They are an elite, 19 "rising stars" chosen from among 600 who auditioned.

They have sung for Beverly Sills and they know that New York Metropolitan Opera stars such as Rockwell Blake and John Cheek have been here before them.

But the singers chosen to take part in Wolf Trap's resident summer opera company say their lives are not all glory. For one thing, they are not well-paid at this stage in their musical careers.

"Food? What's food?" asked Peter Lightfoot, 32, a baritone from New York.

"Rent money? Where do you get that?" asked soprano Virginia Boomer, 29.

"We could make much more as rock stars," said Robert Ferrier, a 26-year-old bass who took up opera after being "hit too many times in the forehead with paper airplanes" during his days as a junior high school music teacher.

In addition to their money problems, the singers said in an interview that they miss their families. "My husband does get to travel more, coming out to see me," mused Boomer. "I haven't been home to see her New York attorney husband in three months. Not good."

"Huge phone bills," chorused the singers.

They work daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., so they have little time for anything else. Few have made it to the District more than once or twice. When they do go, they say they head for the museums ("They're free!") Georgetown, Clyde's and the Washington Hilton.

But most of the summer is spent working. Their intense schedule, which includes daily movement classes, coaching, rehearsals and occasional master classes, has "made us strong," Boomer said.

Training is one of the unique aspects of the 50-member company, developed 11 years ago under Catherine Shouse's direction to give young professional musicians exposure and a chance to develop their talent, said administrator Dina Smith.

The 19 singers, chosen from 600 who auditioned in spots around the country, get a chance to perform for Sills and other stars in classes that Lightfoot said are not "student-teacher relationships. She gives us her first impression of our singing, tells us what to look out for in certain pieces, and passes on the traditions of opera."

Sills, he said, commented favorably on this year's company, saying it was "pretty even--high-caliber people."

Because the singers are all on the "up-and-coming" level, Lightfoot said, each has a chance to do the opera roles normally reserved for established stars.

Their chances have been multipled this summer since the company is doing four full operas. They are now preparing for Blitzstein's "Regina," an American opera based on Lillian Hellman's "Little Foxes."

Doing that opera meant "learning to drawl," Boomer said, which was not hard for Robert Tate, a sandy-haired tenor who usually performs with the San Francisco opera. "I'm from Alabama, and I've spent my whole life trying to get rid of this accent," he said. "Now, we're told to put it back in."

The accent came in handy in a recent mini-opera about the three little pigs ("Pigletto") which the company improvised, on stage, for children in the Theater-in-the-Woods. Tate played Bacono, the not-too-bright pig who drawled on melodically about building a house of straw.

The company has performed in a half-dozen extra shows for both children and adults this summer, ranging from "O is for Opera," in which Pigletto appeared, to a Stravinsky centennial program staged in July at The Barns.

The singers say their hard work pays off. "In auditions, they look for Wolf Trap, a tour and experience in a city opera company," said Ferrier, who is here for his second summer.

Wolf Trap Opera Company will perform Blitzstein's "Regina" at 8:30 p.m. Aug. 20 and 21, and a program of French opera at 4 p.m. Aug. 22. For reservations and information, call 281-0500.