The New Sun Newspaper

La Dolce Vita

"Every part of me was shaking," Vita recalls, describing the first time she sang before her peers in the Irvington High School auditorium. "I was sixteen years-old, and I had only been playing guitar for a year. I can still hear that first E minor chord as I put my lips up to the microphone. As soon as I felt spotlight surround me, I eased into a calm and quiet state and sang Joan Baez's 'Diamonds and Rust' to my classmates. When it was over, I knew what I wanted."

For Vita Izabella, the sweet life began with great rock and roll. "I knew every Led Zeppelin song by heart by the time I was in high school," she says, referring to a band that rose to its height a solid decade before she was born. She grew up riding with her father in his big brown Cadillac listening to Dylan, and later with her older brother Nick blasting Aerosmith, Van Halen, Guns and Roses, The Police, and U2 "ear-bleedingly loud."

"I never wanted those car rides to end," she recalls. "And I still have that Dylan tape. My father gave it to me when I was a teenager. It's all brown and dirty now, but it still plays if I want it to."

"Without realizing it, I was heavily influenced by those experiences, and my ears got really used to hearing that bluesy, soulful, rock and roll. I seem to default to it when I am singing or writing."

More than Robert Plant or Axel Rose, her family has played the key role in her development as a musician. "Some of my earliest memories are of my mother and me sitting by the piano and singing together - songs like 'Let There Be Peace on Earth' and 'Somewhere over the Rainbow,' which remains to this day my absolute favorite song. I always thought my mother had the most beautiful voice. She never sang professionally, but she had had some training. I remember her voice as deep blue, with waves of velvety vibrato. Funny enough, she was studying voice while she was pregnant with me."

La Bohéme?
With high school graduation looming, she knew she had to find a way to make a career out of music and get the education she wanted.

So she enrolled in the Music Conservatory at SUNY Purchase, where the girl raised on Dylan and Zeppelin became a classical voice performance major. "When I turned seventeen, I figured out that the natural placement of my voice is that of a high operatic soprano, and I felt very comfortable singing in that style. But, when it really came down to it, I've never wanted to sit through an entire opera the way I wanted to see a U2 or Bonnie Raitt concert.

"Outside of my voice, nothing else about me fit in there. I was too rock and roll. I would drive to the conservatory blasting Prince, belting my heart out to 'Purple Rain.' Then I would sit quietly in my class and get up to sing 'Sono Andati,'" she says, referring to the heroine's swan song from Puccini's La Bohème.

Despite being a bit of a misfit, Vita soaked up all she could from her years at SUNY Purchase. Her musical influences not only expanded to include the likes of Puccini and Wagner, but also jazz greats such as Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson and John Coltrane. And she gained a continuing fascination with the power of the human voice. "I am intrigued by almost every voice I hear. I often ask people, when their voices strike me, if they sing, or have ever experimented with singing. I love the vocal mechanism and the possibilities of color and sound and texture that come from learning how to control it."

A Mid-Summer Night's Dream
With college over, she was left to eek out a living singing in the bars and pubs that are the fate of young indie singer/songwriters. One balmy night, she was singing her heart out amidst the din at The Back Fence on Bleecker Street, the old folk music venue in New York City's Greenwich Village. Who should stroll by but record producer Paul Umbach, who happened to know that former Deep Purple lead guitarist Ritchie Blackmore was looking for singers for Blackmore's Night, his upcoming European Renaissance festival tour. Says Vita, "Paul must have heard me from outside the bar and decided to come in for a minute."

He clearly liked what he heard and saw and asked Vita if she would like to try out for Blackmore's Night. "I had on a billowy, flowy outfit with lots of hippie jewelry." she recalls. "I must have already looked like something out of 'A Mid-summer Night's Dream.'"

She hastily put together a scratchy demo on a four-track she had in her basement and over-nighted the tape to Blackmore. "About a week later, I met with Ritchie and Candice Night (Ritchie's wife and partner in Blackmore's Night) for dinner at this castle-like restaurant.

"Ritchie and Candice are magical people. This was the coolest thing I could've ever imagined happening at twenty-one years old. They told me after dinner that they thought I was going to fit right in. I came home that night full of excitement. I was going on a European tour with Ritchie Blackmore!"

Vita describes the music she performed as "sort of classical, sort of Celtic, and a bit of the old heavy metal rock that Ritchie is famous for." The first tour stop was Germany, land of castles, magic forests and fairy tales.

"I remember walking out onto the stage for the first show. My heart was pounding wildly when I looked at the audience in front of us. I had never played for over a thousand people before. Then the music began, and I heard Candice start singing. Then it was my time to come in, I reminded myself to breathe. I said to myself if I can sing the first line, then I can make it through the whole thing."

As she did five short years before, she eased into a calm and quiet state, and she just sang. She knew what she wanted.

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by Eugene Melino