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Applauding Elizabeth Caballero

Lyric soprano Elizabeth Caballero was, of all places, shopping in a Miami Home Depot when she got the call: The Berlin State Opera needed a last-minute replacement for the demanding, exhausting title role in Puccini's "Madama Butterfly." The Miami-based Cuban-American had less than a month to rehearse the three-act opus. Coincidentally, Caballero had just finished mounting that same production in September for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, where, at curtain call on opening night, she dropped to her knees in tears under the weight of the audience's applause.

"That was my first time as the tragic heroine, and I was all Sally Field with 'They like me! They really like me!'" recalls Caballero, who recently returned from Berlin to perform a salon-style concert Wednesday night at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale. "I thrive on the applause, sort of like Tinkerbell."

If professional opera turns the blue-eyed singer into an emotional wreck, it's only because Caballero considers herself lucky to have a career at all. She admits she didn't take opera seriouslyuntil she heard the late, revered tenor Luciano Pavarotti deliver a beachside concert in 1995 in Miami. That encouraged her to audition for Pavarotti's international voice competition in Philadelphia, singing her heart out as the tenor gazed on in benign judgment. She finished within the top 100.

Later, Caballero rose to prominence through the Miami-based Florida Grand Opera's Young Artist Program, in which she played both Musetta and Mimi from "La Boheme" and Micaela in Bizet's "Carmen," among others.

"Florida audiences have heard me do plenty of 'Boheme,'" Caballero says. "I thought coming back here would be nice because it's my only South Florida show this season. I owe a lot to FGO, and they really opened up the door for me out of university."

Caballero's performance will include an aria from Puccini's "La Rondine," "Donde Lieta Usci" from Act III of "La Boheme," and, perhaps, a number from composer Ernesto Lecuona, whom she calls a "Cuban Gershwin." On Thursday morning at the museum, she will lecture on her career as a soprano, including how she approaches preparing for and interpreting opera.

Elizabeth Caballero will perform 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $45 for concert, $60 for VIP reception at 6:30 p.m. Call 954-525-5500, or visit Caballero will deliver a master class on her career from 10 a.m. to noon Thursday at MOAFL's Horvitz Auditorium. Cost is $20.

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