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Day in the Life

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  • | 4:00 a.m. October 30, 2013
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Prelude to school
It’s 5:30 a.m., and Monica Gonzalez is walking Milo, her American Eskimo puppy. She makes her bed, washes her face, makes herself toast with pineapple and prepares Cuban coffee for herself and her mother, Gina Arabitg. If she has time, she does a load of laundry and the dishes. Most parents would kill for a 17-year-old like this.

After she drops her younger sister, Jessica, off at the bus stop, she heads to Cardinal Mooney an hour before school starts. By 7:55 a.m., she’s in first period, where she’s the teacher’s assistant.

“The chemistry teacher, Vanessa Santos, loves me,” Gonzalez says. “She’s even coming to see the show!”
Gonzalez is referring to Sarasota Youth Opera’s production of Benjamin Britten’s “The Little Sweep,” in which she plays one of the leads, Rowan.

“I feel incredibly different from my peers,” she says. “My priorities, the way I view life — opera opens a completely different world.”

By the time she’s 30, she hopes an international opera company, via the route of a conservatory and graduate school, competitions, summer programs and apprentice programs, will hire her. She’s currently undecided on schools.

Professional’s overture
At 8 a.m., 31-year-old Angela Mortellaro goes for a run. She’s had breakfast with her all-important cup of coffee, and by 10:30 a.m., she’s ready to warm up her voice. As a principal Studio Artist, she lives in housing downtown, two minutes away from the opera house. Today, she goes there for her ideal hour-and-a-half vocal warm-up.

Interestingly enough, her first big professional performance after graduate school was at Orlando Opera; she played Ida in “Die Fledermaus.” This time, she’s playing Ida’s sister — Adele.

This is not how Mortellaro expected it would be. When she was 17, she took choir. Her teacher gave her a solo — only once — and she completely crashed and burned.

“I hated it,” she says with a roaring laugh. “I didn’t want the pressure of having a solo.”

Mortellaro worked many hours at the Brookfield, Wis., grocery store her father, Robert, owned. She said she was independent and strong-willed — two qualities she’d later need as a singer. Although Mortellaro enjoyed music and playing the piano, she never saw herself performing.

“I thought I’d be in Wisconsin, maybe a music teacher somewhere, married with lots of children right now,” she says. “I thought I’d follow a more traditional path.”

She is married to a fellow professional Sarasota Opera singer, Jeffrey Beruan, who is currently singing at an opera in Kansas City, Mo., and who will arrive this winter in Sarasota. They speak two times a day by phone.

It wasn’t until late in her undergraduate student career at the University of Wisconsin when a voice teacher, Carlene McMonagle, pointed out Mortellaro’s singing talent.

“People told me in high school, but I didn’t listen,” she says. “I listened to her.”

She went to Rice for graduate school, and that was her turning point.

“There’s not a set path to be an opera singer,” she says. “And, I still feel like I’m really getting started in this business.”

Her first big role with a professional company was Gretel in Sarasota Opera’s 2010 production of Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel.”

“Sarasota Opera took a chance on me, and it really paid off and helped me learn I could do it,” she says.

She’s called for a 12:30 p.m. rehearsal for Sarasota Opera’s “Die Fledermaus,” then she gets to take a three-hour break at 4 p.m. when she eats lunch, has another important cup of coffee and calls her husband. She’ll look over her lines and music, but likes to stay quiet to rest her voice. She reads Colum McCann’s “Dancer” until her 7 p.m. rehearsal with the chorus.

Finale out of school
Gonzalez tailored her classes to her passion. She switched from taking Spanish to taking French, and she’s now in a class with all freshmen. At 1:40 p.m., Gonzalez has study hall, and she utilizes her time to take college-level online music-theory classes. If her voice is tired, she tells her friends she’s on vocal rest and avoids talking.

When school lets out at 2:30 p.m., she listens to Russian operatic soprano Anna Netrebko and drives to Sarasota Opera House — her ritual.

Gonzalez loves Netrebko. It was watching a DVD of one of her live performances that inspired her “to get serious” in summer 2012.

“She looked on stage how I felt when I sang,” Gonzalez says. “And the way the audience was responding, I wanted the audience to fall in love with me like that.”

That’s all it took. Gonzalez called her voice teacher with plans to go professional. She’s devoted her adolescent life to acquiring this dream — “The Little Sweep” is her first big role.

Even though her voice teacher moved from Sarasota, she has Skype coaching sessions every Wednesday, in addition to three rehearsal days a week.

Today, she warms up for 20 minutes before her first hour-long rehearsal. Gonzalez spends her 30-minute break with a tutor at Selby Public Library, and then she is back for the evening rehearsal that will last until 8:30 p.m.

She gets home, does her homework and any loads of laundry she didn’t finish that morning. She takes a shower and tries to be in bed by 10:30 p.m. On the weekends, or if she doesn’t have rehearsal the next day, she’ll act like a 17-year-old and hang out at a family friend’s house swimming with peers until 2 a.m.

Curtain call
It’s been a long day of rehearsals for Mortellaro. She finishes the evening telling her husband goodnight, but sometimes she’ll go out with her opera friends for an hour or so. She tries to get to bed by 11:30 p.m.
With rehearsals six days a week, she likes to spend her off days like a teenager — sleeping in, eating a late brunch and enjoying the Florida weather.

How many people do you have to work with to prepare for a role?
Gonzalez: My voice teacher, Maestro Jesse, is my vocal coach; Miss Martha is my director. And I work with a teacher from Oberlin via Skype on how to tackle this role.
Mortellaro: My vocal teacher; if I don’t know the language then a language coach; and a music coach.

Do you take voice lessons?
Gonzalez: I take voice lessons over Skype with my teacher, Rose Marie Freni, who moved to North Carolina. Every two months I go there to stay with her for a weekend (of lessons).
Mortellaro: I study with Stephen King (at Rice University) whenever I can get to Houston. I go for a week two times a year and take as many lessons as I can.

What are your parents’ names and what do they do?
Gonzalez:  My dad’s name is Dr. Julio Gonzalez, and he’s an orthopedic surgeon who goes to law school at Stetson at night (he’s running for state representative). My mom, Gina Arabitg, is a gynocologist and an incredible painter. She’s good at singing, too, but would never sing in front of people.
Mortellaro: Martnie Mortellaro, my mom, is a choral director at a church, and my father, Robert Mortellaro, is retired. He owned Century Foods grocery stores.

Earliest memory performing:
Gonzalez: I was in preschool singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and the teacher came up, took me out of class and had me sing it for the other teachers in the faculty room.
Mortellaro: Singing in choir at church because my mom was the choral director, and we had a really great group of singers in that choir. All of those people were really good musicians.


Johann Strauss Jr.’s ‘Die Fledermaus’
When: Opens 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1. Runs through Nov. 15
Where: Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave.
Cost: Tickets $19 to $125
Info: Call 366-8450 or visit

Benjamin Britten’s ‘The Little Sweep’
When: 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, and 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10
Where: Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave.
Cost: Tickets $10 to $20
Info: Call 366-8450 or visit