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In the Arts

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sun valley opera’s rising stars

Who knows where the next big international opera star may be working tonight? The Pio? Strega?

While American Idol searches for the next big popular music star and New York’s Metropolitan Opera hosts a competition searching for the next big opera star, Sun Valley Opera mixes it up with a search for new “classical crossover” stars. Think Josh Groban or Enrique Iglesias. According to Frank Meyer, co-founder and vice president of Sun Valley Opera, “These stars must be able to sing the difficult opera arias, as well as have the acting ability of a Broadway star.”

Sun Valley Opera hosted its second annual contest in October, attracting talent from across the country. National and regional professionals praise the competition for the opportunities it gives young singers. Dean Williamson, conductor at the Seattle Opera, says the contest has been noticed in the professional classical music world, where it stands alone in its reward of acting and voice in equal measure.

The winners don’t take the competition lightly, either. Winners of the Opera’s first competition have since obtained principal roles in productions across the U.S. Last year’s Audience Choice winner, Julianne Gearhart, soprano, listed her win in the Sun Valley competition at the top of her biography and in the first line of her program notes in February when she performed at the Seattle Opera. The same was true of Anne Carolyn Bird, the Judge’s Choice winner.

While the competition is currently held in Seattle for the sake of travel convenience, appropriate venue and availability of judges, the event brings singers to the attention of Sun Valley Opera organizers, who know that their local audience loves Broadway acting skills mingled with operatic voice. The Sun Valley Summer Symphony Conservatory and Musical Workshop programs currently boast a roster of students who are serious about a future in vocal music. Several have progressed to university level programs and have been awarded scholarships. The barrista steaming your morning latté may be aiming for the Sun Valley Opera competition as a launch into the world of professional opera. After all, Placido Domingo was once a contestant in the Metropolitan’s version.

Vying for a $2,000 prize, singers perform in a concert setting before a panel of three top voice professionals. The audience enthusiastically joins in the vote for their favorite. The popular appeal of the Audience Choice part of the Sun Valley Opera Young Artist Competition has led to its adoption by the Metropolitan Opera competition, as well.

“Last year, the director of the Metropolitan Opera’s West Coast Young Artist Program came up to me and said the audience was going wild at intermission, talking about who to vote for,” said Meyer. “Everybody was having such spirited dialogue, he was amazed.”

Enthusiasm is a good thing in the world of opera, where companies are working hard to shed their stodgy, pretentious image.

“In the old days, opera singers just stood there and sang,” Meyer said. “Audiences today are so spoiled. They want to be entertained.”

And, in Sun Valley, they are.



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