Arts & Entertainment

Opera at Florham to Present 30th Annual Vocal Competition in Madison

Credits: Opera at Florham

Opera at Florham will present its 30th annual vocal competition and musicale on Sunday at 2 p.m. inside Lenfell Hall, The Mansion at Fairleigh Dickinson University, 285 Madison Ave in Madison. A fully-catered luncheon with competition judges will also be offered at 12:30 p.m. for an additional fee.

Desserts will be served during the competition intermission. The luncheon will be held inside Hartman Lounge at The Mansion at Fairleigh Dickinson.

This year, 50 applicants will audition on April 18-19 at the Kosciuszko Foundation Concert Hall in New York City and a group of finalists will be selected to perform in Sunday's event.

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The competition is being staged with the cooperation of the Gerda Lissner Foundation and organized and directed by Stephen DeMaio, the foundation’s president and Opera at Florham Board of Trustees’ member. The accompanist for the preliminary judging and for the final Vocal Competition is Mary Pinto, vice president of Opera at Florham.

Audition and competition judges include Stephen DeMaio, James Thurmond Smithgall, Barbara Ann Testa and Scott Barnes.

Here is a look at the judging panel:

  • Stephen DeMaio is president of the Gerda Lissner Foundation, an organization cited by Opera News as one of the most prestigious foundations fostering the careers of young artists with very generous financial awards. He also serves as artistic adviser of the Giulio Gari Foundation, Loren L. Zachary Society for The Performing Arts, Opera at Florham NJ and assistant to the director of the Musicians Emergency Fund. He is on the advisory boards at the Martina Arroyo Foundation, Opera Index and American Center for Musical Arts.
  • Barbara Ann Testa is a soprano who she studied in Italy and with the great tenor Giovanni Martinelli and Licia Albanese. She is also an accomplished pianist and trustee of the Gerda Lissner Foundation.
  • James Thurmond Smithgall is an international jurist, patron of the arts and artists’ representative guiding the careers of many young singers. In 2009, he created the Lanie and Ethel Foundation, a private foundation that focuses primarily on environmental concerns, needy musicians and the promotion of artistic careers.
  • Scott Barnes, after years in showbiz—and years teaching master classes in song interpretation and audition strategies for Broadway-bound performers—Scott has found his unique ability to help opera singers strategize for auditions and broaden their imaginations to better inhabit songs, arias, and roles. For the past several seasons, Scott has judged several of opera’s top singing competitions hosted by the Gerda Lissner, Licia Albanese/Puccini Foundation, Giulio Gari, Veronica Dunne (NYC and Wexford preliminaries), AVA’s Giargiari, the Loren L. Zachary Society and Opera at Florham, respectively. 

Here is a rundown of the prizes that competition winners will receive: 

  • First prize: $5,000, donated by the Gerda Lissner Foundation.
  • Second prize: $3,000 donated by Joseph DuPont in honor of his mother, Violetta.
  • Third prize: $1,500, donated by Elena Matos, a previous OAF Vocal Competition winner and the DuPont family.
  • Encouragement awards will be handed out to several other finalists by members of opera's Board of Trustees, among other donors.

Special Opera at Florham donations include a $5,000 contribution from Karl Michaelis, president of The Lissner Charitable Fund, and $2,500 from the Investor Foundation.

Tickets for the vocal competition are $25. Combination tickets for luncheon and vocal competition are $75. Admission is free for children under 12 years old and for Fairleigh Dickinson students.

Call 973-443-8620 to buy tickets or purchase them online here via PayPal. Tickets can also be purchased by check, made out to Opera at Florham and mailed to Opera at Florham, P.O. Box 343, Convent Station, NJ 07961.

Tickets will also be available at the door on day of the event.

The Opera at Florham vocal competition was established in 1987 by Opera at Florham co-founder and benefactor Violetta Pollara DuPont, who died in 2012 at the age of 100. It showcases singers between the ages of 21 and 35 who are pursuing a career in opera.

Previous finalists and winners are now on the rosters of the Metropolitan Opera in New York and other major companies here and abroad. Last year’s winners were Alexandra Nowakowski, soprano; Jennifer Panara, mezzo-soprano; and Kidon Choi, baritone.

Funding has been made possible in part by funds from the Morris Arts Council through the New Jersey State Council of the Arts/Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. 

The opera's final season event, to be held on Sunday, May 20 at 2 p.m., will feature Puccini’s bel canto lyricism.

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