Dennis Wees, Senior Voice Performance Major at SMU Meadows School of the Arts, Wins $10,000 Second Prize at International Lotte Lenya Competition

Judges call him "a phenomenon"

Dennis Wees, a senior at SMU Meadows School of the Arts pursuing a Bachelor of Music degree in vocal performance, has been named the second place winner of the international 2016 Lotte Lenya Competition, sponsored by the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music (KWF) and held on April 16 at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. Wees, who at 21 was the youngest finalist of the competition, won $10,000.

The $15,000 first prize winners were Brian Vu, 26, of Los Angeles, a Grand Finalist in the 2016 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and Jim Schubin, 26, of Plainsboro, N.J., a current member of the national touring company of The Sound of Music.

Each of the 14 finalists performed four selections ranging from opera/operetta to contemporary musical theater, with a focus on the works of Kurt Weill. Wees impressed the judges with his challenging and diverse program, comprised of “Pass the Football” from Wonderful Town, “People Carry On” from The Story of My Life, “It Never Was You” from Weill’sKnickerbocker Holiday and “The Confession Aria” from Dead Man Walking.

The judges described Wees as “a phenomenon that we have seen only once or twice before in the 19 years of the competition,” adding, “Rarely do we see this sort of maturity from someone still in college. He managed to make us laugh and cry within the first five minutes of his program, and then scared us to death in the last three.”

The judges included international opera star Teresa Stratas, Rodgers & Hammerstein President Theodore S. Chapin, and Broadway music director and conductor Andy Einhorn. Finalists were selected from an initial pool of 224 contestants, later narrowed to 31 semi-finalists who were adjudicated and coached in the semi-final round by Tony Award-winners Jeanine Tesori and Victoria Clark. Clark, who last judged the competition in 2012, noted “I can feel the leap in overall talent from the last time I judged.”

“My experience with the competition was amazing,” said Wees. “They get an immensely talented group of performers each year from both the opera and musical theater world and I am grateful to be counted among them. It is an incredibly difficult competition, focusing not only on the singing prowess of its performers, but also on the acting chops, choice of repertoire and ability to ‘sing the story.’ I was thrilled to be a winner – I know it will be a jumpstart to my career and I’m excited to see what the future has in store!”

Wees, a native of Albuquerque, N.M., studies with Virginia Dupuy at SMU Meadows. He already has performed notable roles with professional theaters in North Texas as well as at SMU. Credits include Fyedka in Fiddler on the Roof at both Casa Mañana and Lyric Stage, Matt in The Fantasticks (Theatre Three), Nanki-Poo in The Hot Mikado (Theatre Three), Charles in Titanic (Lyric Stage), Doc MacCahan in The Golden Apple (Lyric Stage), Montparnasse in Les Miserables (Casa Mañana), Melchior in Spring Awakening (Albuquerque Little Theater) and Papageno in the 2016 Meadows Opera Theatre production of The Magic Flute. He also appears as Doc on the first full recording of The Golden Apple released last year by PS Classics.

Following his graduation from SMU in May, Wees will perform in the summer season of the College Light Opera Company in Cape Cod, then plans to use the prize money to move to New York City in order to pursue his performance career.

The Lotte Lenya Competition was founded in 1998 by the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music to honor the centenary of the birth of singer/actress Lotte Lenya (1898-1981). She was one of the foremost interpreters of the music of her husband, Kurt Weill (1900-50), composer of The Threepenny Opera and numerous other works. The competition recognizes talented young singer/actors ages 19-32 who are dramatically and musically convincing in repertoire ranging from opera/operetta to contemporary Broadway scores, with a focus on the works of Kurt Weill. More than a vocal competition, the Lotte Lenya Competition is a theater singing competition that emphasizes wide-ranging repertoire and the acting of songs and arias within a dramatic context.

The Kurt Weill Foundation counts continuing advocacy for professional engagements and development for Lenya Competition winners as among its primary initiatives in its mission to nurture young talent. KWF continues to follow the careers and highlight the achievements of past winners in its publications. KWF staff advocates on competition winners’ behalf by gladly recommending them for appropriate professional engagements when consulted. In 2013, KWF established its Professional Development Grants program for top prize winners of the Lenya Competition. Through these grants, KWF provides support to advance their careers as performers of musical theater and/or opera. In 2014, the Foundation inaugurated an annual sponsorship at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, N.Y., for a performer engaged as a Young Artist at the Festival who had previously reached the finals of the Lenya Competition. For more information, visit the Kurt Weill Foundation.

Watch: Youtube video of Wees’ performance in the evening portion of the competition.