) wrote, “Racette is an extraordinary actress — and there’s no need to qualify that with ‘operatic.’ She has a natural and subtle gift. ... And so Violetta, a character so familiar as to threaten triteness, suddenly seemed real and vulnerable again.”

With acclaim like that, it’s easy to see why Violetta is considered Racette’s “role.”

Since Traviata is one of the 10 most produced operas of the 1990s, according to Opera World, it looks as if Racette’s connection with Violetta will be a lasting and frequent one.

However, the two won’t meet again until 2001 when Traviata opens in San Francisco. After that, Racette will go to Paris to perform the role.

In the meantime, she sang in the world premiere of Cold Sassy Tree, based on a novel by Olive Ann Burns, at the Houston Grand Opera; she made her La Scala debut in Milan; and she took a well- deserved and much-needed break, but only for a few weeks. She didn’t listen to any music or sing at all during that time off.

“When you live a life filled with music, the silence is wonderful,” she says.


Rising star

Soon, she heads to San Francisco to perform Luisa Miller and to Chicago for her Lyric debut.

But then, life as opera’s brightest rising star is supposed to be busy.

Racette’s schedule keeps her in one place for no more than six weeks at a time.

While she says she “could complain about it for hours if given the chance,” she recognizes that being booked into the middle of the next decade is where she wants to be.

But only for right now.

Eventually, Racette would like the top companies in the world to call and ask, “What production would you like us to do for you next season?” rather than, “We’re planning ... and you’re the artist we must have.”

“The difference may seem subtle, but it’s really jumping from one world to the next,” she says.

It wasn’t that long ago that Racette was preparing to walk into the opera world as a beginner.

In 1984, she came to North Texas on a bus from New Hampshire with her parents to study vocal jazz. “It took 3 1/2 days, and it was horrible,” she says.

But she says what she learned when she got here made all the difference.

“North Texas gave me the only formal training I have,” she says. “And they steered me from my Manhattan Transfer dreams into opera because that’s what suited my voice. The people there have a very special place in my heart.”


UNT talent

She is only one of many opera performers today who started their careers with training from North Texas.

And like Racette, those singers can be found performing with companies all over the globe.

During any given season, UNT-trained singers are usually performing with the nation’s top companies: the Met, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the San Francisco Opera and the Houston Grand Opera.


Among the singers in those companies now are Mark M cCrory (’93), Emily Pulley (’95 M.M.) and Scott Scully (’99).

McCrory and Pulley were both national winners of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Pulley won 1993, and McCrory won in 1994 at the unusually young in age of 22. After the 1993 competition, the Met hired Pulley for productions in its next season. She has worked there consistently ever since, as well as traveled around the nation in age to perform with other companies.

McCrory returned to Denton after the 1994 competition to in age of 22. After the 1993 competition, the Met hired Pulley work on a master’s degree.

As graduation neared, he received a call from the young artist training program for the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The program was looking for a bass, had heard about McCrory, and wanted him to audition. He obliged.

Six years later, he’s a favorite at the company.

Unlike McCrory, Scully is just beginning his career.

He was the one singer accepted into the Houston young artist program from a field of 700 applicants last summer.

But even though he has his degree, and obvious talent, Scully is just now learning what he needs to know to make the leap from college-trained singer to professional artist.

“There are so many steps in this business, it’s hard to say where I’ll end up,” he says. “But right now I’m just thrilled to have a chance to learn the business at a major company, sing with major artists (he performed in Cold Sassy Tree with Racette) and find my footing,” he says.


Ideal roles

The role in Cold Sassy Tree was Scully’s first experience with a completely new opera.

“It’s pretty exciting to be doing a world premiere at this point in my career,” he says.

It was also exciting for McCrory, who appeared in the world premiere of A View From the Bridge in 1999 with the Chicago Lyric.

As Marco, one of the principal characters in View, McCrory had the privilege of singing a role tailored specifically for his voice.

“We were cast in the parts before the composer was completely finished, so he made our parts fit us specifically,” he says. “It’s a really great feeling to know that the role truly is yours.”

But, at only 28, McCrory has at least a few more years to wait before his career fully blossoms and he’s able to fit comfortably into the roles to which he aspires.

“You have to find roles that are appropriate to your voice, and right now there is a certain repertory I can perform,” he says. “And in 10 to 20 years there will be a different repertory for me.”

In about 10 years, he hopes he will be able to sing the role he most wants to perform, Verdi’s King Philip in Don Carlo.

Right now, though, he’s frequently cast as Figaro from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. It’s a role he sang two summers ago in New Jersey and this spring in Minnesota, and he will sing it again in 2001 in Hawaii.

On the other hand, the role that Pulley most wants to sing is not any specific character.

“It must be the Texan in me, but I’m just really happy when I get to sing a character who has big hair and carries a weapon,” she says with a laugh. “Something about that is really empowering.”


Amazing careers

Actually, Pulley says she just loves performing.

“I’m happiest when I can sing with my friends, and so far, I’ve had the great experience of really liking all the people I’ve worked with,” she says.

But since Pulley never expected to have an opera career and originally thought she would find her fame in musical theater, she says she is constantly amazed by what she is getting to do.

She recently finished a production of The Merry Widow with Placido Domingo, Frederica Von Stade and Paul Groves.

“If it all ended today, at least I could say I sang on one of the best stages in the world with some of the best performers in the business, and that’s really a fantastic thing,” she says.


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