Singing comes naturally for Brianna Pressley.
Singing in a foreign language?
Now that’s the tricky part for the Niagara Falls High School senior.
While her friends are busy learning the words to the latest songs by Chris Brown or Keyshia Cole, Pressley spends her time studying classical pieces written by the likes of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Guiseppe Torelli.
Such is life for an aspiring opera singer.
“What makes it so unique is that you sing it in a different language,” said the 17-year-old Pressley. “It brings out the real emotion. It comforts me when I’m not feeling so well. Certain songs, when you sing them, can really help you with the mood you are in.”
Pressley’s love affair with opera started in the ninth grade when Niagara Falls music teacher Bill Fay suggested she give classical music a try.
Two years ago, Pressley began taking formal opera lessons under the direction of Lisa Surace, a private music teacher who offers one-on-one training at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center on Pine Avenue.
Since then, she’s learned six opera songs in their entirety and picked up some valuable lessons about the history of the art form and its most influential French, Italian and German composers.
“When my teacher first suggested it, I didn’t really like it,” admitted Pressley. “I really didn’t understand the background of it. Once I became more interested in the history of it, I just grew to really love it.”
Pressley’s latest effort — learning Torelli’s “Tu Lo Sai” — requires the same repetitive style of practice. Using a cassette recording of the song, Pressley rewinds and repeats specific sections, singing them again and again, syllable-by-syllable and word-by-word, until the pronunciation and tone are just right. From there, it’s a matter of using her voice to convey the proper amount of power and passion.
“People think it’s really easy to sing opera, but it really isn’t,” she said. “There is a lot of technique and practice that goes with it.”
When she’s not practicing opera, Brianna enjoys musical pursuits more in keeping with her age group. She is a member of the high school’s intermediate, show and advanced choirs and her performance in last year’s “Wolverine Idol” competition at the high school earned her top honors in the 11th-grade singers category. She also received a second-place award in a singing contest held last year at the Strawberry Festival in Lewiston.
“It amazes me,” said Brianna’s mom, Barbara, an employee at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center. “When I hear her sing, I don’t believe it’s her. I don’t believe that song is coming from her voice.”
Brianna plans to carry on with a career in music and hopes to either sing opera professionally or teach it to other aspiring singers. Next year, she plans to attend Niagara County Community College where she will work on getting her Associate’s Degree in music. From there, she’s looking to continue on with her musical education at SUNY Fredonia.
“I believe in her 100 percent,” Barbara said. “I told her one day I know she’s going to be singing in Paris. I know one day she is going to be singing in the Metropolitan Opera House.”