Choosing Silicon Valley’s ‘Opera Idol': The Sixth Annual Irene Dalis Vocal Competition

Every spring, Silicon Valley opera and classical music fans look forward to the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition — an event that showcases ten of the very finest voices in America. The sixth annual vocal competition is coming up (next Saturday, May 19th!), and we hope that you’re planning to join us for this special event.

The ten finalists will each prepare five arias of their choice, which they feel best demonstrate their talents and abilities. When they take the stage on Saturday afternoon, each singer will select one aria and the judges will request another from their list. At the end of the afternoon, the top three voices will be awarded $15,000 for first place; $10,000 for second; and $5,000 for third. In addition, every audience member will receive a ballot with their program, to vote for their favorite singer; the Audience Choice winner receives a check for $5,000!

A distinguished panel of judges is invited to select the top three winners of the competition. This year’s panel includes Henry Akina, General Director and Artistic Director of Hawaii Opera Theatre; Ward Holmquist, Artistic Director of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City; and Brad Trexell, Director of Artistic Operations of Opera Colorado.

Past winners of the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition have gone on to highly successful careers in opera. To count down the final days before this year’s competition, we’ll be running a week-long series featuring the winners of the first five vocal competitions starting on Monday May 14th. See you at IDVC 2012!

The winners of the 2011 Irene Dalis Vocal Competition: where are they now?

Irene Dalis and Alexandra LoBianco; photo by Bob Shomler, 2011

OSJ Fans, we begin our countdown of past winners of the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition with the year 2011. Last year’s first place and Audience Choice winner, Alexandra LoBianco (soprano), also took first place at the 2011 Liederkranz Vocal Competition in New York City. Ms. LoBianco recently sang the role of Cio-Cio San in Baltimore Concert Opera’s performance of Madama Butterfly, and Kitty Hart for Tulsa Opera’s production of Dead Man Walking. In the coming season, she will be making her debut with Madison Opera in October, singing the role of Amelia in Verdi’s A Masked Ball, and embarking on a major European tour in December.

Last year’s 2nd and 3rd place winners were gentlemen who are near and dear to Opera San José. We were pleased to welcome Evan Brummel (baritone) to the resident artist ensemble in the 2011-12 season (he thrilled audiences with his performances in Pagliacci, La traviata and Faust), and delighted in having former resident Christopher Bengochea (tenor) back on stage at the California for our company premiere of Mozart’s Idomeneo. Mr. Brummel will be returning as a resident in the 2012-13 season, and we’re looking forward to his performance in The Pearl Fishers, opening in September.

OSJ fans also delighted in seeing resident soprano Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste win the 2011 Wagnerian award after a blockbuster first season that included “fearless” performances in Anna Karenina, Tosca and La bohème. Ms. Jean-Baptiste continued to win rave reviews in the 2011-2012 season, with roles in Pagliacci, La traviata and Faust.

Join us tomorrow, for a catch-up with the winners of the 2010 competition!

The winners of the 2010 Irene Dalis Vocal Competition: where are they now?

Irene Dalis and Danielle Talamantes; photo by Bob Shomler, 2010

Following her 1st place and Audience Choice wins in the 2010 competition, Danielle Talamantes (soprano) was signed to a full cover contract with the Metropolitan Opera for the 2010-2011 season. Ms. Talamantes is a soprano in residence for this summer’s Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont, and next season she will be covering the role of the Flower Maiden in the Met’s 2013 production of Wagner’s Parsifal. She will also be appearing with the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale in Maryland this winter, as a soloist for Handel’s Messiah and Poulenc’s Gloria.

Jonathan Beyer (baritone), 2nd place winner in 2010, has gone on to perform with Opera Hong Kong, Oper Frankfurt, Knoxville Opera, Austin Lyric Opera, the Chicago Symphony, and recently sang the role of Wagner for the 2011 Metropolitan Opera production of Faust. In the month prior to the vocal competition, Mr. Beyer sang the role of Gardiner in the world premiere of Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick¬ with The Dallas Opera. In 2012, audiences will be able to see Mr. Beyer on stages from Boston, Texas and Virginia to Italy, France and Germany.

Jerett Gieseler (baritone), 3rd place winner in 2010, recently made debut performances as Zurga in Hawaii Opera Theater’s production of The Pearl Fishers, and Escamillo in with Opera Roanoke’s Carmen. Last year, in addition to performances of La bohème with Stockton Opera, Mr. Gieseler sang for the Neue Sinfonieorchester Berlin and made his debut in his homestate of Michigan, singing Figaro for Opera Grand Rapids’ production of The Barber of Seville.

