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The Boston Globe

'La Plaza' Series Looks At The Making Of A 'Diva': Jossie Perez

Nick Rafeal, Globe Correspondent

May 18, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Boston Globe, Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

For the last 25 years, "La Plaza" has given audiences a look at many aspects of America's Latino community. This week, the WGBH series will profile Jossie Perez, a 26-year-old singer who chased a childhood dream of being an opera singer and landed the lead in the Boston Lyric Opera's production of "Carmen" on the Common last year. "La Plaza: Becoming a Diva" (which airs Tuesday at 7:30 on Channel 2) will examine Jossie's childhood in Puerto Rico, the challenges of her pursuit of a career in opera, and the intense training that led to her starmaking turn in this unique "Carmen." The half-hour documentary offers exclusive behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Perez and observers of her career. "We look for stories that have a strong central character, some dramatic tension, and a clear beginning, middle, and end," says Joseph Tovares, managing producer of the "La Plaza" series. "Jossie's story is loaded with it.

It has all the makings of great television." "My father wanted to be an opera singer," says Perez. "But he had to give up that dream to support his parents. He always hoped one of his kids would pursue it. Obviously, his prayers were answered." Casting a fairly untested singer in the role of Carmen was a risky decision that speaks of Perez's prowess as a performer. According to critics, few young singers possess the vocal maturity to succeed in the role. "Everything fell into place," says Perez. "The dialogue and the dancing were difficult to learn. But I didn't need very much preparation for the acting or to understand the role. Because of my Spanish background and because I relate to the characters, I didn't feel nervous." Perez allowed camera crews to follow her from the early stages of rehearsals to the final moments before she took the stage. Those involved said the singer didn't have any reservations about the experience. "Whenever you do a project like this, you want to find somebody who is willing to open up and talk about their creative process," says producer Angelica Allende Brisk. "Opera singers tend to make it look very easy, so it was fantastic to go behind the scenes and see how grueling the preparation actually is." The Lyric Opera's "Carmen on the Common" was an even greater success than anticipated. An estimated 70,000 people - more than three times the expected number - attended the performance on opening night. "On stage, I didn't really have a sense of how many people were there," says Perez. "During the intermission, somebody told me and I couldn't believe it. I'm really proud that Boston came out to support us in that way. It says a lot about the city." Perez hopes her segment of "La Plaza" can set an example for ambitious young singers in the Latino community. "I know not all parents are as supportive as mine. So if there are young kids out there who are interested in opera, and they don't have that support, I hope that seeing this show helps them. It's not easy to make it - but if you truly believe in your dream, you can get there."

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