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.

The Lady of the Camellias

Rubra Plean camellia
Rubra Plena, illustrated by Carl and Napoléon Baumann

The inspiration for Verdi’s opera, La traviata, was the true story of Marie Duplessis, also known as la dame aux camélias—the lady of the camellias. In her Parisian residence, Marie is said to have had a room filled with vine-laden trellises and baskets of fresh flowers; from these, she would regularly choose a camellia to wear with her ensemble. An imported and exotic flower, this was easily the most expensive corsage that could be worn at that time, and was virtually synonymous with the young courtesan who died of tuberculosis in 1847.

Buff or Hume’s Blush Camellia: Myrtle Leaved Camellia, illustrated by Clara Maria Pope for “A monograph on the genus Camellia” by Samuel Curtis

Camellias are originally from Asia, where they were cultivated in the gardens of China and Japan for centuries before they were ever seen in Europe. In addition to producing delicately scented flowers in a variety of colors, the most famous member of their species is the tea plant, Camelia sinensis, whose leaves and leaf buds are used to produce many types of tea including white green, oolong and black varieties.

The Europeans’ first exposure to camellias may have been through their representations inpaintings and wallpaper, where they were often shown growing in porcelain pots. Wealthy patrons of the British East India Company began to import varieties to satisfy their horticultural interests—the double-red camellia known as Rubra Plena was first imported by Sir Robert Preston in 1794, and in 1806 a pale pink variety was nicknamed “Lady Hume’s Blush” in honor of Amelia, the wife of Sir Abraham Hume.

The greatest camellia scholar of the nineteenth century was the wealthy Italian priest, the Abbé Laurent Berlese (1784-1863), who conducted his studies in his private greenhouse in Paris. The popularity of this lovely and fragrant blossom quickly spread beyond the realm of the passionate gardener, and in the 1840s, the camellia became the height of fashion as the luxury flower for elegant women. The camellia was also a favorite of the late 20th century fashion icon Coco Chanel. After her passing in 1971, the flower has continued to be used as a signature for the House of Chanel collections by chief designer Karl Lagerfeld.

Chanel Fashion Show

Chanel’s Fall 2008 Paris fashion show; photo by Elisabeth Fourmont for Chicagomag.com

La traviata is sponsored by the Applied Materials Foundation.

Hansel and Gretel Ushers in the Holidays at OSJ

We hope that your winter holiday season has started off well, opera fans! To get into the spirit, join us for our special holiday edition of Hansel and Gretel on Sunday, December 11th at 3 p.m!

Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel premiered at the Hoftheater in Weimar, Germany on December 23, 1893, directed by Richard Strauss; the first performance in England was at London’s Daly Theater on Boxing Day (December 26th), the following year. As a result, the opera quickly became associated with Christmas, despite the fact that the story does not take place at that time of year (In Act I, Mother sends the children out into the woods to pick strawberries). In fact, Hansel and Gretel was the Metropolitan Opera’s very first matinee radio broadcast, on Christmas Day in 1931!

Now, if you remember reading the original Brothers Grimm version, you may be wondering whether this opera is truly appropriate for children, and we can respond with a resounding “Yes!” Composer Engelbert Humperdinck’s sister, Adelheid Wette, originally wrote a play for children based on the Grimm fairy tale, and she asked her brother to set it to music. Humperdinck did not originally plan for Hansel and Gretel to become a full-length opera, but after finishing the songs for her play, he decided to extend his score. Their collaboration replaces the despair, famine and abandonment issues of the original tale, with a tired mother who sends her lazy and mischievous children out to gather fruit for supper; when Mother finally finds the lost children after their adventure with the witch, she embraces them with joy and relief. Our version has been edited for the in-school touring opera program, and clocks in at under an hour, including a Question & Answer session with the singers following the performance; the Holiday Edition will also include a special appearance by Santa!

If you and your children enjoy our holiday presentation of Hansel and Gretel, a few other fairy tale operas to watch for include Dvořák’s Rusalka, (based on Slavic versions of The Little Mermaid), Rossini’s La Cenerentolaand Massenet’s Cendrillon (Cinderella), and Zémire et Azorby Belgian composer André Grétry, an operatic version of Beauty and the Beast.

Idomeneo: a “jaw-dropping, must-see production”!

Hooray! After months of preparation, we proudly opened our 28th Season on September 10th, with the company premiere of Mozart’s Idomeneo. Made possible by the generous support of David W. Packard and the Packard Humanities Institute, this epic production has been met with critical acclaim and garnered high praise from audience members alike.

Guided by Mr. Packard’s creative vision, the production was strongly influenced by his archaeological interests in the Minoan and Mycenaean Bronze Ages – a rare and appropriate choice of setting for Mozart’s opera seria based on ancient Greek mythology. With its dazzling combination of breathtaking costumes, enormous sets, and painting executed by a firm that specializes in architectural restoration, Idomeneo is, by far, the most ambitious project we have ever taken on. Together with an excellent orchestra, talented designers and directors, graceful dancers from Ballet San Jose, and our two stellar casts, the production has won rave reviews from critics throughout the Bay Area (click on the links to read complete articles):

  • “Musical forces radiated from the magical spells cast by Maestro George Cleve, one of the great Mozartians of our era. Heled both singers and instrumentalists with finesse.”
    “…world-class efforts from Opera San José ‘s fine team of production specialists, as well as a galaxy of marvelous vocalists and musicians.” –Mort Levine, Milpitas Post
  • “The exciting new production of Mozart’s Idomeneobeing staged…by Opera San José…is a jaw-dropper: sets that reproduce the Palace of Knossos in ancient Crete; a troupe of dancers from Ballet San Jose; a 40-voice chorus; plus 180 costumes and a sacrificial altar. And, oops, almost forgot — an excellent cast.”“Cleve and his players did full justice to the score, building small gestures into long dramatic arcs, capturing effects both storming and delicate, building a running dialogue between orchestra and singers.”
    –Richard Scheinin, San Jose Mercury News
  • “…a stretch of elegant pageantry…vividly colorful and done with a keen sense of Mozartean style.”
    “…the evening’s most striking aspect was the physical production, with sets by Steven C. Kemp, costumes by Johann Stegmeir and lighting by Christopher Ostrom.”
    –Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle
  • “To attend such an excellent production in the ideal 1,114-seat California Theatre is a rare and special opportunity.”
    –Thomas Busse, San Francisco Classical Voice

Fans of Mozart, opera, classical music, theater and costume design, Greek history or archaeology will all be enchanted by this feast for the senses. Come catch one of the remaining performances: tickets can be purchased here on our website or through the box office at 408.437.4450.  See you at the California!