- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 24, 2001

Alessandra Marc was working in the Washington Opera Chorus and commuting to the Kennedy Center on her motorcycle before she left Washington in 1984.

Beginning this week, she returns to the opera company where she began her career to share the lead role in "Turandot."

In the intervening years Miss Marc performed in the great concert halls of the world, after being picked as a winner in the 1985 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

"It's the perfect comeback," she says in an interview in her dressing room at the Kennedy Center Opera House. "This is like a family reunion."

Six of her former colleagues still sing with the Washington Opera Chorus, and the soprano says she enjoys the idea of coming back and sharing her international experiences with them.

This also is an opportunity for her to stay in her home in Chantilly and spend time with her husband, former stockbroker Bart Brakel, and their 6-year-old daughter, Olivia.

"I am very lucky to have a husband who stays home with our daughter," Miss Marc says. "He is the primary caretaker. But even when she has her father, it is very difficult [for me] to keep a relationship like that. Olivia is at that age when kids change all the time."

Miss Marc, who was born in Berlin as Judith Borden, studied at the University of Maryland. (She changed her name after winning the Metropolitan Opera competition. "Judith Borden just didn't cut it for me," she explains in a Washington Opera publication.)

Her signature roles include Aida, Chryosthemis, Ariadne, Sieglinde and Turandot, the role she will share in Washington with Sharon Sweet and Sun Xiu Wei.

Miss Marc says she tries to add a more human side to Princess Turandot that "is omitted in most sopranos' interpretations." In the Giacomo Puccini opera, the princess will marry only the hero who can answer three seemingly impossible riddles, and the failure means death.

According to the artist, most audiences are used to seeing Turandot as the ice princess — a cold, harsh and severe character.

"That is true to a certain extent, but in looking beyond the character, one finds a very vulnerable young virgin," she says. "For me, the logical interpretation is to include this human aspect, to show that she feels pain herself and that she has needs as a human being and as a young woman."

Miss Marc doesn't rest her voice before performances. The only thing she really needs to keep in good form, she says, is enough sleep — usually at least eight and up to 10 hours when she is performing.

The opera singer says she loves rock 'n' roll and riding motorcycles — she still keeps two at her house, though says she doesn't have time to ride them.

Aside from the matter of her ample physique, her primary concern at the photo session — Georg Solti told her years ago he would not offer her a contract until she lost weight — Miss Marc exudes confidence.

"Yes, this is a difficult business," she says. "Singing is not an easy way to make a living. One is very vulnerable, and along with that comes insecurity. And if one hears about difficulties among colleagues, it's more a matter of insecurity than it is of bad will."

But Miss Marc doesn't seem to have time for these things. When her engagement with the Washington Opera is over, she will be heading to Europe: first to Copenhagen, then Berlin and later La Scala in Milan, where she will have her debut in a new production of "Turandot."

Miss Marc sees differences in European and North American audiences.

"In Europe, the people tend to know more about what they are watching onstage, the history of the piece. They know if they have to clap or not to clap, depending on the music. Certain sophistication is more pronounced. Although if you go to New York City, that is an exception," she says.

New York City's Metropolitan Opera is for Miss Marc, as for most opera singers, a favorite stage. But she also has good memories of other places — for instance, Tokyo (where she'll appear in September, again in the role of Turandot). In Japan she had "unequaled experiences," thanks to the public response.

"Tokyo is the only place," Miss Marc says, "where before and after I sing I feel like a Madonna, or a pop star, with so many fans coming in with gifts to meet me and showing me their appreciation."

She also had a good experience in New Zealand. The artist likes the country's people, its landscape and its antinuclear and "green" philosophy.

"It's an incredible country," she says. "In fact, one of my dreams is to buy a house there."

Miss Marc also would like to become involved in a children's charity. "I think that artists have the obligation and the choice to use their visibility in front of the public to draw attention to help people who need it," she says.

At a certain point in her life, she says, she plans to battle the visual emphasis she believes is driving opera nowadays.

"In the last years, the opera is coming closer to the ideas of a Hollywood casting, and this has been accompanied by a little bit of a sacrifice for the singer voice," she says.

When is she going to reach that point in her life? One guesses she has plenty of time ahead. But that is only a guess because Miss Marc doesn't reveal her age.

"I think it's good to keep a little bit of mystery around oneself," she says. "All I can say is I'm old enough to have realized that."WHAT: Washington Opera's production of "Turandot"WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House, F Street and New Hampshire Avenue NWWHEN: 7 tonight and 8 p.m. Wednesday, plus various dates through March 27. Miss Marc performs Wednesday, March 8, 12 and 16TICKETS: $63 to $234PHONE: 202/295-2400

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