Imagine you are a young singer, hoping for a career in opera and you've worked hard enough, been good enough and had enough stamina to reach the finalist stage of a competition where you'll be performing before a theater jammed with opera lovers.
But now instead of facing a live audience at your big moment, you are instead greeted with facsimiles of people: 2D cardboard cutouts filling the seats as you sing two arias in the course of the evening before a panel of judges. The rewards are still the same — recognition, prize money, possible accepted into a respected training program — but the ambience, well it'll be a bit different.
This Friday, Houston Grand Opera's 2021 Concert of Arias will air live but virtually as HGO like other arts organizations continues to work its way around COVID-19 restrictions. Tamara Wilson, the internationally recognized soprano who will host the evening's events, knows how crucial this appearance can be.
"It’s important because it is a top level competition in our country and even if you don't win you do get name recognition for the first time," says Wilson who herself won the competition in 2005. " A lot of agents and heads of companies come to see the concert so in a way it's a mini audition as well. When you do win you get the added bonus of something to help pay off your student loans and will have the opportunity hopefully to be invited to the studio."
Wilson said she didn't realize how important it was at the time she competed, but as it turned out "Because of doing the Concert of Arias it changed my entire life direction." Prior to entering the Houston Grand Opera's Studio Artist program, her plan was to return to the University of Cincinnati-College-Conservatory of Music for its doctoral program.
"I was going to become a teacher," she says. "Because I got hired by HGO and I said, 'Well let's try this and see if it works.'"
Although the audience experience comes down to a night of singing lasting about 100 minutes, there is a lot of interaction that precedes that, Wilson says.
"Basically the whole week of auditions is one long test to see if you are studio material," Wilson says. "The pressure is different than other competitions because it’s not just sing a few arias. It's you have to a monologue, you have to do a musical theater song and an oratorio song and an art song. They want to see a full well rounded musician and so in that way there's a bit more pressure than other competitions.
"Usually competitions are just one and done. You go and sing your few arias and that's it. But this is really a weeklong interview and that can be a little full of pressure especially if you’re not used to doing a monologue. It adds a certain layer of intensity."
HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers, HGO Artistic Advisor Ana María Martínez, with guest judge OPERA San Antonio General Director E. Loren Meeker are the members of this year's judging panel. Martínez also selects a finalist to receive her encouragement award. Audience members can text to vote for the Audience Choice Award. The winners will be announced during the second portion of the program.
Getting into the studio artists program pays off enormously, Wilson says.
It’s interesting that in our educational system especially musically you are coached within an inch of your life so that you feel really constrained into not making a mistake. The problem with that is when you are an artist nothing but mistakes because you are as vulnerable as you could possibly be. That's what makes an exciting artist.
"The great thing about the studio is that they find those people who have the potential to become artists and then they pull them out of their shells slowly but surely."
First time viewers of the Concert of Arias may be surprised at the high level of performance, Wilson says "But if you’re a regular you realize the level HGO is looking for. When I see young people doing well, even if I have no idea who they are, I get that like parent who's watching their kid at a Christmas play pride. It just makes me so happy and I think a lot of our audience members feel that way."
The 2021 nine finalists from throughout the United States include:
Sopranos: Alaysha Fox, Brittany Logan
Mezzo-sopranos: Hannah Shea, Emily Treigle
Countertenor: Key’mon W. Murrah
Tenors: Aaron Crouch, Eric Taylor, Ángel Vargas
Baritone: Luke Sutliff
The HGO biographies of the contestants:
Aaron Crouch is a recent graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where his roles included Prunier in Puccini’s La rondine, Lensky in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, and Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Crouch was a Gold Medalist at the National Young Arts Foundation in 2017, a first place winner in the 2017 Sue Goetz Ross Memorial Competition, and a first place winner in the 2017 Classical Singer Music Vocal Competition. He received an encouragement award from the Premiere Opera Foundation’s International Vocal Competition in 2018, and an Emerging Artist Award from Opera Index in 2019. In past summers, Crouch has attended the Chautauqua Institute, where he performed the role of Nemorino in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. In 2019, Crouch was a Young Artist at The Glimmerglass Festival, where he debuted the role of The Son in the world premiere of Jeanine Tesori’s opera, Blue. He is a 2017 and 2019 alumnus of HGO’s Young Artists Vocal Academy.
Soprano—New York, NY
Alaysha Fox is currently in her second year as a member of LA Opera’s Domingo Colburn Stein Young Artist Program, where she recently performed the role of Dorothee in Joseph Bologne’s The Anonymous Lover. She was scheduled to join Santa Fe Opera’s Apprentice program last summer, but that was canceled due to COVID-19. Last season, Fox performed the role of Erstes Mädchen in Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen with the LA Philharmonic. She has sung in the Camelot benefit concert with the Lincoln Center Theater and Kathleen Battle’s Underground Railroad recital; performed as First Lady (The Magic Flute), Lady Macbeth (Bloch’s Macbeth), Female Chorus (The Rape of Lucretia),and Penelope (Penelope); and appeared as a featured artist in Lee Mingwei’s exhibit Sonic Blossom with the Metropolitan Museum’s MetLiveArts. Fox’s honors include being named a Grand Finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, a first place winner of the Joan Taub Ades Vocal Competition, a semi-finalist in the Elizabeth Connell Prize for Dramatic Sopranos, and a recipient of the Lotte Lenya Competition Emerging Artist award. An alumna of the Chautauqua Opera and Opera
Saratoga young artist programs, Fox holds a Master of Music degree in Opera Studies from the Manhattan School of Music.
