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Frisco music school gives El Centro native a second chance

December 20, 2001|By RICHARD MONTENEGRO, Staff Writer
  • Anthony Longoria, 20, a former El Centro resident living in Riverside, will soon head to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to study opera. CUAUHTEMOC BELTRAN PHOTO
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When 20-year-old Anthony Longoria opens his mouth, a rich, effortless and largely untrained tenor sings forth, commanding attention with its beauty, power and grace.

Standing over a piece of music — "Mariä Wiegenlied," more commonly known as "The Virgin's Slumber Song" — Longoria wraps his voice around the brutish Germanic language, sculpting it a cappella into a soothing holiday suite perfect for his upcoming 6 p.m. Christmas Eve performance at First Presbyterian Church in Brawley.

That performance could prove to be one of the El Centro native's final Imperial Valley showings as a mere novice singer.

Come January, the arduous task of training and honing Longoria's God-given ability into the kind of instrument that could easily grace the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House will begin when he starts classes at the prestigious San Francsico Conservatory of Music.

But getting to this point hasn't been an easy trip for Longoria, who admits he was ready to chuck his dreams of a career in music.

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The talent has always been there, he concedes as much. It's the commitment that has wavered. Still, Longoria calls the opportunity to attend the conservatory his "second chance."

"I had sort of given up hope of this ever happening," Longoria said. "That's why I say this is my second chance."

It was what he describes as a whim back in October that sent Longoria into a mad dash to put together the comprehensive conservatory application packet, gather letters of recommendation and prepare a repertoire of four songs to be ready to sing before a panel of eight conservatory staffers.

And sing he did. Winning over the panelists with a traditional African-American spiritual, "My Lord What A Morning," and "Per La Gloria" by 18th century Italian composer Bononcini, Longoria won admission and a partial scholarship.

At age 11, Longoria was first introduced to the world of vocal music and entertaining when he took on the role of Santa Claus in an elementary school production of "The North Pole's Gone Rock 'n' Roll."

Bitten by the musical bug, the next year Longoria became one of the youngest members of the Imperial Valley Master Chorale.

Soon after, he had his first big solo, singing "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" by Rodgers and Hammerstein."

However, it was two stints at the California State Summer School for the Arts in Valencia when he was 15 and 17 that proved two of the most influential moments in his life.

"It was significant for me being in a community of artists, spending time with them and learning from them," he said.

After graduating from the Southwest Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts in 2000, Longoria earned an Anne and Gordon Getty Music Foundation Scholarship to the University of California, Irvine to study vocal music.

That was the beginning of what could have been the end for Longoria's career.

"At that time I knew I should be studying voice, but I wasn't really ready for it," he said.

At the time, and even before, Longoria began to pull his focus from the vocal music some of his acquaintances would say he was born for to other pursuits such as drama and writing.

Into his freshman year at Irvine, Longoria took ill, dropped out of school and came home.

When he got sick, Longoria began to say to himself, "Well, what if I don't have a voice and can't sing anymore," he recalled.

He threw himself in writing, taking a job as an intern at the Imperial Valley Press, all the while telling himself he would sing the occasional recital or performance.

But he said he couldn't run from his ability any longer. It was time to return to singing.

"I do believe my voice is a God-given gift," he said, adding with such talents come a degree of responsibility, something he wasn't ready for a year ago.

"I'm not 100 percent ready to take that responsibility (now), but I'm more ready than I was," he said.

At 20, Longoria is fully aware that a classically trained singer's voice hits its prime at 30 and, he said, time is wasting.

"I know that even though I'm not 100 percent ready, this is what I need to do now," he added.

Those close to Longoria would agree.

His mother, Mary Anne Chew-Longoria, said, "Richard (Anthony Longoria's father) and I were very excited that he's going.

"I think it's something that he's really wanted … hopefully he'll pursue it," she added. "I'm nervous about him going. I'm just trying to get it to sink in."

Said music director for the North County Chorale and Orchestra, Dr. Patricia Saracco: "I've been encouraging him to do this ever since I heard him sing the first time at 15."

Saracco fondly remembers that moment. Longoria was the tenor soloist in Schubert's "Mass in G," performing alongside a guest bass soloist from the Los Angeles Opera at the former First Presbyterian Church in El Centro.

"This soloist is standing looking ahead when Anthony sang," she said. "I thought the bass soloist was going to jump. It was so funny. We could not believe a 15-year-old had a voice like that.

"I'm so excited for him. I wrote a recommendation for him when he applied," Saracco said. "I just kept saying to him … ‘a voice like yours is a rare voice. You can't work to get it.'

"It's a rare gift I guess he's finally decided to pursue," she said.

When his training is complete, Longoria said he hopes to have a career in music.

He said, "I would like to be a professional opera singer and recitalist.

"I just want to work," he added. "I have big dreams, but I also want to be practical."

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