Opera students take first in national competition


Every fall  for the last four years, universities from all over the nation bid for the opportunity to compete in the National Opera Association’s Collegiate Opera Scenes competition. This year BYU was not only chosen to compete, but took first place in both divisions of the competition.

Lawrence Vincent, professor of vocal perfomance at BYU, shared a little about the process of being invited to the competition. Preparation began in the fall long before the NOA held their convention in Memphis, Tenn., on Jan. 5. College opera departments submitted DVDs to be reviewed, Vincent said, and BYU was one of five colleges invited to compete in both divisions.

According to this year’s competition guidelines, schools wishing to compete had to prepare an 8 to 10-minute operatic scene and submit a video recording. Of the many schools that submitted applications, only 10 were chosen to perform their scene live at the convention. Schools are allowed to apply to either or both of two divisions; Division I for performers between the ages of 18 and 23, made up of primarily undergraduate students; Division II for graduate students 23 and older.

Under Vincent’s direction, BYU undergraduates George Hnatiuk and Keri Costello and graduates Sarah Maxwell, Ross Coughanour, Joseph Olson, Brandtley Henderson and Emily Workman  prepared scenes for their respective divisions. Hnatiuk and Costello competed with a scene from Mozart’s “Le nozze di Figaro,” and the graduate students performed Mozart’s “Cosí fan tutte.”

Vincent said the students were excited to be invited and they had worked very hard for the opportunity to compete. The final decisions and invitations to the convention weren’t issued until the second week of December, so they had to sacrifice a few days of their winter break to return to Provo for rehearsals.

The students’ hard work paid off — both groups won first in their respective divisions and were awarded a workshop with well-known opera directors Richard Crittendon and Elizabeth Vrenios.

One of the performers, Joseph Olson, said that the experience was extremely rewarding.

“I enjoyed spending time with the group; we’ve got a great group” Olson said.

Apart from the time he spent with his fellow BYU performers, Olson also enjoyed listening to the other singers, he said. He was also able to attend a presentation by one of his favorite living composers.

A second year master student of vocal performance who hails from Valley Stream, N.Y., Olson said that he’s always loved singing.

When asked about the group’s preparation entering the competition, Olson attributed a good deal of the group’s success to their director. Olson raved about Vincent’s experience as an opera singer in Vienna and Germany stating many of his friends who have gone on to graduate still attribute their success to Vincent’s talent and passion.

“I do think we have a great program,” Olson said. “Our director, Dr. Vincent, is world class.”

The competition isn’t something that Olson and his fellow performers will soon forget. This is the first time in the history of the convention that one school has swept both Divisions. Olsen’s opinion on the invitation to the convention and BYU’s victory was short and sweet.

“It’s an honor,” Olsen said.

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