There are two things you should know about singer Michelle Giglio before you meet her for lunch at C’est la Vie, her favorite downtown restaurant.
One: She speaks fluent and beautiful French and will consequently and unintentionally show you up when
ordering her meal.
Two: If you’re unfamiliar with a tune, she will break into song mid-conversation, and, when that happens, her voice will sound like church bells in the distance rising above the tinny sounds of noontime café commotion.
“You know this one,” she says smiling. “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman. It’s ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,’ but it’s also based on a Mozart theme.”
Giglio pauses to take a bite of her lunch and then says something in French to passing café owner and close friend Geraldine Coutelle.
“Our daughters go to school together,” she says turning back to the conversation. “Anyway, that’s why I love Mozart. He was sweet, short and to-the-point, although you might not think it when you hear a 10-minute aria. He put things forward in a simple manner, which is difficult to do. It’s not easy to be simple and interesting at the same time.”
And, just like that, Giglio, a classical singer who grew up in Garland, Texas, has, in a nutshell, explained her own demeanor.
She had never intended to be a singer. A violin- and piano-performance major at Texas Christian University, in Fort Worth, Texas, Giglio was on a path to becoming a violinist when a hand injury at the end of her junior year derailed her career trajectory.
While working part-time for American Airlines, she decided to take advantage of free airline miles and apply to the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique, in Paris, admittedly not realizing at the time that “the school was like the Juilliard of France.”
“I just remember thinking, there’s this whole world out there that I had yet to see,” Giglio says. “I thought I’d be in Paris for a year.”
Not only did Giglio receive a full scholarship to the school, she landed her first professional gig as a soprano three years later. The lone American singer in an almost all-French chorus, Giglio outshone hundreds of applicants for solo performances on Radio France, the country’s largest radio broadcasting station.
“It was like, ‘Oh god, Toto, where have we landed?’” Giglio laughs. “I knew I could sing, but I always thought it was a lark. It wasn’t until I got the job at Radio France that I realized I could make a living at it.”
A North Sarasota resident, Giglio is now married with one daughter, Annabel, 8. She met her husband, Julian Norman-Webb, a chartered member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, in Paris, where the two lived for nine years while Giglio performed with European orchestras, philharmonics and operas, including the Orchestre National de France, the Orchestre Philharmonique and the Opéra National de Lyon.
The couple’s first kiss was at the Trocadéro near the Palais de Chaillot across from the Eiffel Tower — not bad for a Texan who grew up listening to country-western music and whose father liked to joke that he couldn’t play the radio without dialing in static.
“My grandfather’s father was a dance instructor in Canada,” Giglio says. “He was really the only musical or artsy person in the family. I often think, ‘Where did this classical stuff come from?’”
Giglio was born in Sarasota. Her parents, Jim and Joan Norman, met at Sarasota High School and her grandparents, Gordon and Dorothy Norman, were buried off Palm Avenue in the Church of the Redeemer courtyard. The family relocated to Texas when Giglio was one.
Giglio arrived in Florida on a fluke, after following her voice coach to Naples in 1999. Two years later, they moved to Sarasota, where her husband had a job opportunity and the arts scene was thriving.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be living in the town I was born in,” Giglio says, humming the theme from “The Twilight Zone.” “Everything is coming full circle. It’s been so serendipitous.”
As she sips a cappuccino, fielding “hellos” and “how-are-you’s?” from friends and acquaintances, it’s as if she never left.
A woman walks by Giglio and gushes, “I couldn’t help but overhear. I just wanted to tell you that you’re one of the best sopranos around.”
Giglio beams and says thank you, then shrugs as the woman turns to walk away.
Whether Giglio realizes it or not, she has made a name for herself in Sarasota.
In 2006, she sang alongside the Sarasota Orchestra and Key Chorale during Sarasota Ballet’s blockbuster production of “Carmina Burana.” The following year, pianist Lee Dougherty Ross accompanied Giglio on a tribute to classical music’s French Impressionism movement during an Artist Series concert at the Historic Asolo Theater.
And, in 2008, in front of a screening of the 1928 silent film, “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” Giglio sang a haunting solo in Richard Einhorn’s “Voices of Light.” The event, sponsored by Sarasota Film Festival, was a multilayered visual treat.
“For some people, classical music is background music,” Giglio says. “For me, it isn’t. If it’s on and I’m relaxing, I automatically ignore the person I’m with. I can’t tune it out.”
Did you know?
To center herself before concerts, Giglio practices hatha and kundalini yoga, which trigger the front and back chakras of the body.
“I know if I do a certain pose and I wobble, I won’t be centered on stage,” Giglio says.
if you go
Michelle Giglio will perform in “Munchtime Musicales” at noon Wednesday, Nov. 11, at Holley Hall in the Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center. For more information, call 350-5472 or visit www.michellegiglio.com.