Each year, the Harold Haugh Light Opera Vocal Competition attracts a bevy of young vocalists vying to test their abilities against others to see if they are ready to audition for opera companies, and to add a title to their resumes. The talent level at the competition held March 8, 2014, was one of the highest ever, and put the burden on the adjudication panel of cutting some real talent from the finals.
Only a few points separated a number of the semi-finalists from the select list of eight finalists. In the end, the critical difference was how much of a show the singer put on. This competition is not solely about vocal ability; it demands that the singer entertain! The entertainment quotient is made up of acting, creativity and physical delivery, all of which are affected by what the singer chooses as his or her “entertainment” number. It is in this area that many singers came up short, and it is to this area that the competition hopes to bring attention.
The three winners all showed that they had all thought much about this part of their training. The first place winner, bass-baritone Edward Hanlon (Chicago), wowed the judges and the audience with his imaginative acting and staging in all of his selections. Beginning with “Son Imbrogliato” from Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona, Hanlon was immediately the hen-pecked master of the house. Moving on to “When My Cue Comes,” from Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he morphed into Shakespeare’s Bottom, using many changes of voice to characterize the poor fellow and attain the finals. Adding “There Lived a King” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Gondoliers in the finals, Hanlon walked away with $2,500.
Following close behind, in second place, was soprano Rachel Sparrow (Evanston, IL), who mesmerized the panel in the semis with her nuanced delivery of the “Bell Song” from Delibes’ Lakme, and followed with the portrayal of the several characters in “If I Were on the Stage (Kiss Me Again)” from Victor Herbert’s Mlle. Modiste. It was her energetic version of “Glitter and be Gay” from Bernstein’s Candide, however, that likely won her the Audience Choice Award.
The third place finisher, tenor Allan Palacios Chan (Cincinnati, OH), disappointed in his result in the previous year’s competition, realized what he needed to do upon entering this year’s contest. Beginning with “A Wand’ring Minstrel I” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, Palacios displayed a wealth of expression that immediately pushed up his score, and followed up with a beautifully rendered Si Ritrovarla Io Giuro” from Rossini’s La Cenerentola to display the breath of his ability. The competition requires singers to have a Technical Selection as well as a Presentation Selection (Light Opera), and often singers fail to appreciate the difference, unlike Chan.
Close behind was an excellent group of finalists, including sopranos Nicole Greenidge, Lauren Auge, Sara Emerson, Elizabeth Gentner and Ashly Neumann. The Young Artist Winner (Shirley Verrett Award) was given to baritone Yazid Pierce-Gray from Greencastle, Indiana. His rich, clear voice belied his years, especially in his rendition of “Dere’s A Boat Dat’s Leavin'” from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.
For the third year in a row, the Jackson Symphony, a co-sponsor of the event, has awarded one singer a contract to sing with the symphony in a future concert. That prize was given to tenor Isaac Frishman (Lansing, MI), whose warm rendition of Mozart’s “Un Aura Amorosa” from Cosi Fan Tutte played a large part.
The Western High School Select Choir, from Parma, MI, performed at the beginning of the concert and also during the final tabulation. Under the baton of Ronald Rudland, these young singers displayed produced a remarkably nuanced sound, and certainly appreciated the vocal abilities of the contestants.
The adjudication panel included The University of Michigan’s George Shirley, the Comic Opera Guild’s Thomas Petiet, and International singing stars Nada Radakovich and David Troiano. Each year, the event, now held in Jackson, Michigan, seems to get better, as it attracts singers from great distances, in this case from Maryland to Texas. Brad Rondeau, manager of the competition, and producer John Guidinger have made this a must for young professionals to discover where they stand in their chosen profession. All contestants receive personal comments from the panel to help them continue to develop their talent. The level of vocalism in this competition carries much hope for the future of classical singing.