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Influences: Soprano Ana Maria Martinez

February 7, 2012 |  1:47 pm

Ana María Martínez remembers the struggle she went through to find -- and commit to -- her calling. Now she is becoming one of the world’s acclaimed operatic sopranos and, especially in the Spanish-language press, a star. But it did not come easy. 

Born and raised in Puerto Rico before moving with her family to New York, Martínez was educated at Juilliard and won the Plácido Domingo International Voice Competition. Martínez's mother, Evangelína Colón, sang opera on the side while working as a biochemist and later taught music and voice; her father, Dr. Ángel Martínez, is a psychoanalyst.

Today Martínez lives in Houston, which keeps her close to Houston Grand Opera, an institution with which she has a long relationship. Winner of a Latin Grammy for an album of Isaac Albéniz’s music, Martínez –- whom Opera magazine has said "requires ranking among the top lyric sopranos of the day” –- performs the role of Maria in Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” starting Saturday. She has performed with Domingo (who sings the title role here) many times, but this is their first staged opera together.

The soprano spoke about her influences.

Leonard Bernstein: I grew up in a household that had music going on all the time, because my mother was a singer. When I was 4, she did the role of Maria in "West Side Story." I especially loved the song “Cool.” Those songs had incredible intervals -- he was very forward thinking. That brought me into the world of it, and I was doomed. 

Iris Chacón, a Puerto Rican entertainer: This woman has a prime-time television show where she walked out in dental floss and three little pasties: She was a singer, dancer and actress. She fascinated me -- I was glued to the set, studying it. She had a whole series of dances and a complete lack of any inhibitions. Today I would not let my son, who’s 4, watch that. 

Plácido Domingo: I first heard of him when I was 6, when he sang with my mother; the opera in Puerto Rico was doing “Carmen.” To me, he was the nice man singing with my fabulous mommy. Seeing how she grew from that experience -- it taught me about excellence. All of these years go by, and when I’m in my early 20s I was competing in his competition. And he said, “Pardon me, but you look so familiar to me.”

My father and stepmother: There’s tremendous angst when you realize what you want to do as a performer, an opera singer. Especially if one of your parents does this. I used to hear: “Remember, your mother is the star -- you are good, but she is the star.” But I felt like nothing moved me like this; I was very conflicted. At 13, my father said to me, “This is your path, you are not just an extension of your mother.”  

Rollo May, existential psychologist: “Man’s Search for Himself” was important. That book gave me the courage to try for Juilliard. His way of writing and thinking were like my father’s. He said: We are all blessed, but we need to search inside ourselves.


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"Simon Boccanegra," Los Angeles Opera, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 972-8001, Saturday-March 4. 

Photo: Ana María Martínez. Credit: Tom Specht