Some may think the farm fields of south Lake County an unlikely setting from which to raise opera singers.
Yet, who is to say the Hoosier countryside is any less fertile than that in the shadow of the Austrian Alps or Joyce DiDonato's Prairie Village, Kansas?
Alexandra "Sasha" Lilovich, 18, lives on a farm in rural Cedar Lake, graduated early from Crown Point High School and is now pursuing a degree in musical performance at Valparaiso University.
On Thursday, (October 24) Lilovich will take to the Star Plaza stage to sing "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen accompanied on piano by her voice teacher, dramatic soprano Brenda Roberts, as part of Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra's Halloween Pops Concert.
"'Habanera' was the first opera song I ever heard. I kind of fell in love with it," Lilovich said. Singing it now fulfills a passage in her life, she said. As an eighth grader, she was chosen to sing with NISO during an open air concert in her hometown. "The lake was the backdrop. The ambience of it all was perfect...I was fortunate to be selected then and now, but I feel I deserve it more now," she said.
Lilovich has been under Roberts' tutelage since 2008 after her parents, Mamie and John Lilovich, approached the Lowell native and opera star who had arrived fresh from performances in Germany to settle her mother's estate.
"I was horribly intimidated by her. She wasn't going to teach me at first because I was so young," Lilovich recalled.
Roberts said, "University teachers many times look down on young voices and don't know how to build a voice...At the conservatory, I enjoyed working with young voices...I immediately thought Sasha's was a talent to develop."
For 11 years, Roberts chaired the vocal music department at the university in Mainz, Germany, but never considered a teaching career as she graced the most famous of opera stages, including LaScala in Milan and the New York Metropolitan Opera. It was in Germany, though, where she found her musical home. A devotee of Wagner, she was the youngest to perform Brunhilde at the renowned Bayreuth Festival and includes an impressive list of works from Mahler, Strauss and Schreker in her repertoire.
Today, Roberts is writing, occasionally performing and ensconced comfortably in her new career as teacher. "It's fulfilling. It's my passion," she said.
Roberts said she met Samantha Ingebretsen, a 17-year old junior at Lowell High School, at her home church, the United Methodist Church of Lowell, where they each enjoy singing.
"A year and a half ago, I walked in with no technique at all. I had a voice, but I had no way to project it. She brought my voice to what it is now," Ingebretsen said of Roberts.
Ingebretsen was selected by Maestro Kirk Muspratt, the NISO director and conductor, to perform for the symphony's March 14 concert at Bethel Church in Crown Point. She will sing "Caro Mio Ben," accompanied by Roberts.
"I grew up knowing I loved singing. I own horses and live on a farm," Ingebretsen said. Her parents are Mike and Amy Ingebretsen. She began singing through her school and 4-H earning honors in both as did Lilovich.
Ingebretsen said she became known as the "opera girl" after she sang in seventh grade. "I thought then maybe I could sing opera," she said. Roberts' training has convinced her she wants to include it somehow in her future.
Ingebretsen has become known for her rendition of the "National Anthem" and in August was selected to sing it for the Lake County Fair Fireworks Show. "It was one of the best experiences I've had so far," she said. In March, she expects an equal or larger thrill.
Both young women enjoy various types of music. Ingebretsen is a country music fan, while Lilovich said she loves to listen to the sultry sounds of Peggy Lee.
Roberts said the technique she teaches her students now she learned from Northwestern University instructor Hermanus Baer. It serves many genres well, she said.