Journey to the land of sun and romance

Eva Gheorghiu of Olympia fell in love with opera when she was 12 years old.

Now 16 and a junior at Olympia High School, the soprano will sing Sunday with the Olympia Symphony Orchestra. She will perform arias from two Puccini operas as part of the symphony’s “A Night in Italy.” The evening also features violin soloist Simone Porter, 13, of Seattle, playing two of the concertos from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.

The concert will showcase opera music, the concertos and “Romeo and Juliet: Fantasy-Overture” by Tchaikovsky — who is, that’s right, Russian.

“Tchaikovsky loved Italy, and he contemplated moving there,” said symphony conductor Huw Edwards. “He wrote many of his pieces while vacationing in Italy, and of course, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is set in Italy. Although it’s a work by a Russian composer, it was very much inspired by Italy on many levels.”

It also is an operatic piece that fits the evening’s theme, Edwards said.

“Italy doesn’t really have famous composers who wrote symphonies; their big thing was opera,” Edwards said. “When you think of Germany, you think of symphonies and concertos, and with France, you think more of ballet. Italy, they are famous for their operas.”

The symphony will perform pieces from several operas, including the arias from “Gianni Schicchi” and “La Boheme,” which Eva will sing.

Listening to music at the age of 12, Eva discovered soprano Maria Callas — and she said it was like falling in love.

“I’d never been moved like that with music before,” Eva said. “I just cried, and I knew. I said ‘I want to do this; I want to be able to move people like this.’ I had this kind of urgency.

“It was instant, like a lightning bolt striking.”

But her first connection to opera came when she was less than a year old. Eva and her parents, both oboe players and teachers, were living in Los Angeles when the 1994 Northridge earthquake destroyed their home.

Eva and her mother, Karen Gheorghiu, moved to Olympia to stay in the home of noted coloratura soprano Cyndia Seiden, who is now Eva’s teacher. Seiden was performing in Europe and needed a house sitter.

The Gheorghius — including Eva’s father, Alex — wound up renting the house next door to Seiden’s. “She’s been like an aunt to me,” Eva said. “I think it was meant to be.”

Her opera debut of sorts was at age 8 when Cyndia hosted a party at her house. “I put on the recording of her singing one of the very famous solos that she has in ‘The Magic Flute,’ ” Eva said. “I got in costume and I ended up standing there and singing with it in front of everyone.”

Eva has won numerous singing competitions, including the soprano division of the Washington Music Educators Association Solo/Ensemble Competition and the senior division of the Masterworks Young Artist Award. But singing with the symphony, with which her mom has played, is clearly a highlight. “It has always been a dream for me to sing with the Olympia Symphony,” she said. “I’ve basically grown up in The Washington Center and with the symphony.

“I get to sing not only on the stage at The Washington Center, but also with a huge orchestra. It’s all this sound, and it just comes up around you. It’s really incredible.”