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Upper Hanover Girl Travels to Italy with International Opera Theater
Written by Kelly Chandler, Staff Writer

Maggie Friedman, a seventh-grader at Upper Perkiomen Middle School, practices music she performed in Italy with the International Opera Theater.  She will also be performing Nov. 8 at the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi Convent in Aston. 

        It has been a bit of a whirlwind year for Maggie Friedman.  The 12-year-old recently went from interplanetary to international.

        First, Friedman debuted her talents in Upper Perkiomen Middle School's production of "Schoolhouse Rock Live Jr.," where she sang "Interplanet Janet."  This summer she made the jump to the international arena when she performed in Italy with the Philadelphia-based International Opera Theater.

        Friedman said she really didn't have any aspirations to pursue singing on the big stage.  She performed for the first time publicly in 2014 at Make Music Upper Perk, an area event which celebrates local musicians.  Make Music Upper Perk co-founder Susan Royer referred Friedman to a vocal coach who encouraged her to try out for the opera theater.

        "I tried out, they called me back and I sang for them again," Friedman said.  "A couple days later they told me I made it.  We were so excited."

        Just like that, Friedman was on tap to sing and act in two world-premiere productions, "Error!," a modern take on Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors," and "Hildegard Von Bingen: Bambina Mistica" which celebrates the life of St. Hildegard, a German Benedictine abbess, mystic, writer/composer and philosopher.  Both feature original music.

        Friedman, who said she was appreciative of Royer, her coach, Kaitlyn Waterson, and everyone who helped her make the trip a reality, had to learn 122 pages of music for "Errors!" and 70 for the cantata, or choral composition for "Hildegard."  She would play a virtue or nun in both.

        She practiced every day for a few hours for two months and worked twice a week with her voice coach.  While she said the material was difficult because it was all in Italian, Friedman took it all in stride.  About a month before the group's departure date, she practiced with Karen Saillant, well-known artistic director of the International Opera Theater.

        There Saillant helped the performers with pronunciation, how to breathe properly, count measures and conduct.

        "It wasn't easy, and for a girl of her age, it could have seemed impossible.  But Maggie forged forward.  She could sing and her voice was beautiful," said Saillant.  "She seemed to thrive on the challenge."

        "The days were long but exciting and fun," Friedman said. 

        After raising enough money through a 'youfundme' page on Facebook, Friedman and her mom, Colleen, flew to Rome July 30.  They rented a flat in Citta della Pieve, about 80 miles north of the capital city, where "Errors!" would be performed.

        The young singer and actor said she fell in love with Italy, its friendly people, fresh and flavorful food and specifically Citta della Pieve.

        "It was small and pretty.  Everything was made of stone and the streets were uneven and narrow.  There are a lot of churches there and at noon every day all the bells ring at once.  It's beautiful."

        Every day featured rehearsals, except Sundays.  Friedman also practiced alongside professional opera singers.

        "They treated me kindly and gave me really good advice they showed me how to project my voice and move around the stage comfortably," she said.  "It was so much fun."

        In the meantime, Colleen Friedman assisted the costume designers with collecting plastic water bottles from area restaurants to make elaborate costumes and set designs.

        Maggie Friedman went on to perform "Hildegard" at St. Francis of Assisi on Aug. 15 and in La Scarzuola on Aug. 16.  "Error!" ran in the historic theater in Citta della Pieve, called Teatro degli Avvaloranti, from Aug. 26-29.

        The lights and the cameras didn't seem to bother her much, and Friedman said she really enjoyed playing her part in front of a live audience.  She sang two solos in "Hildegard." 

        "Maggie continued to develop and in performance she exhibited a tenderness and beauty that I found truly inspirational," said Saillant of Friedman's work in Italy.

        While she didn't get to enjoy much time off, Friedman said one highlight was participating in Citta della Pieve's annual Renaissance festival, Palio dei Terzieri.  There she saw parades, displays, a bow and arrow contest and participated in a flour battle in the town square.

        "Everyone gets to throw a small bag of white flour at someone and the whole square gets covered in flour.  I still had flour in my shoes when I came home," she said.

        Besides the flour, Friedman said she also brought home an appreciation for everything that goes into an opera production and growth as a performer.

        "Performing with professional actors gave me confidence to be a better singer and actor.  I learned how important it was to work as a team and I made a ton of friends.  It was a trip I will never forget."





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