While it might not be the superstar-search hit television show American Idol, it's a safe bet that the Annapolis Opera Vocal Competition will attract better singers.
This weekend and next, trios of veteran judges will challenge young singers to remain poised on-stage, befitting their "stars of tomorrow" billing while meeting every trial devised to determine winners. On Feb. 1, audience members will also vote for their favorites among the eight finalists.
Now in its 16th year, Annapolis Opera's Vocal Competition has attracted 48 contestants from the Mid-Atlantic region to compete in preliminary auditions tomorrow and Saturday at Anne Arundel Community College. Eight finalists will be selected to compete before another panel of judges.
"The preliminary judging at the Cade Music Room on campus is not open to the public and involves two days of very hard work," said Victoria Waidner, who has led the vocal competition for the past four years.
For that phase, the competition has three highly qualified judges: Washington Opera Chorus Master Steven Gathman; soprano Laura Mann, who has sung in eight languages in the United States and abroad; and soprano Patricia Miller, who studied in Italy and Salzburg and is a professor of music at George Mason University.
The finalists will compete Feb. 1 at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts before an audience and a second trio of judges.
The judges for the final competition are Ronald J. Gretz, artistic director of Annapolis Opera and conductor of Gettysburg Symphony Orchestra; Washington Post music critic emeritus Joseph McClellan; and soprano Linda Mabbs, professor of voice at University of Maryland, who has sung with many symphony orchestras and the New York City Opera.
All contestants are required to sing two arias from five they have prepared, one of their choice, another chosen by the judges. Singers are encouraged to select arias to demonstrate their technical skill and vocal expressiveness in three languages. Stage presence is an important consideration.
Finalists will receive prizes totaling $70,000, including $500 study awards, a second prize of $1,200, a third prize of $700 and a top study award of $675. The singer receiving the most audience votes receives the $300 "audience favorite" award.
Together with her brother William Ellery Clark, Waidner will give the grand prize of $1,600 in memory of her mother Grace Gelinas Clark, a ballet teacher and choreographer who founded the Annapolis Civic Ballet. The first-place winner also receives the $500 Director/Conductor Award donated by Gretz and Annapolis Opera stage director Braxton Peters.
Board member/volunteer Nancy Lindley and her husband Mark give the second prize, in honor of their son. Another longtime volunteer is remembered in a $675 study award, The Dr. Paul and Mrs. Herta Lagally Memorial Award, established by the Lagally family in 1987 to promote vocal arts in Annapolis.
Admission is free through a grant from the Helena Foundation. No tickets will be issued, and there will be no assigned seating, except for a section reserved for donors. For best seat selection, audience members should arrive well before the 3 p.m. start of the Feb. 1 program.