Her life is like a song Role: A 30-second appearance as a French singer is a dream come true for a local soprano and her very proud father.

October 16, 1997|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

The scene comes midway through "Washington Square": A fresh-faced French singer performs an art song in a Parisian bookstore. She sings of youthful longing, of the desire for recognition and fulfillment. She is also giving voice to the dreams of Marissa Anna Muro, lifetime resident of Highlandtown and 1997 graduate of Peabody Conservatory.

Muro, 23, is one of several Baltimoreans with a highly visible on-screen role in this 19th-century drama. After director Agnieszka Holland chose her from a group of local opera students in the spring of 1996, Muro spent a day performing her song on the set in the Peabody Library and two days recording it in Los Angeles.

In a rare departure from movie practice, "Washington Square" uses Muro's voice as well as her expressive face. And her complete performance of "L'Absence," a song written by composer Jan Kaczmarek to text by 19th-century poet Theophile Gautier, is on the compact disc of the soundtrack.

No matter how "Washington Square" plays with the critics, it marks a pivotal moment in the history of the Muro family. And, after a preview screening, Marissa and her parents, Lino and Sarah Muro, don't talk much about cinematography or plot.

"I almost felt I couldn't watch the screen," Marissa says.

"I watch for you," says Lino Muro in his heavy Italian accent. "It was wonderful. I felt light, very light, like I would fly. My heart was pumping. I want to announce to everybody, 'That's my daughter!' "

"My heart stopped beating for 30 seconds," says Sarah Muro.

The Muros are recalling their reactions over a late supper at Louie's, a good spot to celebrate Peabody-trained triumphs and a block away from the library where Marissa spent nine hours performing her two-minute song.

Worth every second

After so much work, the final print of "Washington Square" retains only one brief close-up of Marissa and an excerpt from her song. But, as the Muros tell it, those 30 seconds represent yet one more story in search of a script.

It starts with tenor Lino Muro, born and raised in Campagna, Italy, who dreams of pursuing a singing career in Italy after his military service. Lacking the money to go to a conservatory, however, he visits relatives in Baltimore and decides to stay, hoping to launch himself as a nightclub singer.

As life would have it, Lino is soon captivated by a young beauty named Sarah Jimenez. They marry, move into a rowhouse on Conkling Street, begin a family. Lino trades his vocal career for one in East Baltimore's garment industry.

After Marissa shows early musical talent, her parents dedicate themselves to providing her with the musical opportunities and training Lino missed. Private voice and piano lessons lead her into a performing arts program at Dundalk Community College and then on to the Baltimore School for the Arts, where 13-year-old Marissa wows the audition committee with her performance of "Memory" from "Cats."

Four years later, she is singing arias as a student at the Peabody Conservatory.

During her years at Peabody, Marissa works as a resident adviser at Peabody's Elderhostel and develops her performance skills in opera workshops, piano bars and restaurants. She covers the range from classical to jazz, even appearing at Theatre Project in an opera about talk shows.

But she doesn't forget her earliest inspiration. At her senior conservatory recital, Marissa not only dedicates a performance of the song "Because of You" to her father but also invites him to sing it with her.

The recital videotape shows the Muro duo in fine form: the lively 23-year-old soprano and equally lively 64-year-old former tenor, now baritone, holding hands and singing to one another.

"Marissa give me very good satisfaction," Lino Muro says. "What else can I say? If you sing love songs as boyfriend and girlfriend, it would be OK. But as father and daughter? It was very touching. I was touched myself; I had a tear in my eye."

"So did everyone else in the room," says musician Pat Springer, Marissa's mentor at Peabody, who also attended the film preview.

Now, the Muro story reaches another turning point. Where will Marissa's role in "Washington Square" lead? The movie seems a big opportunity. Audiences across America will see her on screen, hear her warm, expressive voice. Will the compact disc sell well? Will she be "discovered"?

"I think Marissa is a very talented singer; it's a gorgeous voice," says "Washington Square" director Holland.

"It's certainly one of the prettiest lyric soprano voices I've had," says Wayne Conner, Muro's voice professor at Peabody. "The song she sings in the movie has a certain melancholy quality which Marissa handles very well. She seems to like that mood."

"I guess I'm always able to get into a drama," Muro says. "I find I can relate to slow, sad songs."

At the moment, she is working full time as membership coordinator at the Downtown Athletic Club, singing at Troia's restaurant in the Walters Art Gallery and looking for more work in films, jazz and musical theater. She has even signed up to deliver singing telegrams.

"Making the movie was an incredible experience," she says. "Even though my part was cut a lot, I still feel fortunate I got to make it.

"But I also learned that nothing is ever guaranteed. So right now I'm just gigging, taking everything I can get."

Pub Date: 10/16/97

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