Julia Chalfin’s voice easily fills St. Augustine’s Church in Old City where she is rehearsing her for Philadelphia Fringe Festival show, “The Birth of a Diva” (How I found my voice), with acclaimed pianist Kim Barroso.
In the autobiographical show, Chalfin humorously shares how she went from singing rock ‘n’ roll and musical numbers to finding her voice in classical music and honoring the legacy of the women who influenced her along the way.
Chalfin, a 30-year-old opera singer from Chester Springs, Pa., wrote the show in Germany where she’s lived for the past six years.
“Germany is actually the mecca for opera singers,” she said, citing the country’s history of great composers as inspiration for its many opera houses. Overwhelmed by the number of classical singers at auditions, Chalfin like many young hopefuls, spent a year as an out-of-work performer teaching English.
“One sleepless night, I decided that I had a story to tell, that story was actually me and I wrote this show,” she recalls.
What began as a simple autobiographical tale, took on more dimensions over time. Chalfin hopes to dispel any negative stereotypes in her explanation of what it takes to be a diva.
“What a diva should be able to do is create emotions that really touch and move people and so you have to be very vulnerable and you’re out there in the middle of the stage and you share,” she says. “You open your heart and that’s very scary.”
Chalfin explains that by doing this in front of thousands or millions of people, it’s understandable how one can become eccentric and develop “little manias.”
Many in Germany were surprised by the humor in the show and Chalfin is hoping for a similar reaction in Philadelphia, which she considers “a big leap” from the German stages. She says the Fringe Festival is an inviting forum for her American stage debut.
The show features songs from Aretha Franklin and Ella Fitzgerald as well as classical pieces such as Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro.”
Chalfin said that this show has given her the courage to write others, that the diva in her has truly blossomed. “Now I have four self-written shows in my repertoire that are being performed all around Germany on cabaret stages to expose non-classical audiences to opera and to show them that it’s young, fun, sexy and accessible and not as tragic and hard to sit through as most people think it is,” she says.
The Birth of a Diva (How I found my voice) runs on Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Off-Broad Street Theatre at First Baptist Church, 1636 Sansom St., Philadelphia.