All in the Family

Husband and wife John Osborn and Lynette Tapia grace the stage for 'La Fille du Regiment.'

Upstairs in the hotel room, there's a bit of a scene. Baby paraphernalia is crammed into the smallish two-room suite, which has yet to be tidied by the housekeeper. Opera singers Lynette Tapia and John Osborn are fluttering about getting ready for a photo shoot, while baby Ana, held by Grandma Tapia, is beginning to fuss for her mother's milk.

Soprano Tapia and tenor Osborn are like any harried new parents trying to figure out life with baby. But some parenting standards are already established. When the photographer proposes taking a shot of the baby being fed, he adds that it will take him 10 minutes to set up.

"She can't wait," her mother says firmly, giving a slight toss to her long brown hair.

The photographer concedes immediately. Clearly this new mom is not to be crossed. It's a determination that will serve her well this weekend, when Tapia returns to the stage just three months after giving birth. The 27-year old soprano sings the demanding title role of Marie in Arizona Opera's first-ever production of Donizetti's romantic comedy La Fille du Regiment.

"Marie is a big sing," Tapia had said earlier, digging into an omelet at breakfast, "four and a half arias, two trios, two duets. It's my first job back and I'm getting my muscles back in shape. I haven't sung opera on stage in six months, but I'm doing fine."

Osborn, her husband of almost five years, beamed at his wife across the table, less eager to talk shop than to rhapsodize about Ana's perfect birth. ("The nurse said, 'You have a little girl!' I was crying.") He sings the part of Marie's beloved, Tonio, but unfortunately for romantics in the audience he won't be singing with his real-life wife. Osborn opens Friday night with soprano Tracy Dahl, and they sing together again Sunday afternoon. Tapia performs Saturday night with Benjamin Brecher.

Though they've sung together many times, including in Opera Pacific's Fille in 1998, they're not too disappointed that they won't be playing out their own romance on stage. On the contrary, they count themselves blessed to be working in the same city at the same time.

"We've always been separated a lot," Tapia noted. "We're happy to be together."

Plus, Osborn put in, with Tapia's mother on hand to mind the baby, "We'll get to see each other on our opening nights."

The 1840 bel canto opera, sung in French with English surtitles, tells the comedic tale of an orphaned baby raised in a French regiment. The child, Marie, grows up intending to marry one of the company soldiers, but outsider Tonio turns her head. After assorted surprise identity switches and plot turns, a happy ending awaits.

"It's a charming opera, very fun," Tapia said. "The melodies are beautiful. All of Donizetti's music takes quite a technique.

"Marie, for instance, is onstage for almost two hours. Tenors singing Tonio have to hit 10 high Cs." Her husband, she added with pride, has no trouble meeting the demanding Donizetti Cs. "For tenors, it's usually a big freak-put," Osborn agreed. "But it's not such a challenge for me. Fortunately I've been given the ability to sing in a high range."

Now 28, Osborn first realized his talent as a teen back in Iowa during a competition. Singled out of a chorus of 3,000 to sing a solo, he said, "That was the moment I felt I was a singer." After taking a degree at Simpson College, he won a Metropolitan Opera competition, and entered the Met's young artists training program. For three years, he was able to hear the world's greatest singers on the New York stage, and got a few chances to sing small parts himself, in the chorus and in the park. Just this past fall, he made a proper Met debut, singing in Don Giovanni under James Levine. His only regret, he said, is that his wife, then eight months pregnant, was unable to fly out to see him.

Tapia, 27, a California native, said her coloratura voice developed early, and she began training at age 14 with Vivian Weede, now a Tucson resident. She won her first big contest at age 16, and went on to study at Oberlin, the Cleveland Institute and Yale.

"1996 was a big year for me. I won five competitions and then I won the Domingo Competition. I sang in all these venues in New York, I got my name out, got management, and I got work."

And that year she also married Osborn. The pair have since sung all over the U.S. and abroad, separately and together. The pregnancy fell into place as easily as their careers did, they said. Their schedules for 2000 seemed propitious, and Tapia got pregnant so fast that at first she paid no attention to all the usual little signs, attributing her nausea, for instance, to food poisoning.

At pregnancy's end, a labor dispute in far-off Argentina helped guarantee months of new-family time.

"I was supposed to work in Buenos Aires," Osborn said, "and leave on November 12, her due date. Then the stage crew went on strike and management canceled the rest of the season. I took off all of November and December. We've had so many holidays apart. To be home, together, for the holidays, with our little baby ..." His sentence trailed off, and he shook his head. "Well, it was a joy."

Arizona Opera performs Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment at 7:30 p.m. Friday, February 23 and Saturday, February 24 and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 25 at the TCC Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. Directed by Joseph A. LoSchaivo, the opera is sung in French, with English surtitles. Cal Stewart Kellogg conducts the orchestra. Tickets cost $19 to $67; they're available at Ticketmaster, at the door or by calling 321-1000.