Soprano brings two cultures together in song

February 18, 1994|By Rona Hirsch | Rona Hirsch,Contributing Writer

In a program that crosses continents and culture, George Gershwin will share the bill with Mieczyslaw Karlowicz.

The eclectic mix of American and Polish music will be presented by soprano Alina Kozinska tomorrow night at Oakland in Columbia.

The dual concert will feature the Broadway show tunes of Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Cole Porter and Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the Polish art songs of Karlowicz, Jan Gall and Stanislaw Moniuszko.

"Columbia is a perfect place for it," said Ms. Kozinska.

"Howard County is pretty sophisticated in its cultural taste," said Oakland director Jan Morrison. "[County residents] look for and support talent that's slightly different and also comfortable, and that is what Alina is doing in this program."

Ms. Kozinska sang with the Washington Opera at the Kennedy Center in 1987 and with the Baltimore Opera Company for three years in the early 1980s. She also performed in the Summer Opera Theater's production of "Madam Butterfly" at Catholic University in 1982.

This will be her second performance at Oakland. In June, she performed a similar program at the Columbia Festival of the Arts.

"People couldn't stop raving," Ms. Morrison said. "Alina has a lot of presence. She has a lovely voice and she'll do songs that aren't cotton candy.

"You'll find yourself saying, 'Isn't she just wonderful?' Her voice does justice to the music, and she picked some crackerjacks," she added.

For the Oakland performance, the hourlong concert will feature "songs of spring and the many faces of love." Ms. Kozinska will also provide a written synopsis of the art songs she will sing in Polish, "so the audience will have a feeling for the essence of the songs," she said.

An art song, she explained, is a song in classical music written for voice. "They're actually poems set to music," she said.

Although vocalists often perform works of popular U.S. composers, rarely do they put them on the program with music of other cultures.

"No one in the United States that I know is promoting Polish music, and I have this wealth of songs," Ms. Kozinska said. "But music is a universal language. It crosses boundaries and unites people."

The Baltimore resident, who says she is in her 30s, was reared in a rich ethnic atmosphere. "A thread of Polish culture surrounds my entire background," she said.

Her Polish-born father, Boleslaw Kozinski, fought in the Polish Underground during World War II. Her mother, Janina, was born in Baltimore, but grew up in Poland. After they were liberated from a German concentration camp, they married and moved to Baltimore.

"I would sit at the piano with my family and play Polish folk songs, art songs, arias from Polish operas, Polish soldier songs, and tangoes and waltzes in Polish," she said. "My father would dance with us.

She credits her strong instrumental background with her childhood days at the piano.

"Dad would pick up any instrument and play it by ear. I would play and my dad would sing and that developed in me that sensitivity to music," she said.

While attending the College of Notre Dame, Ms. Kozinska studied voice at the Peabody Conservatory of Music as a special student.

After graduating, she earned a master's degree on scholarship at the Academy of Music in Lodz in Poland. She studied for five years, from 1977-82, as a vocal performer under Professor Jadwiga Pietraszkiewicz.

"I went to Lodz because I wanted to study with this world-renowned teacher," she said.

"Since I was bilingual, I also thought it would be interesting to take that route and to find out about the country where my parents were raised. It has a strong voice school and a famous film school."

She still keeps in touch with the professor who has helped her find many of the compositions she performs, some that are not in print.

The vocalist has returned several times to Lodz to perform and record with the Polish Radio and TV Orchestra. She was also a featured artist while studying at the Great Opera Theater in Lodz, performing in a program of American contemporary music that featured U.S. students studying in Poland.

"I was invited to sing for the United States ambassador in Warsaw and [the visiting] Sen. Edmund Muskie," she said.

Four years ago, Ms. Kozinska was interviewed by Maryland Public Television for its "Eastern European Freedom Celebration."

The program featured a live phone conversation with her teacher from Lodz and Ms. Kozinska's performance of a Chopin art song.

Although the artist was trained in opera and was a winner in the New York Metropolitan Opera Competition in the mid-1980s, she rejected a career in opera.

"A lot of singers are trained in opera," she said. "It gives them a good command of vocal technique and expands range.

"But opera is a different ballgame in the United States. In Europe, there are resident theater interns, so artists are guaranteed work for one or two seasons.

"In the United States, that is usually not the case. So a lot of singers are like Gypsies and need to travel from town to town to find work."

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