Soprano—Garden Grove, CA
Brittany Logan received her Bachelor of Music degree from the California State University, Long Beach and her Master of Music degree from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM).She is a former Young Artist at incinnati Opera where her credits included productions of Porgy and Bess, Roméo et Juliette, and Lenozze di Figaro, among others. She maintains a busy schedule in concert and recital, including several recent engagements as guest soloist with the CCM Philharmonia. Logan is proponent of new and contemporary music whose past projects include Matt Aucoin’s Eurydice, Gregory Spears’s Castor and Patience (Cincinnati Opera), and Philip Glass’s The Perfect American (Long Beach Opera). A former Studio Artist with Wolf Trap Opera, she is a Metropolitan Opera National Council Connecticut District Winner and a recipient of CCM’s Seybold-Russell Award and Corbett Opera Scholarship. She currently studies with Dr. Gwendolyn Coleman.
Key’mon W. Murrah
Key’mon W. Murrahholds a bachelor’s degree in arts administration with a minor in music from the University of Kentucky. Last year Murray toured with the American Spiritual Ensemble and was a young artist at the Glimmerglass Festival. In 2019, he was selected to participate in a Masterclass with Joyce DiDonato at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, and sang Vivaldi’s Montezuma with the America Baroque Opera Co. In 2018, he sang in Handel’s Giulio Cesare with the Red River Lyric Opera. His honors include being named first place winner in the Camille Coloratura Competition, a semi-finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and the Grand Prize winner of the Premiere Opera Foundation + NYIOP International Vocal Competition, all in 2020. In 2018, he won the Encouragement Award at the Metropolitan Opera Council Central District Auditions, and won second place in the Emerging Soloists Competition. In 2021, Murrah will join the Studio Artist Program at the Florida Grand Opera and sing Bertarido in Handel’s Rodelinda as a Fleming Artist at Aspen Music Festival.
Hannah Shea is currently pursuing her Master of Music degree at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. In 2020, she was a finalist in the Pittsburgh Opera Festival’s Mildred Miller International Voice Competition, the Houston Saengerbund Awards, and the Grand Concours Vocal Competition in Austin. Shea recently sang the role of Nelda in the Shepherd School’s production of Taking Up Serpents by Kamala Sankaram and performed as a Street Singer Soloist in Bernstein’s Mass at the Brevard Music Center. Other roles include Fidalma in Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto, the Third Lady in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and Prince Orlofsky in J. Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, all at Carnegie Mellon University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in vocal performance. She is a 2019 alumnus of HGO’s Young Artists Vocal Academy.
Baritone — Littleton, CO
Luke Sutliff is currently pursuing his Master of Music degree at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, studying under the tutelage of Dr. Stephen King. Sutliff will be joining Santa Fe Opera as an Apprentice Artist in summer 2021. Last summer, he had been set to make his debut in the role of Elder McLean in Susannah at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, but that was canceled due to COVID-19. At the Shepherd School, he has appeared as Kaiser Overall in Der Kaiser von Atlantis and Johannes Zegner in Proving Up. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the Juilliard School, where he studied with the late Sanford Sylvan and made his Alice Tully Hall debut performing Fauré’s L’horizon chimérique. In past summers, Sutliff performed the roles of Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Belcore in L’elisir d’amore at the Chautauqua Institute.
Tenor—Saint George, Utah
Eric Taylor is currently pursuing his Master of Music degree at Rice University, where he has performed the roles of Sam Polk in Susannah and Tito in La clemenza di Tito. While pursuing his undergraduate degree in music at Westminster College, he performed several leading roles, including Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore and Rodolfo in La bohème, in addition to appearing in Carmina Burana with Salt Lake City’s Ballet West. Taylor has participated in Apprentice Artist programs with Santa Fe Opera, Central City Opera, and Utah Lyric Opera. He had been set to perform in Santa Fe Opera’s Tristan und Isolde and HGO’s Werther and Parsifal this season, but those engagements were canceled due to COVID-19.He was named a semi-finalist at the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions in 2017.
Mezzo-soprano—New Orleans, LA
Emily Treigle is currently pursuing her Master of Music degree at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, where she received her Bachelor of Music degree last year. This spring, she will cover the title role of L’enfant in L’enfant et les Sortilèges at Rice. In November, Treigle was named a District Winner in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and she will continue on to the Gulf Coast region competition this spring. In summer 2021, she plans to return to Wolf Trap Opera as a Studio Artist for a second summer. In 2019, Treigle trained with HGO’s Young Artist Vocal Academy and participated in the Aspen Music Festival, where she portrayed Madame Armfeldt in A Little Night Music. Previous roles include Bradamante in Alcina and Mrs. Ott in Susannah, an opera made famous by her grandfather, world-renowned bass-baritone Norman Treigle. She is a student of Dr. Stephen King.
Tenor—San Juan, Puerto Rico
ÁngelVargas is currently a Studio Artist at The Mascarade Opera Studio in Florence, Italy. He was a Gerdine Young Artist at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’s summer festivals in 2018 and 2019, singing in the world premiere of Huang Ruo’s An American Soldier in 2018. As a fellow with the Aspen Music Festival, Vargas sang Spalazani in Les contes d’Hoffmann. He also has interpreted the roles of Gherardo (Gianni Schicchi), Vašek (The Bartered Bride), Elder Gleaton (Susannah), and the Commissaire (Dialogues des Carmélites), and has covered the roles of the Duke (Rigoletto) and Hoffmann (Les contes d’Hoffmann). In the 2016 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Vargas was a winner in the Puerto Rico District and advanced to be a finalist in the Gulf Coast region. In 2019, he graduated with a Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. Vargas will make his company debut of Rinuccio in The New Generation Festival’s production of Gianni Schicchi in September 2021.
The Concert of Arias is scheduled for 7 p.m., Friday February 5 and will be livestreamed from the Wortham Center on HGO's social platforms and will be available for streaming through March 4 on MarqueeTV. For more information, visit the HGO website.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.