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June 1999

Budding Prospects: American Mezzo-Soprano sings happier tune

Opera Singer, Muriel Maselli, gets a new look at Munich and her life

Nam myoho renge kyo (to devote one’s life to the ultimate Law of the universe) — the Nichiren Daishonin Buddhist chant said to awaken inner enlightenment and happiness. Angela Bassett spoke these four words in the film What’s Love Got to Do With It?, based on Tina Turner’s life story, and Munich-based opera singer Muriel Maselli heard them. “I certainly wasn’t physically abused,” assures Maselli, “but when I saw the movie I realized I had let my career, my life become inextricably entangled with a romantic relationship. That movie, i.e. Buddhism, turned everything around for me.” When the mezzo-soprano arrived in Munich in 1983, she, like most other performers looking for “the big break,” worked odd-jobs by day and rehearsed by night. And like many foreign transplants, she found herself far from home in the name of love. “I actually had plans to forgo Europe and try my hand at New York. But a friend talked me into one audition in Munich. I met a guy — who subsequently became my voice teacher, manager and boyfriend — and stayed.” While Maselli claims to have made major improvements to her vocal and artistic capabilities under her mentor’s direction, she lost her sense of self, becoming a marionette in his plan to make her a diva. Maselli’s extensive résumé is no indication of her rocky road to success. She has won important roles with international companies including the title role in Carmen and Madame Butterfly’s Suzuki, and has even taken the stage at Carnegie Hall. “I was always on the edge of a breakthrough,” admits the Washington, DC-area native, “but the hierarchy of the opera world is tough. The houses are rated ‘A-D.’ I’ve been told, with the right agent, I would have made an ‘A’ house. But I’m beginning to think a singer has to do her own PR.” Even praising opera critics couldn’t make an instant success of the former voice teacher: “Muriel Maselli brings Carmen a finely developed dramatic sense as well as an exciting voice.” “Her natural musicianship and perfect operatic ability are awe-inspiring.” Engagements came in, but mainly stand-in parts for bizarre, modern adaptations with only hours notice. “They called me late one evening and said ‘Can you do Amneris?, well, then be here tomorrow at three.’ I arrived, wardrobe people dressed me in combat boots and fatigues á la Patty Hearst, I was thrown onto the stage with no time to get acquainted with the staging. During the entire performance the director motioned to me to go to the other side of the stage from behind the curtain. It was a riot!” Shortly after Angela Bassett inadvertently led Maselli to Buddhism in 1994, the soprano became aware that her struggles were mainly self-imposed — she would rather find joy in singing than become a star. “The chant taps into your Buddhahood,” explains the charismatic American without sounding preachy, “It develops the wisdom, courage, compassion and life force which already exist inside each of us.” Maselli uses the 3000-year-old teachings to realize her goals. “I am, for the first time in Europe, independent. It feels great! I’m writing my own bills — I love sending out invoices for my work — and getting my own engagements. I would never want to be tied down to the rigidity of company life now, freelancing is such fun.” Current amusements in Maselli’s self-employed life include recitals — in June she performed Italian arias at the Max-Joseph-Saal in the Residenz to benefit the child-aid organization Sternstunden — and voice-overs for film, television and language tapes. “Dubbing is a ball,” smiles the at-peace artist, “you can find me on bookstore shelves, commercials and in-flight travelogues — what a kick!” The singer, who often compares her reality to the movies, even has a new love interest. “He’s a widower. I met him on the Internet, it’s like a cross between Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail!” Though the golden-throated Virginian only recently “found herself” via the 13th-century Buddhist monk Nichiren, the Vogtland Anzeiger newspaper had already unintentionally prophesized Maselli’s new fortunes years ago: “clever, strong women dominate, both in voice and gesture, and that is Muriel Maselli as Frau Reich.”

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