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Opera competition like 'Idol' with real talent

By Randi Eichenbaum
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 26, 2006
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Between Ryan Seacrest, Paula Abdul and some contestants lacking talent, it is hard to understand why "American Idol" is airing for yet another season. If you are a closet talent-competition fan, however, you can indulge right here on campus, commercial-free.

The Amelia Rieman Opera Competition, established in 1989, is an annual event that gives opera singers at the UA an opportunity to compete for cash prizes.

Charles Roe, a professor in the school of music and overseer of the competition, is enthusiastic about the competitive nature of the event.

"That's part of the ballgame; it is what the field is all about," Roe said. "It is kind of like Olympic ice skating or gymnastics."

Roe explains that the competition, however, is not only about winning or losing, but also about helping the contestants improve their performances.

"Students sing for about six to seven minutes and then the judges will give them comments," Roe said. "And we try to give them comments that will help them."

There will be three judges: George Gibson, a retired music professor from Wichita State University, Arizona State University professor David Britton, and former UA faculty member Betty Allen.

"They are basically unfamiliar with any of the singers," Roe said, who explains that their unfamiliarity cuts out any opportunity for bias.

The contestants are judged on different aspects of their performance, including their basic quality, rhythm, technique, musicianship and stage presentation.

Roe says that some categories, such as the basic quality scores, which are based on resonance, consistency, clarity, focus and warmth, are simply more of a "nature rather than nurture" skill.

"That section is based on what God gave them," Roe said.

Whether blessed with God's gift or not, contestants have the advantage of competing against people in their own age group. Students are divided into two sections, a 24- to 33-year-old group and an 18- to 23-year-old group. The first-place winner of the older group will receive $1,000 and the winner of the younger group will receive $500.

April Wilde, a music graduate student, won the grand prize of the older division in the 2004 competition.

Before the Rieman competition, Wilde did not have a lot of experience competing, but she says that the familiarity of those around her helped.

"It was my first competition I had ever won. It's against people you sing with all the time, so you're competing against your friends," Wilde said. "So everybody was so supportive and really pushing for me to win. I think that helped me."

Wilde praises the competition for giving her a starting point to continue to compete. Since then she has competed in five other competitions and had six or seven auditions.

"It gave me a lot of confidence," Wilde said. "It was good times; I'll never forget it."

Wilde is proud of her achievement, and she is continually grateful to Amelia Rieman, the 99-year-old woman who funds the competition, for the opportunity.

"She's so willing and giving with her time and money," Wilde said. "And she really likes hearing about what you're doing with your money."

Wilde's $1,000 prize went toward costumes for performances, application fees for other competitions and traveling wages.

While Wilde puts a lot of time, effort and money toward trying to make it in the opera profession, the rural Wisconsin native already feels like a star.

"It's, like, really glamorous for me to be here doing this," Wilde said.

The Amelia Rieman Opera Competition, presented by the UA School of Music, will be held Sunday at 2 p.m. in Crowder Hall in the Music building.

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