Her music has taken Liriel Domiciano on a journey she could hardly imagine, but her faith has made that journey all the richer.
In recent years, the young soprano has taken Brazil by storm. She appeared on the Brazilian version of "American Idol," singing her way, over the course of eight months, to the top. Her first CD, also featuring a young tenor named Rinaldo, is the sixth-highest-selling recording in Brazilian history, and still climbing. And she has two best-selling CDs and a successful DVD.
But as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 22-year-old Liriel (she goes by her first name as an artist) feels she has an even more important message. God gave her talent, she said, and "music is a way we are able to be closer to God.
"I know he gave me my talent and my abilities and my understanding, through which I can do his will. I am here not only to sing but to do many things my Heavenly Father wants me to do."
Liriel will demonstrate both her talent and her faith when she appears as a soloist with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on its weekly broadcast Sunday (9:30 a.m. KSL-Ch. 5). The broadcast from Temple Square is free and open to the public.
"I don't have the words to express how my heart feels at this invitation," she said, with the help of her translator, Jeannette Oakes, who is acting as her business manager during Liriel's six-week visit to Utah. Liriel will sing three numbers on the choir broadcast, "Over the Rainbow," as well as works by Haydn and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
She will again sing in the Sunday morning session of General Conference on April 4, an almost unprecedented honor. The last time a soloist sang at conference was in the 1930s, said Dale Bills, LDS Church spokesman. But President Gordon B. Hinckley heard her sing when he was in Brazil for the rededication of the Sao Paulo Brazil Temple and asked that she sing in conference.
It says a lot about the worldwide nature of the church, Bills said. With about 800,000, Brazil has the second-largest number of church members outside of the United States, second only to Mexico. "And it says a lot about how music bridges cultures."
Liriel and her three sisters grew up in a poor suburb of Sao Paulo, where they lived in a red-block home the family built themselves. She developed a love for singing early, and, although the family could not afford formal training, she was singing classical arias by age 5.
She and other members of her family joined the church when she was 14, and she began singing with a group called "Voices of Zion." At 19, she applied for a job as a seamstress at a bridal fashion show, but when she heard another girl auditioning to be a wedding singer, she decided to try that, auditioning with a Puccini aria. She immediately got job offers.
A few months later, a member of the LDS Church suggested she compete in the nationally televised talent contest.
Just before Liriel left to come to Utah, said Oakes, she was approached by the biggest agent in Brazil, who offered her a large signing bonus, as well as a lucrative contract. "She said no," said Oakes. "She said she had made a commitment to her church, and she honored her commitments. When she told him she was not even getting any money for singing with the choir, he told her she was a fool. But she said, 'No, my church is everything to me.' "
When Liriel gets back to Brazil, they may talk again. But she also has other goals. She would like to get more formal training for her voice, maybe attend Brigham Young University.
Her goals come from the challenges she has experienced, she says. Her life hasn't always been easy, and fame and popularity come with their own challenges. "But if you don't have challenges you're never going to discover the truth of who you are," she said. Sometimes she feels like she is a child, she said. "I feel like I'm taking a test. I feel like I'm doing a variety of exercises, learning the theory and then practicing what I'm learning."
But her faith keeps her strong. What she has done is nothing compared with what God can do, she said.
She has a remarkable talent, said Craig Jessop, director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. "She sings like an angel."
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Jessop sees some of the great opera singer Maria Callas in her. "She has one of those rare God-given gifts. What she has, you can't teach. You can expand and develop, but you can't teach. When you understand her humble background, you understand even more what a gift it is."
Such is her popularity in Brazil that a toymaker even wants to make a Liriel doll. "Liriel told them they could do it only if they include the gold Young Women's medallion she always wears," said Oakes.
The very best thing about this remarkable young woman, Oakes said, is not her voice, which is gorgeous, nor her looks, which are beautiful. "The best thing is what a pure and wonderful girl she is on the inside."