From axels to arias
A bum knee led her from the rink to the stage with her sweet soprano voice.
By STEVE BAAL
Published June 3, 2005
TARPON SPRINGS - As a youngster, Julia Coulmas was an aspiring ice skater. Then she blew out her knee at 15. Determined that she still have an after school activity, Coulmas' father, Michael, offered her options.
"It came down to riding lessons or singing lessons," recalled the Palm Harbor resident.
The results of her choice will be on display at 7 tonight at the Tarpon Springs Cultural Center, and there won't be a horse in sight when the now-26-year-old soprano takes the stage to perform "An Evening On Broadway."
In a program presented by the Florida Lyric Opera and accompanied by Rena Massey, Coulmas will sing selected songs from several Broadway stage favorites, including My Fair Lady, Porgy and Bess and Cats.
And just for good measure, she'll throw in a couple of arias from her first love, opera.
"When I went for my first lesson, Mario Laurenti, my voice instructor, said I had a voice, but if I really wasn't committed, I shouldn't waste my money or his time," Coulmas said. "That intrigued me. It was like a challenge."
She threw herself into the lessons and began learning arias. "When I learned that the songs all had stories attached to them, I was completely hooked," said Coulmas. But it wasn't until she was 20 that she finally appeared on stage. She had been promised the role of Mimi in Puccini's La Boheme by the Sunstate Opera, based at St. Petersburg's Palladium Theater. But Laurenti, the artistic director of the struggling opera company, told her the performance would have to be canceled because there was no money for sets.
Not to be thwarted, Coulmas emptied her bank account, headed to Home Depot and made her debut with sets she built herself.
"They were awful," said Coulmas. "So bad, a set designer who had been in the audience came up after the performance and volunteered to help in the future. But we made money and were able to finish our season."Coulmas has since appeared as Cio Cio San in Madama Butterfly, Nedda in Pagliacci and Adele in Die Fledermaus in local productions, and sings regularly in shows like tonight's performance, around the area.
She also has been working hard to spread her love of music, including the creation of the Youth Opera Appreciation organization three years ago. At area schools, libraries and community colleges, she presents programs during which she sings songs from popular operas, narrates the stories around them and explains operatic terms.
"Lots of schools have had to cut arts programs," Coulmas said. "So, it's a chance for me to share something I love with people who might otherwise never have an exposure to opera."
Recently, Coulmas participated in a workshop with the New York Metropolitan Opera, and admits to dreaming of one day performing just north of Broadway. But for this evening in Tarpon Springs she'll lend her voice to the songs of the Great White Way.