The winners of the 2009 Irene Dalis Vocal Competition: where are they now?

Irene Dalis and Jordan Shanahan; photo by Bob Shomler, 2009

Jordan Shanahan (baritone), winner of the 2009 vocal competition 1st place and Audience Choice awards, went on to the Metropolitan Opera stage where he has sung in five productions, including the roles of Kallenbach in Satyagraha by Philip Glass, and Robert Oppenheimer in Dr. Atomic by John Adams. In addition to numerous performances and competition wins, he was profiled by industry magazine Opera News in 2010, and can be heard on two recordings of the music of Thomas Pasatieri: the Grammy nominated Divas of a Certain Ageand Songbook.

Of course, opera fans know that Mr. Shanahan’s wife, Audrey Luna (soprano), is an opera star in her own right. The 3rd place winner of the 2009 vocal competition, Ms. Luna was profiled in the April 2012 edition of Opera News. In the 2010-11 season, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, and Najade in Ariadne auf Naxos, and will return to their stage next season as Ariel in The Tempest.

Gregory Caroll (tenor) was the 2nd place vocal competition winner in 2009. Last year, in addition to principal roles with Spokane Opera, Opera Cleveland, Opera Lyra Ottawa and the Canadian Opera Company (among others!), he also sang in the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program Schwabacher Summer Concert series, and covered the role of Neptune for Metropolitan Opera’s production of Enchanted Island. This summer, Mr. Carroll’s engagements will include Radamès (Aida) for Den Norske Opera in Oslo, Norway, and covering the roles of Pinkerton (Madame Butterfly) and Cavaradossi (Tosca) for Los Angeles Opera.

The winners of the 2008 Irene Dalis Vocal Competition: where are they now?

Irene Dalis and Scott Bearden; photo by Bob Shomler, 2008

Opera San José subscribers cheered as Scott Bearden (baritone) took both 1st place and the Audience Choice award in the 2008 vocal competition. A former resident artist (2000-02), Mr. Bearden was also the Audience Choice in the inaugural 2007 competition. Following his departure from Opera San José in 2002, Mr. Bearden went on to sing lead roles with companies throughout the world, from Connecticut and Tennessee to Peru and Tel Aviv. Mr. Bearden’s 2012 engagements include Iago in Knoxville Opera’s production of Otello (April), and a return to Caramoor as Zambri in Ciro in Babilonia (July). Mr. Bearden can be heard as the Vicar in the Vox Classics recording of Britten’s Albert Herring, and he has recently released a solo recording of songs entitled A Piece of Art.

Arthur Espiritu (tenor), 2nd place winner in the 2008 competition, has since performed around the world with the Accademia of Teatro alla Scala, Piccolo Teatro di Milano, Opera Fuoco, Theatre St. Gallen in Switzerland, Théâtre Champs-Élisées in Paris, France, the Learners Chorus in Hong Kong, and the Oulu Sinfonia of Finland. His recent and upcoming projects in the 2010-2012 season include making his role debut as Elvino (La sonnambula) and Oronte (Alcina) with St. Gallen, a company debut with the Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv, and reprising roles for Ashlawn Opera, Opera North (NH), Austin Lyric Opera and Washington Concert Opera.

While we are gathered at the California Theatre on May 19th for this year’s competition, 2008 3rd place winner Eugene Chan (tenor) will be singing Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Yakima Symphony Orchestra in Washington. Other 2012 engagements for Mr. Chan include Slook (La cambiale di matrimonio) for the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, and Figaro for Michigan Opera Theatre’s production of The Barber of Seville. He recently made his role debut as Hajny (Rusalka) with Theater Basel (Switzerland) and sang Dandini for Teatro Comunale di Bologna (Italy). He was a finalist in the Francisco Viñas International Competition in Barcelona (2012), the Geneva International Competition (2011) and the Elena Obraztsova International Competition in St. Petersburg, Russia (2011).

Scott Six (tenor) was the recipient of an award from the Wagner Society of Northern California in the 2008 competition. In 2010, he took first place in the Wagner Division of the Liederkranz Vocal Competition in NYC. He has been a part of the Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart Emerging Singer Program, under the auspices of the Wagner Society of Washington, D.C. since 2010. Recent appearances include Opera in the Heights in Houston, TX, and the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra in Virginia. In January, Mr. Six returned to the west coast to sing Pagliacci in Stockton, CA, before performing his first Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos with Winter Opera St. Louis.

