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Ex-Brookhaven resident makes state opera debut

A young singer who called Brookhaven home for nine years willmake his Mississippi debut during the Natchez Opera FestivalSaturday as Romeo in William Shakespeare’s Romeo andJuliet.

Although he never lived here for any extended amount of time,Paul Saik said he did call Brookhaven home for nine years when hisparents lived here while he was attending college. His parentsmoved back to the Jackson area last week.

“Brookhaven has always felt like home to me, and I love itthere,” he said.

Saik, who now lives in New York, was born and raised in Jackson.During his stays in Brookhaven, he said he developed a lot offriends and considers the members of First Baptist Church to be anextended family.

“They’ve become very special to me,” he said.

The Martin Performing Arts Center in downtown Natchez is aperfect place for him to make his state debut, he said, becauseit’s close to both Jackson and Brookhaven.

“It’s a pleasure for me to get to come back home,” he said.”It’s something I’ve wanted to do. People who know me in the stateknow me as a pianist, not as a singer.”

Saik said he is known here primarily as a pianist because hebegan playing at the age of 3 and intended to pursue that as acareer. He said becoming an opera singer “actually started out as ajoke.”

The pianist graduated from Mississippi College with a bachelor’sdegree in piano and went on to Baylor University, where he receivedhis master’s degree in church music and organ. While he wasattending college, he performed in a few operas and his friendsbegan sending tapes to opera companies.

To his surprise, members of the Des Moine Metro Opera Companyliked what they heard and offered him a chance to join theirapprentice program.

“I didn’t know anything about opera. Nothing,” Saik said.

Despite that, he said, he accepted the offer and found himselfin a lead role the next season. He received a favorable review in aNew York magazine and has been singing opera ever since.

“I used to think opera was a big person singing on stage in aloud voice in a foreign language, but it’s not,” Saik said, citingthe common perception of those new to opera.

“The music itself will touch the people, whatever the language,”he said. “If you allow it to affect you it will move your emotions.Society tends to put a damper on people showing emotions, but whengoing to operas people do tend to let those emotions show.”

Dr. David Blackburn, general director of the Martin PerformingArts Center, said he specifically recruited Saik for the role ofRomeo in his production.

“We’re excited about him being here this weekend,” Blackburnsaid. “I first heard him several years ago, and I’ve watched himgrow. I was very, very impressed with the progress he’s made in hiscareer. This particular role fits his voice perfectly.”

“It’s a fabulous show,” Saik said. “It’s become my favorite rolenow.”

Saik said his progress has been primarily allowing his voice tomature and by gaining experience. Most opera singers don’t hit thepeak of their career, and their voice, until their mid-30s, hesaid.

“I just turned 30, that’s considered an infant in this career,”he said. “My voice is still changing and being trained. Two yearsago I couldn’t have sung Romeo, but I feel I’m ready now.”

“Hopefully, when people hear me they won’t think I still wasn’tready,” he joked.

Saik’s opposite in the production is another New York resident,Kimiko Hato, who will play Juliet.

Saik and Hato had not met until they were chosen for the Natchezproduction, Saik said, and they began training together a few weeksbefore they arrived in Natchez. They have been rehearsing inNatchez for nearly two weeks.

“She and Paul together make a marvelous Romeo and Juliet,”Blackburn said.

“This is a good first time opera to try to come to,” Saikconcluded. “Everyone knows the story of Romeo and Juliet so theycan sit back, listen to the music, and enjoy a great opera.”