Maria Natale was born to sing. She’s known it since she was a child, and starring as the fallen woman in the Opera Maine production of “La Traviata” fulfills a professional goal. It’s her dream role, and one that she hopes will help propel her to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in the near future.

Maria Natale Photo courtesy of Opera Maine

Hidenori Inoue never imagined singing and didn’t recognize that he had a worthy voice until a few years ago, when a vocal coach, after hearing him sing for the first time, asked, “Do you want to make a career out of this?”

Natale and Inoue took different paths but are on stage together in “La Traviata,” which opens Wednesday night at Merrill Auditorium and repeats on Friday. Written by the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, “La Traviata” is among the most popular and produced operas. It tells the dramatic story of Violetta, a vulnerable courtier, and her lover. It will be sung in Italian with English supertitles.

Natale, a soprano, stars as Violetta and will be on stage nearly the entire performance. Inoue, a bass, appears as Baron Douphol, a smaller role.

She’s been singing most of her life, appearing on stage for the first time in second grade and getting cast as the lead in the musical “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” when she was 10. Her Italian grandfather sang opera as an amateur and predicted her career as a singer. “I expect to see you at the Met in 20 years,” he told her after her early debut.

Just before he died, he left her his collection of opera records and music books. “He inspired me through the music he gave me,” Natale said. “It’s why I’m doing what I do.”

She has dreamed about the role of Violetta “for a very long time” and has actively prepared for it for about two years. She wanted to be ready for the first opportunity. “I’ve known I would be a Violetta some day,” said Natale, who lives in New Jersey. “You need to be 100 percent comfortable with it, because it’s a challenging role and difficult to sing from beginning to end. She goes through a dramatic emotional journey.”

Hideori Inoue Photo courtesy of Opera Maine

Inoue also comes from a musical family. He grew up in Japan, where his grandfather was a composer and both of his parents sang opera. But he hated opera as a kid. “I stayed away from opera and did not sing,” he said.

Instead he practiced martial arts, studied law in Japan and moved to the United States five years ago for a career in business. The move to the states prompted his turn to opera. He missed his parents and decided to take singing lessons as a tribute to their influence.

“The moment I started singing, I felt so right, like that same feeling you have when you meet the right person. You just know it,” said Inoue, 30.

He took lessons at The Juilliard School and enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music, where he recently graduated with his master’s degree.

As a student, the first opera singer he heard perform live was Natale. She also was studying at Manhattan School of Music and happened to be performing when he heard her by chance. He was captivated with her voice. “She has been my opera idol, and I can’t believe I’m standing on the stage with her,” he said.

Their link at Manhattan School of Music is Dona D. Vaughn, Opera Maine’s artistic director. She’s helped prepare students for careers in opera for many years and brought many of the school’s most promising students through Maine on their way to the Met and other opera halls.

Natale hopes to be the latest, just as her grandfather predicted.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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