The winners of the 2007 Irene Dalis Vocal Competition: where are they now?

Irene Dalis Vocal Competition 2007
NaGuanda Nobles, First place winner at the Inaugural Irene Dalis Vocal Competition; photo by Bob Shomler, 2007

Following her first place win at the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition in 2007, NaGuanda Nobles (soprano) went on to also win first place at the Ninth Annual Jensen Foundation Voice Competition in 2008, taking home another $15,000 and a contract with Opera Carolina. In 2008, she was a guest soloist for the Fremont Symphony in an evening of George Gershwin music; that same year, Mrs. Nobles performed as Liu in Turandot for Dayton Opera, and also covered the role of Clara in Porgy & Bess for Lyric Opera of Chicago. Mrs. Nobles appeared as Mimì in La bohème for Sacramento Opera in 2009. She sang the role of Clara in Porgy & Bess for Dayton Opera in 2010 and for Atlanta Opera in 2011. In 2011, she reprised her roles as Liu (Turandot) for Pittsburgh Opera, and Mimì (La bohème) for Dayton Opera. This fall, she will be singing the High Priestess in Dallas Opera’s production of Aïda.

In 2007, 2nd place winner Kristin Rothfuss (mezzo-soprano) made her debut with Sacramento Opera, singing Dorabella in a new production of Così fan tutte directed by John de Lancie, as well as singing Lola for Virginia Opera’s production of Cavalleria rusticana. After singing professionally for a few years, Kristin had a career change, becoming a new mother to a baby girl, which she calls her “best role yet”! Today, she runs a thriving private voice studio with 35 students, mostly high school students, and is passing on her joy, passion and knowledge for singing to the next generation. She proudly reported that some have moved on to major in vocal performance in college and have received large scholarships.

Oksana Sitnitska (mezzo-soprano), 3rd place winner of the inaugural Irene Dalis Vocal Competition, sang Olga in Virginia Opera’s 2008 production of Eugene Onegin, where she shared the stage with former OSJ resident Jason Detweiler as Onegin! In recent years, she has done a number of special performances of traditional Russian and Ukranian music at venues throughout the Bay Area with Sacramento Opera.

Comments on the set designs for Faust

The basic premise of the Renaissance paintings was to create an environment that acknowledges itself as being fake- something conjured by Méphistophélès. The kermesse* drop in Act I is based on a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder called The Wedding Dance. We wanted the characters to seem to pop right out of the paintings, so we used costumes that match very closely to the kermesse; the characters start the scene in that frozen pose, and come to life as the lights pop on.

Evan Brummel as Valentin; Image by Pat Kirk Photography













The garden drop in Act II is a collage of Bruegel paintings—we wanted something that could give the beauty of the vista of the countryside, yet still feel intimate to satisfy the emotions of the multiple scenes in which we wanted to use it. The scale, as well as surreal ideas such as the door, helps to establish the paintings as a conjured environment, poetically establishing the world.

Alexander Boyer as Faust, and Krassen Karagiozov as Valentin; Image by Pat Kirk Photography

The church drop is based on a panel from a Hans Memling triptych, The Last Judgment. The historical context of the idea of the painting adds to the theatricality of the events: in that scene, Méphistophélès controls the chorus and ties to the manifestation of looming hell in the theatrical lighting booms, as on-lookers lurk in the darkened wings.

Jasmina Halimic as Marguerite; Image by Pat Kirk Photography

By comparison, the equations drop for Faust’s study in Act I is a collage of medieval equations done as chalkboard drawings, and even though it conjures a similarly heightened reality by being oversized, the intention was for it to feel the most real.

Michael Dailey as Faust; Image by Pat Kirk Photography

The drop in the finale (Marguerite and Faust’s redemption) is based on a manuscript illumination, Dante and Beatrice Ascend to the Heaven of the Sun, by Giovanni di Paolo.

Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste as Marguerite and Michael Dailey as Faust (with Jesigga Sigurdardottir as Marguerite’s deceased sister); Image by Pat Kirk Photography

[Editor’s note: if you enjoyed reading about the goals and context of these stage designs, we hope that you will join us next season, for our series of free lunchtime previews at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in downtown San Jose. In addition to a selection of arias performed by OSJ resident artists, we are often able to host a panel of distinguished speakers (such as the stage director, set or costume designers, academics, and more!) to discuss the production and answer questions. To keep informed about the Tuesday previews and similar events, sign up to receive OSJ Enews today!]

*A kermess is a Dutch mass and celebration of the church, accompanied by feasting, dancing and sports.