The 2009 Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition

by Suzanne Calvin

The champagne was cold, the competition was hot…a fabulous time was had by all!

The Dallas Opera Guild’s twenty-first annual competition for young opera singers, The Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition, awarded ten outstanding Texas-based singers $19,000 in prize monies in a ceremony conducted in Gooch Auditorium at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, where the exciting competition concluded late yesterday evening (Saturday, April 4, 2009).

Baritones Steven LaBrie and Michael Sumuel tied for First Place—a historic first in the history of this competition—and each will receive a $6,500 cash prize. There was no award given for Second Place.

24-year-old mezzo-soprano Catherine Martin took Third Place, an honor which includes $3,000 cash, while 23-year-old soprano Icy Simpson won the hearts of the audience and was voted this year’s “People’s Choice Award,” carrying a one thousand dollar prize.

LaBrie, an 18-year-old barely old enough to compete at the time of the Guild’s 2006 competition, went on that year to win Third Place, the “People’s Choice Award” and the “Mozart Prize” provided by former General Director Karen Stone.

Three years later, this 21-year-old Richardson native returned to wow judges and audience members alike with finals round renditions of “E fra quest’ansie” from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and “Come Paride vezzoso” from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love), accompanied by pianist Sarah Click.

Mr. LaBrie has just completed his third year at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia and plans to use a portion of his prize money to study in Italy over the summer. He has sung and covered a host of starring roles for Opera New Jersey, AVA Opera Theatre and, locally, for The Living Opera.

Since his 2006 accolades, LaBrie has gone on to named a semi-finalist in the Richard Tucker Competition, to place in both the Parkinson Competition and the Palm Beach Opera Competition, and to be awarded both a Nelson Eddy Scholarship and the 2008 Sergio Franchi Scholarship.

Twenty-three-year-old Michael Sumuel, currently working towards his Master of Music at Houston’s Rice University, covered the role of Bosun for Houston Grand Opera’s 2008 production of Billy Budd and has starred in numerous productions at both Rice University and Columbus State University (GA). He also recently covered the role of Guglielmo (Mozart’s Così fan tutte) in the 2009 Merola Program.

Earlier this year, Mr. Sumuel was named a semi-finalist in the Houston Grand Opera Eleanor McCollum Competition. In 2007, he was a national winner in the MTNA Young Artist Voice Competition.

Last night, he delighted Dallas opera lovers with performances of “Warm as the Autumn Light” from Moore’s The Ballad of Baby Doe and “Madamina, il catalogo è questo” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

Third Place winner Catherine Martin delivered strong performances of “Give Him This Orchid” from Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia and “Deh per questo istante” from Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito. Now studying at the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music after taking her Bachelor of Music at the University of North Texas (where she was named “Most Outstanding Undergraduate in Voice,” 2006), Ms. Martin has performed as a Wolf Trap Opera Studio Artist, a Chautauqua Studio Artist and as a soloist in the Ashville Symphony performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

Her numerous awards include a 2007 “Encouragement Award” from The Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition.

Twenty-three-year old soprano Icy Simpson, another previous Guild Competition “Encouragement Award” winner and the first singer in the history of the University of Texas (Austin) to receive a Harrington Fellowship, won hearts at Gooch auditorium Saturday evening, before being awarded the 2009 People’s Choice Award and a one thousand dollar cash prize.

She performed arias from Charpentier’s Louise and Lehár’s Giuditta.

Two $500 “Encouragement Awards” were presented to 24-year-old tenor Juan José De Léon (a member of The Dallas Opera’s Emerging Artists Program now working towards a Master of Music in Vocal Performance at Southern Methodist University) who, during the finals round, sang selections from The Tender Land by Aaron Copland and Rossini’s Cinderella story: La Cenerentola, and to 23-year-old Canadian-born soprano Mary-Jane Lee, a prize-winning student at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music where she, too, is a candidate for a Master of Music. Ms. Lee performed selections by Mozart and Puccini in the finals round of competition.

The remaining finalists were each presented with a check for $200 by The Dallas Opera Guild.

One Response to The 2009 Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition

Kim Bryce says: April 7, 2009 at 12:10 pm

Congratulations to Juan DeLeon. I am proud of you. I know you will continue to delight audiences with your beautiful voice and commanding musicianship.