Look out, Luciano; UA belts it out for big bucks

By Sarah Stanton
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday February 2, 2004

Thousands of people were focused on the competition between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers last night, but the stiffest competition may have been in the School of Music's Crowder Hall.

Twenty advanced UA voice students competed in the Amelia Rieman Opera Competition, conducted by Charles Roe, the artistic director of UA Opera Theater and chair of vocal arts at the UA.

More than $2,000 in prizes was awarded to students in two different age categories, 18 to 23 and 24 to 33. The top prize was $1,000 for the first-place winner in the older division.

Julie Wyma, the third-place winner in the younger division, came onto the stage in a flowing black and red dress and sang an English aria that described a love affair between a queen and her slave.

Her dramatic rendition of the aria showcased her astoundingly powerful voice, which resonated throughout the auditorium.

Each student prepared five pieces for the competition. The younger contestants prepared two arias and two art songs, while the older contestants prepared three arias and two art songs.

According to judge Mary Woods, an aria is a song taken from an opera, and an art song is a song that stands by itself, often converted from a poem.

Contestant Maureen McGowan, a petite vocal performance senior with a big voice, sang in the competition this year for the fourth time. She said the difference between an aria and an art song is in the way the two are performed.

"When a student performs an aria, they'll usually be more animated. They're usually more subdued when performing an art song because it's more like a recital."

Contestants sang only two pieces during the performance, one of their choice and one of the judges' selections.

Roe said usually the judges choose a piece that contrasts with the song the students choose.

Kara Harris, a contestant in the 18- to 23-year-old category, first sang an up-tempo, joyful piece by Mozart. The judges then asked her to perform a piece in English that was slower and more dramatic.

The judges were given criteria prepared by Roe on which to critique the singers. It included operatic potential, range, projection, charisma and artistic aptitude, and whether the performer was true to the composer's vision.

Woods was impressed by the UA's opera talent.

"Everyone did extremely well and presented themselves beautifully. In opera, you don't reach your prime until your late 30s; for students so young to do this well is impressive," she said.

But Woods added that most students studying voice and opera won't go on to a career in opera due to its difficult and competitive nature.

"The people that we awarded the prizes to were people who we thought had potential for a career in opera," she said.

The first-place winner in the younger age category, Audra Scott, stood out because of her powerhouse voice and animated stage presence. The music graduate student sang a piece called "My Man's Gone Now" with intensity and conviction. All eyes were on her as she belted out notes that could have shattered glass.

The competition's creator, Amelia Rieman, has made large contributions to the School of Music and Dance. She has funded scholarships for students training for careers in opera, and she has provided the prize money for the opera competition since its creation in 1989.

Rieman attended Radcliffe College and later opened her own voice studio. She had been a longtime resident of Green Valley, and moved to Tucson last year, Roe said.

Rieman also made an endowment to create a chair in the opera department, which is the position that Roe now holds.

"She is a wonderful person, and we are fortunate that she has taken an interest in our students," Roe said.

All of the contestants in the competition were excited to be involved and to receive the judges' written comments on their performances.

Harris, a vocal performance junior and an ASUA senator, participated in the competition for the first time this year.

"It's fun and it helps get the nervousness out when you perform," she said. "You get to hear people at their best here."

The judges of the competition were Gail Dubinbaum, a UA alumna who previously worked with the Metropolitan Opera; Mary Woods, a soprano and voice teacher who got her masters' degree in voice from the UA; and Robert Barefield, a faculty member of ASU's School of Music.