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Russian vocalist finds home away from home in La Jolla

As a child growing up in Belarus, vocalist Alla Markovich had penpals that lived in other Soviet countries. In the letters she and her friends exchanged, a common topic of discussion was where they wanted to live when they grew up. Markovich’s mother recently found one of her daughter’s old letters that had not been sent. In it, she imagined that she would one day live in America, a place where it seemed anything was possible.

“When I was young, America was amazing,” Markovich said. “I still can’t believe that I am here.”

At 31 years old, Markovich not only lives in America with her husband, Vladimir, but now has a 10-month-old son and a bright future ahead of her as a classical singer.

Markovich was a soloist of the Opera and Ballet Theatre from 1998 to 2003 in St. Petersburg, Russia. There she earned both her undergraduate degree and her doctoral degree in solo and chamber singing from the St. Petersburg State Conservatory.

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During that time, she also performed with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, competed in several international vocal competitions and gave solo concerts on famous stages in Russia, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.

The Markoviches moved to San Diego after Alla’s graduation so that Vladimir could pursue a doctoral degree in physics at UCSD.

“At first I thought I might need a bigger city like New York, but now I don’t want to leave,” Alla Markovich said. “I can always leave to audition in New York or perform somewhere else for two months and then come back. I think that San Diego is the greatest city in the world. It is a quiet, healthy, rich city. And La Jolla, it is the best part.”

Daniel Hendrick, an accomplished San Diego tenor and co-founder of the Hendrick/Montano Artist Foundation, first heard Markovich sing at the Westgate Hotel two years ago, where the two of them were introduced by a mutual friend.

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“My first impression of Alla was ‘Wow. What a phenomenon,’ ” Hendrick said. “That’s really the best way to describe her. Her voice is so powerful. It’s a very big, operatic sound. I was very impressed with her and how she came to this country without knowing any English.”

Markovich and Hendrick have performed together in several concerts in San Diego and Mexico, including performances of Hendrick’s original music.

“We’ve performed duets and scenes together where she has really shined,” he said. “I have a very powerful tenor voice and usually it’s hard to find a soprano that’s not intimidated by that.”

Markovich recently inquired about auditioning for the San Diego Opera, but they were not casting for lead roles at the time. Unfortunately, there is not much opportunity for professional singers in San Diego, Hendrick said, so it may take some time for her to break in.

“It will take a lot of networking at first and getting those people to be willing to take a look into her,” he said. “But once they do, they won’t want to let her go, because she’s really an extraordinary, rare talent.”

When Alla and Vladimir lived in St. Petersburg, Alla’s salary was about $100 a month, and her husband’s was about $300. They lived in a communal apartment, a style of housing left over from the Soviet era where couples, families and individuals each owned a room in the same house.

“You cannot control who you live with,” Alla Marakovich said. “You could have a family living on one side of you, and on the other, he could be a drunk.”

Vladimir Markovich said options are limited for people seeking housing in St. Petersburg.

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“There is nothing you can do except sell and buy again,” Vladimir Markovich said. “In a city of 4 million people, 300,000 families live in these communal flats. It is a big problem.”

Now the couple and their son live in a comfortable home near UCSD and are pleased to have friendly neighbors.

“I have so much to be happy about since I have come here,” Alla Markovich said. “After a concert in December, I remember, I was celebrating with some friends. I had this amazing feeling. I was crying. I said, ‘I must thank America. I have so much.’ ”

For her upcoming solo concert, Markovich will perform arias by Wag-ner, Massenet and Puccini, as well as selections from “The Sound of Music,” “Carousel,” and “The Music Man.”

Markovich will also perform “Satires” by the Russian composer Shostakovich, a first in San Diego. An English translation of the lyrics will be provided by Sasha Chorny.

The work was originally written for the celebrated Russian vocalist and philanthropist Galina Vishnevskaya, whom Markovich studied under in her doctoral course. Markovich has performed the piece 20 times and received rave reviews from critics.

“Everyone told me, ‘After Vishnevskaya, no one can sing ‘Satires’ as well as you,’ ” she said. “I hope that the public will enjoy it.”

Hendrick believes the public will be enjoying Markovich’s talent for years to come.

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“If you love great sopranos, you wouldn’t want to miss her,” Hendrick said. “As I said before, she is truly a phenomenon.”

The concert will be held Sunday, March 19, at 3 p.m. at the Greene Music Concert Hall, 7480 Miramar Road.

For more information, call (858) 586-7000.