GMU Opera Celebrates First Place Victory at National Competition

Posted: February 25, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Catherine Ferraro

The sounds of sopranos and baritones echoed off the walls of the Key Bridge Marriott Hotel in Arlington, Va., where the National Opera Association (NOA) held its 54th Annual Convention in January.

One of the convention’s highlights was the association’s very first Collegiate Opera Scenes Competition. When the convention came to a close, the verdict was clear: Out of five universities from across the country, the GMU Opera walked away with its first national-level award. The singers won for a performance of the first act finale of “Too Many Sopranos,” a comic opera about a group of sopranos who are vying to get into heaven, but there is no more room in the Heavenly Choir.

GMU Opera contestants
Patricia Miller, University Professor of Music and director of the vocal studies program, far left, poses with Mason opera students after their win. From left, they are Adrianna Sgarlata, Patricia Hussey, Darrick Speller, Gregory Hewitt, Jessica Buckman, Alia Waheed and Michael Crabill.
Photo courtesy of Patricia Miller

Clad in elaborate costumes borrowed from the Washington National Opera, GMU Opera students and vocal performance majors Alia Waheed, Adrianna Sgarlata, Jessica Buckman, Patricia Hussey, Chip Hewitt and Darrick Speller were honored by judges who evaluated their vocal ability, staging of the scene and convincing portrayal of the characters.

“This is a wonderful honor, and we are thrilled to receive this award,” says Patricia Miller, University Professor of Music and director of the vocal studies program. “The students worked so hard to prepare for this, and I am proud to work with such talented student artists and faculty as we have at George Mason University.”

Miller served as artistic director of the scene for this performance and staged it as well. Michael Crabill, head opera coach and faculty member of accompaniment and diction in the Music Department, served as musical director for the performance and helped prepare the students musically and vocally for the competition.

Throughout the convention, the students, whose excitement level was “through the roof,” according to Miller, had the opportunity to participate in presentations, workshops and master classes with several guest artists, including Metropolitan Opera singers Martina Arroyo, Denyce Graves and Evelyn Lear. They also had exposure to conductors, directors and arts administrators from across the country, such as Christina Scheppelmann of the Washington National Opera and Kim Whitman of the Wolf Trap Opera. Nationally and internationally recognized mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne presented the final award.

“The award was well deserved,” says Elizabeth Vrenios, president of the NOA. “The GMU Opera students exhibited extraordinary vocalism, excellent diction and delightful staging in their performance.”

Although the victory belonged to the GMU Opera students, many other students, faculty and alumni from Mason’s Music Department were involved in the convention.

Students from Mason’s heralding brass program, led by Mark Camphouse, faculty member of conducting and composition, and Anthony Maiello, professor of conducting, performed at the convention’s opening ceremony at the Kennedy Center. Mason’s Jazz Ensemble also performed at the Gala Banquet.

Sixteen other vocal studies students participated in convention activities.

“The feeling of camaraderie from students and faculty in the Music Department was overwhelming,” says Miller. “I’m excited that the GMU Opera came out victorious, not only because of their stellar performance, but because of the support from others in the department. The involvement in the convention exemplified how everyone works together.”

The GMU Opera is currently preparing for several upcoming performances. These include the National Association of Teachers of Singing spring conference at the Shenandoah Conservatory, March 4 – 6; and the two-act opera “Street Scene” that will take place in Harris Theater on the Fairfax Campus on Friday, March 27, and Saturday, March 28, at 8 p.m.

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