Current and former SMU voice students win top awards at Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition

Five current voice students and graduates of the Meadows School Division of Music won awards at the Dallas Opera Guild’s 23rd Annual Vocal Competition at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas on May 14.

Five current voice students and graduates of the Meadows School Division of Music won awards at the Dallas Opera Guild’s 23rd Annual Vocal Competition at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas on May 14.

Opera Singer John Holiday Jr.The top prize of $8,000 went to 26-year-old countertenor John Holiday, Jr., a 2007 graduate of SMU now working on his master’s degree at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Holiday wowed judges and audience members alike with his extraordinary renditions of “Crude furie” from Handel’s Serse and “Che farò senza Euridice” from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, which showcased the exceptional beauty and timbre of his unusual vocal type.

Among his many awards and accomplishments, Holiday has performed as a soloist with the Bourbon Baroque, the Cincinnati Boychoir, the Catacoustic Consort, the Meadows Symphony Orchestra and other ensembles.  His stage experience includes Tolomeo in Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Bertarido in Rodelinda, Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Testo in Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda for the College-Conservatory of Music.  He also appeared in the roles of Nerone (L’incoronazione di Poppea) and Federico (Ainadamar) in selected scenes performed at SMU.

In addition, while at SMU, Holiday took first place in the Sophomore, Junior and Senior Men’s Division competitions sponsored by the National Association of Teachers of Singing.  He has also been a finalist in the Corbett Scholarship Competition (2010) and twice placed in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, both district and regional. Now an apprentice artist for the Santa Fe Opera, Holiday will sing the role of Corrado in an upcoming production of Vivaldi’s Griselda, being touted as “the first major U.S. production” of this work.

Two sopranos tied for second place in the Dallas Opera contest, each winning an award of $4,000: SMU student Katrina Galka (B.M. ‘11), age 21, and Maren Weinberger of Oklahoma City University. Galka, a student of Barbara Hill Moore at SMU, dazzled the audience with her crystalline coloratura voice and her intelligent phrasing, performing “Caro nome” from Verdi’s Rigoletto and “The Fire Aria” from Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortileges.  In 2009, she sang the roles of Barbarina and Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro) and Pamina (Die Zauberflöte) in the Amalfi Coast Music Festival near Naples, Italy.  With the SMU Meadows Opera Ensemble, she has performed roles including Eurydice in Orpheus in the Underworld, Elisa in Il re pastore, the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor and Baby Doe in The Ballad of Baby Doe. A 2010 Merola Regional Finalist, Galka is both a cantor and choir member at Christ the King Catholic Church in Dallas, and appeared as a soloist in “The Messiah” at the First United Methodist Church, Irving.

The judges chose not to award a prize for third place this year, instead opting to give a special “Encouragement Award” and a $1,500 cash prize to 22-year-old soprano Julie Marx, a graduate student at SMU studying with Barbara Hill Moore. She charmed the crowd with her silvery coloratura, well-displayed in a saucy rendition of Donizetti’s “Chacun le sait” from La fille du regiment, as well as a selection from Der Freischütz, “Kommt ein schlanker Bursch gegangen.” A section leader at Highland Park Presbyterian Church, Marx (an Ohio native) has appeared in a variety of university-level opera and orchestral performances including the role of Cupid in this year’s Orpheus in the Underworld at SMU and Despina in Così fan tutte at the Lyric Opera Studio Weimar.

Julie Marx was also one of seven finalists honored with $250 grants, along with baritone Adam Cannedy, age 26 (B.M. ’07) and soprano Dee Donasco, age 28 (M.M. ’10; Performance Diploma ’12).

Judges for the semifinal and finals rounds were Daniel Biaggi, General Director of Palm Beach Opera; Andreas Melinat, Director of Artistic Administration for Lyric Opera of Chicago; Christina Scheppelmann, Director of Artistic Operations, Washington National Opera; Joshua Winograde, Artistic Administrator & Director, Domingo-Thornton Young Artist program, Los Angeles Opera; and Dallas Opera Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, who also serves as artistic advisor to the annual competition.

The Dallas Opera Guild’s Vocal Competition provides vital assistance to the young opera stars of tomorrow, and also creates an outstanding opportunity for people from every walk of life to hear exceptional up-and-coming talents, in free, public performances. 

Tough economic times may even increase the value of these experiences for young singers, according to Dallas Opera General Director & CEO Keith Cerny. “We believe that competitions like this are extremely important for young singers, allowing them to build their experience levels and confidence in the midst of an increasingly difficult artistic environment,” he said.

Previous winners of the Dallas Opera Guild competition have gone on to international careers and performances with the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Spoleto Festival, La Scala, and other leading companies worldwide.