Opera singer James Valenti discovered his voice at West Virginia University.

Today that voice takes him to the worlds stages where he gladly shares his talent with countless fans of theatre and music.

Valenti�€a tenor who graduated from WVU in 2000 after studying music education and vocal performance�€now works with some of the most renowned directors in opera. He has performed throughout North America, Asia and Europe.

His WVU mentor, Augusto Paglialunga, a voice professor in the College of Creative Arts, knew Valenti had a special talent for opera.

When James first came to see me for lessons around 1996, he had a very small voice�€he wanted to sing like Billy Joel,Paglialunga said.But then this glorious sound came out his freshman year. I immediately called his parents and told them his voice is going to be one of the greatest voices of his generation.

Valenti continues to stay in touch with Paglialunga, and remembers very well his first lessons with the WVU professor.

I met Gus my first week at WVU , and I can still remember our first lesson,said Valenti, who grew up near Clinton, N.J. and attended WVU on a full scholarship.I walked into his studio, and he had photos of himself in many opera roles and posters from all the places hed sung all over the walls. I thought, �€~Wow!He was so kind and encouraging, and I was so excited to be working with a real opera singer.

One story that I really love is that during one of our first lessons, we were doing an exercise, and he heard something in my voice. He heard what was to come down the road and my full potential, and he was so excited. He even made a phone call to my parents in New Jersey and left a long message on their answering machine explaining how excited he was to be working with me and how he felt I could be �€~the voice of my generation!My parents still have the message saved.

The WVU professor, who himself sang opera on the worlds stages, took the young tenor under his wing and helped give Valenti a solid foundation for success, including repertoire, breathing techniques and voice exercises. As Valentis voice developed, so did his love of opera.

He (Paglialunga) always encouraged me and believed in me,Valenti said.He was a very positive force. But I was also very disciplined and devoted. I really wanted to learn as much as I could.

Tenor is a rare voice�€not only does a singer need to have a voice that lends itself to that kind of singing, but it takes a long time to cultivate it, learn how to play the �€~instrumentproperly and learn to project ones voice into a large hall, over an orchestra at the extremes of range, explained Valenti.

Today, Valenti is classified as a full-voiced, lyric-romantic tenor. He is 6 feet 5 inches tall and has a lean physique, which is considered rare for a tenor. Valenti feels his height helps him tolook the partwhen he sings all the romantic leading roles inLa Boheme,Madama Butterfly,Rigoletto,La Traviata,Faust,Lucia di Lammermoorand others.

Another positive influence at WVU was Kathleen Shannon, associate professor and director of Choral Activities.

She really believed and encouraged me and gave me fantastic opportunities like singing the tenor solo in Verdis �€~Requiemand in Beethovens �€~9th Symphony.

Valenti also credits Robert Thieme, professor and director of the WVU Opera Theatre.

He (Thieme) cast me as the lead role of Candide my final year at WVU and that was a big moment for me,Valenti said.It was my first leading role where the show rested on my shoulders.

Valenti said WVU played an important role in his development as a singer and performer.

I got a fine education at WVU and a solid musical background,Valenti said.I made friends with all kinds of musicians. I was able to explore not only opera, but I also helped start a vocal jazz group and was active with the University Choir. I am grateful for all of those experiences.

Watching Valentis opera career take off nationally and internationally has been gratifying, said Paglialunga, who attended Valentis winning performance at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Grand Finals in 2002 and his debut with the New York City Opera in 2006.

Valentis other career highlights include his debut at the highly prestigious Salzburg Festival in Austria in 2005 inLa Traviata,where he performed opposite superstar soprano Anna Netrebko.

Another significant event was his 2003 professional debut at Rome Opera when he was 25. For that performance, Valentis family all came to Italy. He sangLa Bohemeand had a chance to work with the famous director Franco Zeffirelli.

The Met auditions were very, very important,Valenti said of his early career.For one, they really put me on the map in the opera world. Suddenly many people knew who I was, and I was getting calls from managers, agents and opera companies with offers. It was also important for another reason; it was the moment my family realized I had something special, and I could really make a living at this.

At the time of the Met auditions Valenti was only 24. He had begun working with Bill Schuman, a famous tenor and teacher in New York City. It was through Schuman that Valenti found his way to the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. While there, he performed his first full-length opera roles in Italian and French, continuing his studies with coaches to polish and perfect his craft.

With additional education under his belt, Valenti found a manager and stepped further out into the opera world.

I began slowly, doing a few jobs, but always coming back to school in between to study and refine, then go away again on another job and return,Valenti said of his years of hard work and effort to get where he is today.It went like that for four years.

Life as an opera singer has its challenges and rewards.

I travel all the time,Valenti confided.I go from job to job, spending a month in this city, two months in another. It can take its toll being away from loved ones, but its also a wonderful way to see the world and make friends all over, and I feel very, very lucky to do what I do. I work a lot overseas, a lot in Europe. I am happy for that.

And Valenti doesnt have any problem getting around Europe. Due to his opera studies, he speaks Italian and is learning French. He also has contracts lined up into 2010 and more offers coming in all the time.

Success breeds success and now that the ball is really rolling, I just have to stay the course, stay healthy, sing well and enjoy the ride,Valenti said.

Valentis next big event is a performance ofMadama Butterflyat the Ravinia Festival in Chicago with the famous maestro James Conlon. In 2008, Valenti is scheduled to singLa Bohemeat the world-renowned La Scala Opera House in Milan, Italy. Also next year, he will sing his first Romeo in the operaRomeo et Juliette.

It means a lot to the University,Paglialunga said of Valentis career.James is an inspiration to the College of Creative Arts and to new students. We are very lucky to have a performer of his caliber come through here. This is an indication of all things being right�€if the desire and the persistence to succeed lives within the soul of the student, he or she can enjoy great success.