The Friends of Eastman Opera hosted the fifteenth-annual Voice Competition on Feb. 12 in Kilbourn Hall. Adjudicated by accomplished opera singer Kim Witman, the competition proceeded with each competitor, either a student or alumnus of the Eastman School of Music, first singing one out of their three prepared pieces, and then singing another prepared piece chosen by Witman.
The night started off with Keely Futterer, a second-year doctoral student, singing “Martern aller Arten” from Mozart’s “Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail.” Considered a challenge for sopranos, the piece seemed to come naturally to Futterer, who sang it with the strength and beauty expected of those taking it on, setting the bar high for the other competitors. She continued with “Rusalka’s Song to the Moon” from Dvořák’s “Rusalka.” This soft, fairy-tale aria showed a different side of Futterer’s talent, as she was able to immediately switch gears and swoon the audience with the love song.
Cody Müller took on the stage next with Massenet’s “Épouse quelque brave fille” from Manon. He continued with “Madamina, il catalogo è questo” from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” This comedic performance earned many laughs from the audience with a theatrical performance by Müller. In this catalogue aria, the character lists his titular master’s many lovers to another character, so Müller brought a small pocketbook to “read” names from, and wasn’t afraid to bring comedy to the stage.
Second-year graduate student Kimberly Merrill followed Müller, singing a piece from Puccini’s “La bohème” called “Si, mi chiamano Mimi.” She continued with Verdi’s “O, nye ridai moi Paolo” from “Rigoletto.” Though she had a strong voice, she was mostly static in terms of movement, barely moving around the space or gesturing. This led to a mostly bland performance, from the audience’s perspective.
Second-year master’s student Alan Cline graced the stage next, with a strong performance of “Avant de quitter ces lieux” from “Faust” by Charles Gounod, followed by “Hai già vinta la cause” from Mozart’s “Le nozze de Figaro.” Cline showcased his talent well with his pieces and showed that he had a very strong voice, and was able to fill the hall with sound.
Second-year graduate student Arielle Nachtigal was next, with “Nun eilt herbei” from “Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor” by Nicolai. She used the space on the stage well, walking around and emoting the words she was singing, allowing even those who didn’t know the piece to understand it. As a comedy, the piece required much from the singer, and Nachtigal was able to deliver. She next sang “Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro” from “Le nozze di Figaro.” Overall, Nachtigal had a powerful stage presence and voice, and seemed to leave a lasting impression on the audience.
Second-year master’s student and baritone Isaac Assor came after Nachtigal, with “Aprite un po’ quegli occhi” from “Le nozze di Figaro,” the third competitor of the night to draw from the famous opera. He next sang “Look! Through the port comes the moonshine astray” from Billy Budd by Britten, making him the first of the night to perform an English-language piece.
Senior dual-degree student Emily Helenbrook took on the stage next with “Frere, voyez!” from “Wether” by Massenet. After that, her performance of “Alla selva, al prato” from “Il re pastore” by Mozart elicited the strongest reaction from the audience that evening, with Helenbrook masterfully hitting the big note toward the end.
Bass-baritone and doctoral student Nicholas Kilkenny started off next with “La calunnia è un venticello” from “Il barbiere di Siviglia” by Rossini. He was then asked to perform “Warm as the autumn light” from “The Ballad of Baby Doe” by Moore. His performance was strong and his pieces seemed to showcase his talent very well. However, there was a lack of stage presence, as Kilkenny did not seem to react to his music the way an actor would, leaving his performance a little dull.
The competition ended with soprano and first-year master’s candidate Emily Siar singing “Einst träumte meiner sel’gen Base” from “Der Freischütz” by von Weber. Her second piece was “Che fiero momento” from “Orfeo ed Euridice” by Gluck. Siar’s performance, while hitting all the marks for voice and stage presence, seemed to just miss the point of brilliance.
After a brief reception, Witman announced the competition’s winners. Siar received an honorable mention. Third place went to Cline, second place to Helenbrook, and first place was awarded to Futterer.
Though most of the places were well-deserved, it seemed unfortunate that neither Nachtigal nor Müller received an award, as they were definitely two of the best performers of the night. Their stage presence livened the audience and garnered responses other than just polite clapping at the end.