Opera singers compete at fine arts center

Two singers advance to next round of national opera competition.

Susan Watkins performs at the Hughes Fine Arts Center on Saturday. Photo by Chester Beltowski/The Dakota Student.

Seven opera singers took the stage Saturday at the recital hall in the Hughes Fine Arts Center for the 50th annual North Dakota Met Opera Auditions.

The contestants, from Winnipeg, Minnesota and South Dakota, spent more than a year preparing songs for the event. They performed one song of their choice and one song chosen by judges.

The event was the first step in a four-level national competition. Two of the seven singers were chosen to move on to the regional competition on Feb. 1, 2014 at the Ordway Center in Minneapolis.

Lida Szkwarek of Winnipeg was one of the two contestants chosen to advance.

“I had the chance to perform, which gave me more experience in front of people and got some feed back,” she said. “Moving on is even better because I get another chance to sing at an even higher level and will receive even more feedback from them.”

Szkwarek also was presented with the Greater Grand Forks Symphony Vocal Soloist Prize, granting her the opportunity to perform with the Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra next season.

Christopher Kenney of Hawley, Minn., the second vocalist chosen to move on, said there is a lot that goes into preparation for an audition of this magnitude.

“You have know every little part of your stuff and master it,” he said. “You have to know not just what notes you are singing, but what you are saying.”

In addition to moving on, Kenney also received the audience Choice Award for being the fan favorite.

Ashley Boychuk of Winnipeg and Justine Scarbrough of Brookings S.D., also were given awards. Each of them received an encouragement award, which is given in support of the development of promising singers.

Judges Richard Boldrey of Northwestern University and Delores Ziegler of University of Maryland stayed around after the competition to help each singer recognize different areas they could work on.

“Every competition is a little different,” Ziegler said. “You never know what you are going to get, but I think the level of competition was really high though. There were only seven singers and they really performed well.”

Ziegler said during her time with Szkwarek and Kenny, she made sure they knew they could go far in the competition.

“I gave a lot of positive reinforcement, because they deserved it, but also because I wanted to give them a real strong feeling they could compete anywhere,” she said. “There will be more pressure next time, so they have to know that what they are doing is very good.”

After having a UND student compete in last year’s event, no one from the university competed this year.

Instead, many came to watch.

Director Louise Pinkerton said it is not surprising as the event is meant to be more of a learning opportunity than anything.

“For our students, it’s a chance to hear really good singing and to see what is expected professionally,” she said. “The students get a good example of what they should do and what they can learn from the master class afterwards and something to inspire from.”

Sophomore music major Iloriem Pena said she could relate to the singers and was able to gain a lot of insight watching them preform.

“It helped me apply what I’m learning in my voice lessons,” she said. “They obviously worked very hard as a lot of the little things they sang sounded so effortless.”

Mathew Mckay is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected].