Budding opera stars will sing in Ashland Sunday

Eight young people will vie in a vocal competition to promote new talent

Opera lovers will get a chance to hear some of the best voices in the country this weekend during a competition hosted by Brava! Opera Theater Company and the James M. Collier Young Artist Program.

Eight singers from around the country will perform arias at 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20, during the James M. Collier National Vocal Competi-tion, held in the Music Recital Hall at Southern Oregon University. It is free and open to the public for the first time.

About the contest

WHAT: James M. Collier National Vocal Competition sponsored by the Brava! Opera Theater Company and the James M. Collier Young Artist Program

WHEN: Starts at 1 p.m. Sunday, is expected to last three hours, with eight singers performing

WHERE: Southern Oregon University Musical Recital Hall.

COST: Free and open to the public

Brava! General Director Lorrie Hall said the contestants are "unbelievable singers and they blew us away last year," prompting Brava! to invite the public to hear them.

In its second year, the competition is actually held in two places — the other is San Francisco, where 34 singers will compete on Jan. 26 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

The judges will select the best from both sites as finalists. The winner will receive $3,500 and perform two recitals in Southern Oregon in the spring.

The second-place winner receives $1,000 and third place gets $500.

The competition is rigorous, with contestants coming prepared to sing five arias of their choice that include at least three different languages.

In the first round, the singers choose the aria they perform. Semifinalists sing two arias chosen by the judges.

Such competitions around the country help young opera singers build their reputations and resumes and win cash prizes, Hall says.

"It's an opportunity for Rogue Valley music lovers to hear national quality singing from future opera stars," says Hall.

One of the competitors is SOU graduate and local singing teacher Daniel Gibbs.

Competitors vigorously pursue such events, she says. Competitors for the Brava! competition were chosen from 80 applicants. All the Ashland competition singers hold degrees in vocal performing, and have sung with major operas. They hail from Minnesota, Utah, Washington, Oregon, California and Arizona.

Some are Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition regional and district finalists, and most have performed with professional opera companies, including the Atlanta Opera, Ash Lawn Opera in Virginia, El Paso Opera, Minnesota Opera, Portland Opera and Arizona Opera.

The competition will last about three hours, with Laurie Anne Hunter, Juilliard graduate and former assistant conductor, pianist and coach at New York City Opera, on the piano.

"You'll hear Puccini, Verdi, Mozart and other standards, with some singers bringing English, with Handel, or more contemporary works in English," says Brava! Artistic Director Willene Gunn. "You'll see some great new talent and get a glimpse of what's new on the horizon. There are a lot of wonderful ones coming."

Judges are Gunn, former director of the Opera Program at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music; Kathryn Cathcart, retired opera conductor and coach, San Francisco Conservatory of Music and San Francisco Opera and Opera Center; Mark Morash, director of Musical Studies for the San Francisco Opera's Opera Center and Merola Program staff; and Dr. Martin Majkut, conductor of the Rogue Valley Symphony.

Brava! Opera will present the comical combination of two one-act chamber operas, "The Old Maid and the Thief" and "The Telephone" by Gian Carlo Menotti, on March 1, 2 and 3 at Camelot Theatre.

Brava! Opera Theater and the James M. Collier Young Artist Program were created in 2010 by Gunn and Hall, former executive director of the Rogue Opera.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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