|Home > Newsletter Archive > Vol. 36 > Feature|
For more information, call 214-443-1040 and enjoy the sneak peek provided by Dallas Opera Guild President Marilyn Halla in conversation with The Dallas Opera’s Suzanne Calvin.
Suzanne: It’s such a fantastic event for music lovers from across North Texas! This is now the twentieth year for The Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition. Let’s begin at the beginning: Where did the idea for this competition come from?
Marilyn: There was a group of ladies in The Dallas Opera Guild back in 1987, who talked with Jonathan Pell, General Director Plato Karayanis and Dallas Morning News Classical Music Critic John Ardoin, about a competition that would give grants to young singers with Texas ties. So, it was called the “Career Development Grant Competition.” Later, the name was changed but the idea, from the very beginning, was to pinpoint outstanding young Texas singers who had the potential to go on and develop a career in opera.
Of course, we have a lot of wonderful universities here that produce a lot of fine young musicians, so, that contributes to the large number of applicants each year. And we’ve helped discover…well, promote anyway…some very nice young singers.
Suzanne: One of the things I’ve always liked about this competition is that, although there’s nothing wrong with competitions that give scholarship aid (in fact, it’s a great thing); sometimes, it’s just a struggle to pay the rent or get the car repaired. The winning singers in this competition can use the prize money however they see fit. And I think that’s a terrific advantage.
Marilyn: There are many expenses involved in developing an opera career: There are languages to be learned, a lot of coaching and they have to work with an accompanist to learn roles. They are never finished with their education, no matter how long they’ve been singing, and it’s an ongoing expense. Attending competitions is an expense, as well. They have to have transportation, fees, appropriate clothing…there are many ways they can use this prize money to help further their careers.
Suzanne: I remember just a few years ago that our First Prize winner, Weston Hurt, came down to compete without his wife because they only have $30 in their household checking account. I must say, he went home considerably better off than he had been.
Marilyn: We are happy that it was such a good investment for him!
Suzanne: Let’s talk for a moment about The Dallas Opera Guild: What is the mission of the Guild? What does it do?
Marilyn: The Guild supports the Opera in many ways. One of our chief concerns is education. We participate in education programs for school students and those for adults, assisting (for example) at the production The Dallas Opera performs each year for thousands of school children.
We also have an ongoing program called, “Opera Insights,” that consists of a live panel discussion conducted before an audience the weekend before each production opens. The moderator is Director of Artistic Administration Jonathan Pell who invites singers, conductors, directors and designers to talk about the show and about their craft.
Guild members and the general public are welcome to come listen and ask questions near the end of the discussion, and they walk away knowing a lot more about the opera they are about to experience, it makes it so much more fun!
Suzanne: And it’s so interesting to learn about the singers themselves. We had one singer here recently who talked about his career hinging on his older brother failing to mail back the “Record of the Month Club” card and getting an LP copy of Verdi’s Otello. Rather than send it back, this young man memorized and mimicked the arias in what was the first hint of the career to come.
Marilyn: This season, we’ve had people who started their careers playing a guitar and singing Country Music and, of course, many who got their start singing in their church or school choirs.
Suzanne: This year, it seems to me, our casts were full of athletes…
Marilyn: Oh, yes!
Suzanne: …Tennis players, baseball players…
Marilyn: That’s right.
Suzanne: Well, let’s talk for a minute about Jonathan Pell, who’s been involved right from the start of this competition but this year, more so than ever.
Marilyn: Absolutely. Each year, the Guild selects a person to honor for their contributions to the Guild, The Dallas Opera, and the competition itself. This time around for the twentieth anniversary (a very special occasion) we wanted to recognize the contributions of Jonathan Pell, one of the founding members of the committee that started the competition.
Jonathan came here in 1985, when Nicola Resigno invited him to join the Company. He’s a vital part of the staff and, as far as this competition is concerned, he’s served as Artistic Advisor all through the years.
Suzanne: Kind of the guardian angel of the competition…
Marilyn: Yes, and he invites very prestigious judges to come (and they do, in part because they know Jonathan as a colleague and they’re happy to take part), knowing that we’re going to present an outstanding group of young singers.
This year’s judges will be Jonathan Friend, Artistic Administrator of the Metropolitan Opera; Christopher Hahn, Artistic Director for The Pittsburgh Opera; Christina Scheppelmann, Director of Artistic Operations for the Washington Opera; Diane Zola, Artistic Administrator for Houston Grand Opera; and then our own Jonathan Pell.
Suzanne: Not to mention the audience, which gets an opportunity to “weigh in” on these young singers, by awarding the “People’s Choice” award.
The semi-finals round of the competition starts Saturday, April 19th at 11:30 am in Gooch Auditorium, located at Butler and Harry Hines Blvd., on the campus of UT Southwestern Medical Center. The event and the parking are free.
The finals round begins at 7:00 pm in the same location. Complimentary valet parking will be provided. The event, we continue to stress, is absolutely free – bring as many friends as you can interest – and enjoy the champagne reception while waiting for the judges’ decision.
Marilyn: The “People’s Choice” award is always fun and sometimes surprising. Everybody who attends gets to cast a vote.
Suzanne: Some years, the “People’s Choice” award will line right up with the judges’ decision and, in other years, the judges will go one way and the audience another. So, it’s always very interesting to see whether the audience members will take the side of the judges or go off in their own direction.
Marilyn: You see all these ambitious, enthusiastic, talented young people who have really studied and worked hard – and they’re ready to go! You just know that there’s a wonderful future for classical music and opera and it’s fascinating to speculate where we might see them next.