Rarely do opera companies to take chances on untested talent. After all, singers go through years of training and apprenticeships to secure a place on the stage outside of the chorus.
Yet for its rendition of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” the Sarasota Opera decided to take a chance on Natalie Almeter.
Almeter plays the role of Barbarina, the gardener’s daughter, in the opera, which runs through March 27. She is the only non-professional adult in the cast.
Although Almeter may be relatively inexperienced, she’s not unknown on the Sarasota Opera stage. Almeter has participated in five productions with the Sarasota Youth Opera, earning roles “Carmen,” “Little Nemo in Slumberland” (a world premiere), and “The Little Sweep.”
She came to the opera upon the suggestion of a couple of her mother’s friends. Almeter was a senior at Cardinal Mooney, and although she had been singing and performing onstage as often as she could, she had never even thought of singing opera.
The suggestion turned out to be serendipitous, but Almeter still had her doubts.
“I thought it was going to be really intimidating,” she says.
She turned out to be one of the older students in the youth opera, but found the group immediately inviting. “I made friends so quickly, and some I am still friends with,” she adds.
Those friends helped ease the next source of potential intimidation: learning how to sing opera. Not only is opera in another language, it also requires a different set of skills from music theater.
Luckily, Almeter says, Maestro Jesse Martins, the youth opera’s music director, made the learning process approachable and fun. Martins used what Almeter knew how to do: sing and dance, to teach her what she didn’t know how to do: use her entire body to project and control her voice.
“It’s really a vocal art, big time,” says Almeter. “You have to learn so much about yourself and how your voice works, how you move your muscles and how you use the air. This type of singing should be an Olympic sport.”
Through her previous roles at the Sarasota Opera and as a vocal student at the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, Almeter, a 19-year-old sophomore, has transitioned from her voice being amplified by microphones in musical theater to, as she says, singing from the power of her diaphragm and guts.
“You have to use everything you have to get your voice to the back row,” she says. “It’s a full-body experience.”
As Barbarina in “The Marriage of Figaro,” Almeter says she’s also overcome the intimidation from being the only non-professional with a main stage role.
“I’m the only kid in the production and I’m singing alongside people I’ve looked up to since I learned about opera,” says Almeter. “They teased me about being the kid, but it was just fun, and now that the show has opened and started we’re all just a big a family.”
She may have be young, but Sarasota Opera Artistic Director Victor DeRenzi had confidence in Almeter. “From working with Natalie in previous Sarasota Youth Opera productions, I knew she had the maturity and capability,” he says.
Looking ahead, Almeter is eager to keep learning and one day hopes to go through the journeyman and apprentice roles on her way to becoming a staple performer of the main stage.
“The Sarasota Opera has given me an entirely new life,” says Almeter. “I don’t know where I’d be without it. It’s totally changed the track of my life from where I was going to before.”