Carole Sparrow and her husband, Randolph Locke are my go-to folks in East County whenever I want to know something about opera.
Now, I would admit, that isn't often, even though I appreciate music of all varieties. And while a steady diet of opera won't be playing on my car radio, I must say when I have heard certain selections, it can make the hairs stand up on my arms, in a good way.
Both Sparrow and Locke have performed internationally and they teach as well. They have lived the life, and therefore provide a wealth of knowledge when you need questions answered.
So I went to Sparrow when I wanted to know more about Lakewood Ranch's Isabella Bank, who will be a featured performer Jan. 26 at the OASIS' 18th annual Benefit Concert and Fundraiser at Palm Aire Country Club.
OASIS stands for Opera for Animals: Singing is Saving and was founded by Sparrow. All proceeds from the event benefit various animal welfare groups.
Besides being an event for pet lovers, it also exposes East County music lovers to opera, in a way where they aren't committing a lot of time or money (tickets are $75 per person). Besides being entertained by opera selections, Sparrow and Locke also will be performing popular favorites as well. Trust me, you can't go wrong.
Besides the talented duo, soprano Jenny Kim-Godfrey and her husband, guitarist Jonathan Godfrey, will perform along with sopranos Melinda Balla Mezzo and Gennvieve Dilan.
However, the most intriguing part of the lineup is the 14-year-old Bank, who not only has honed her singing skills, but plays the cello and piano, and wants to be a composer. She will be accompanied by pianist Michael Stewart.
"For her age, she already is so accomplished," Sparrow said of Bank. "She plays the cello beautifully and the piano well. I teach her and her voice is amazing, along with her ability to speak French, German and Italian for her songs.
"On top of all that, her wanting to compose is a whole another thing. She is working on writing an opera. You know, Mozart wrote opera at her age."
It would take a face-to-face meeting with Bank to have any indication of her age. Her speech is worldly, that of a much older person who has designed her life's path.
Born in Boca Raton, she has lived in Orange County in California, Seattle, Wash., and Rome (in 2014-2016) as her father, Laurence Bank, has followed his professional path in the computer programming industry.
At each step, she has built upon a music career that formed for her very early in life. By the time she was a kindergarten student, she knew what she wanted.
"I loved singing," she said. "So when I would say things to my mom and dad, I actually would sing them."
Singing about what's for dinner and trying to find the shampoo only went so far, though, and she joined the Columbia Boys & Girls Choir of Redmond, Wash., at 6 years old.
In Rome, she sang for the Coro Voci Bianche of the Academia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. If you aren't sure about that choir's standing, consider it performed at the Vatican City for Pope Francis.
All along the way, her mom, Marice Bank, has been at her side. Marice said she is more of "the gourmet chef and physical therapist."
Isabella enrolled with the Florida Virtual school after her father's job brought the family to Lakewood Ranch in 2016.
She loved her experience in Rome.
"The culture is so rich," she said. "Everyone there lives life in the present, with attention to tradition. And there is something organic about the music there, it is such a magical place."
She was focused upon baroque music in Italy. "Classical music has such a connection with people," she said.
She has branched out since leaving Italy and is pondering her future.
"Here, I have expanded on my solo repertoire," she said. "It's a different feeling than being a part of the choir. It's about being your own boss in a way. In choir, you are taught to blend in. As a soloist, you have to develop your unique sound."
Marice Bank said the family moved to Lakewood Ranch when they returned to Florida in 2016 because "because the west side of Florida has more cultural opportunities."
Isabella, who has three sisters in 11-year-old Juliana, 17-year-old Gabriella and 19-year-old Diana, doesn't listen to pop music. She tends to lean toward the work of composer Claude Debussy.
"My goal is to be able to continue performing and to bring music to people," Isabella Bank said. "Being around music is what I love best. When I walk on the stage, I see people, but as soon as the music starts, I get into character and I don't see the people anymore. Music is so unique and every day I am learning something new. If a day goes by and I don't practice or perform, I feel depleted. In music, there are so many directions I can go. I do look forward to film composing. But I really don't know what the future holds. I could be singing in a neighborhood church ... or an opera house."
For information and reservations for the Jan. 26 concert, call Sparrow at 545-7021.