By Rosemary Ford
But at age 16 on the set of a primetime Italian TV show, she was assaulted, her throat slit and vocal chords injured.
"Music is the reason of life to me," she said. "That was a terrible tragedy."
Doctors told Arena she would never sing again, but she did regain her voice.
"After praying to God, it came back - five octaves higher. It was almost like a miracle. My voice is perfect," Arena said.
Friday night in Lawrence, a local audience will have the chance to hear it for themselves.
Since the 75th Feast of the Three Saints eight years ago, organizers have brought big names like Connie Francis, Frankie Valli and Herb Reed and the Platters to Lawrence for free concerts.
This year, The Saints Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino Society booked lesser-known acts. But while Romina Arena, Michael Amante and Ayla Brown may not be household names, each carries an impressive resume and fan base.
Former "American Idol" contestant Ayla Brown opens the show. The songstress is working on her first album in New York and plans to premiere two singles from it.
"Before 'American Idol' all I did was sing the National Anthem," said Brown, who will attend Boston College this fall. "Now people wanted to hear me sing songs. I really had to expand my repertoire and think outside the box for a while, which is cool because I had to learn a lot about myself and the music."
Brown was eliminated early in the show and was only able to watch her performances recently.
"I shed a tear," she said. "I have come so far from that night; if I had only known that night where I would be now, I wouldn't have cried. It almost seems like a dream, but it got me to where I am now."
Amante, an Italian-American tenor from Syracuse, N.Y., who has sold out shows across the country, headlines the show.
"He's a fabulous artist," said Arena, who has performed with Amante, the top Billboard Classical Artist for 2002.
Amante's self-titled debut album reached No. 5 on Billboard's Classical Album chart, and he earned an Emmy nomination for his PBS special.
"I had his record and wanted to meet him for the longest time," Arena said.
Eventually she contacted his tour manager and was able to meet with Amante over lunch.
"He sang to me at the table," Arena said. "I am honored and proud to share the stage with him."
In addition to performing with Amante, Arena will perform on her own at the Friday night performance.
Since recovering from the attack, she has sold more than 4 million albums worldwide, sung for Pope John Paul II, toured Germany with Andrea Bocelli, performed for former President Bill Clinton and his family, and played the title role in "Evita" on Broadway.
She calls the music she performs "pop-era."
"It's very powerful and very romantic," Arena said.
She plans to perform classical music, Italian favorites, hits from Mario Lanza, Perry Como and Connie Francis, as well as a few songs in Spanish from her album due out this fall.
If you go
What: Feast of the Three Saints
When: Friday 6:30 p.m. to midnight; Saturday noon to midnight; and Sunday noon to 10 p.m.
Where: Common Street, between Jackson and South Union streets.
How: Admission is free.
Cheers to the saints:
You may hear these words during the torchlight parade or the procession with the saints (always in Italian):
* Con vera fede: With true faith
* Con il tutto cuore: With all your heart
* Viva Sant'Alfio: Long live St. Alfio
Where the other feasts are:
Feasts for Saints Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino are happening around the world. Here are a few other locations:
* Chester Springs, Penn.
* Omaha, Neb.
* Swedesboro, N.J.
* Lentini, Italy
* Mirto, Italy
* Rome, Italy
* San Fratello, Italy
* Scifi, Italy
* Trecastiagni, Italy
* Vaste, Italy
* Lecce, Italy
* Puglia, Italy,
* Silkwood, North Queensland, Australia
* Wooloowin, Brisbane, Australia
Source: Saints Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino Society, Lawrence.
History of the Three Saints
Brothers Alfio, Cirino and Filadelfo were born in the third century in southeastern Italy during the Roman persecution of Christians.
Their mother, Benedicta, was martyred when they were children.
The brothers refused to renounce Christ.
They were sent to Tertullo, the governor of Sicily.
They landed in Messina Sicily, rested in Trecastiagni, and traveled onto Catania and Lentini.
The brothers were beaten and tortured in Lentini.
St. Andrew, the apostle, appeared to them and healed their wounds.
After several months of torture, the Romans tied 22-year-old Alfio to a post and tore out his tongue. They burned 21-year-old Filadelfo on a gridiron. And they threw 19-year-old Cirino in a cauldron of boiling oil.
During their lifetime and after their death, there have been numerous miracles attributed to the Saints.
Source: Saints Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino Society
6:30 p.m.: Opening ceremonies. Common Street lined with games, souvenirs and food stands between Jackson and South Union streets.
8 p.m.: Free concert on Campagnone Common. Former "American Idol" contestant Ayla Brown opens with National Anthem and songs from her album, followed by music from Sicilian songstress Romina Arena, and Italian tenor Michael Amante, accompanied by the Tommy LaMark Orchestra.
Midnight: Feast closes.
Noon: Feast opens
7:30 p.m.: Torchlight parade culminating at corner of Common and Newbury streets, with members of the St. Alfio Society, St. Alfio band, the Italian American Band and the Sons of Italy Band. Parade culminates with fireworks and the Cantata.
9 p.m.: Performing on the main bandstand, corner of South Union and Common streets, Joey Dee and the Starlighters featuring David Brigati and Bobby Valli.
Midnight: Feast closes.
10 a.m.: Mass in honor of Three Saints at Holy Rosary Church, Corpus Christi Parish.
Noon: Feast opens
3 p.m.: Procession of Three Saints statues from Holy Rosary, accompanied by members of the St. Alfio Society, the St. Alfio Band and the Italian-America Band.
4:15 p.m.: Reminisants perform on main bandstand.
7 p.m. (approximate): Benediction at the St. Alfio Society Hall on Common Street
7:45 p.m. (approximate): Saints return to church.
8 p.m.: Franco Corso performs on main bandstand
10 p.m.: Feast closes, raffle drawing
For more information call 978-681-0944 or visit www.threesaintsinc.org.
It's a sin to count calories at feast
Some delicacies from the feast:
* Crispelli: Fried dough, plain or with ricotta cheese or anchovies inside.
* Rice balls: Breaded and fried Arborio rice ball, filled with peas and sometimes meat and or cheese.
* Pizza: Served in the shape of a square, with a doughy Sicilian crust.
* Sausage sub: Served with peppers and onions in an Italian bun.
* Ceci: Salted and fried chick peas, eaten like nuts.
* Italian cookies: Sweet ending.