Friend or Foe? Eugene Opera brings some healthy competition to the Hult Center with PNW Sings

The sound of humming and tongue trills poured out of the Hult Center dressing rooms on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Twelve finalists for Eugene Opera’s PNW Sings vocal competition spent the early afternoon preparing for their performances in the Silva Concert Hall.

Jeremy Reger, a renowned pianist, joined each of the finalists for their performance.

The first performer in the college division, Trevor Cook, approached the stage with Reger. The next to perform in the college division was Aria Minasian, followed by Elizabeth Schoen, Sonia Cummings, Mathew Soibelman and Sarah Saturnino.

The emerging professional division performed next. Alison King was the first to take the stage, followed by Lawrence Barasa Kiharangwa, Martina Cacciaroni Bingham, Jessica Choi, Timothy McCoy and Zachary Lenox.

The judges for PNW Sings included Noel Koran, general director of Tacoma Opera; Clare Burovac, director of artistic operations at Portland Opera and Andrew Bisantz, artistic director and conductor of Eugene Opera.

Judging a vocal competition is no easy task; Bisantz said the judges were paying close attention to how the finalists were using their voice as an instrument.

“Hearing an instrument that is beautifully spun, controlled and healthy sounding is probably the main thing we are paying attention to, but the way an artist uses that instrument is equally as important in our judging — how they communicate text, how they use the colors of their voice to “paint” the text, how well they understand the style of the composer and the musical/dramatic intent of the composer and librettist,” Bisantz said.

For the college division, first place went to Saturnino, who sang “Parto, parto, ma tu ben mio” by Mozart; second place went to Trevor Cook, who sang the Count’s aria from Le nozze di Figaro, also by Mozart and third place went to Soibelman, who sang an excerpt from Susannah by Carlisle Floyd. The first-place prize for the college division was $1000, the second-place prize was $750 and the third-place prize was $500.

The first-place prize for the emerging professional division went to Lenox, who sang an impassioned aria from Un Ballo in Maschera by Verdi; second place went to Kiharangwa, who sang a playful aria from Les Contes D’Hoffmann by Offenbach and third place went to King, who sang the meltingly beautiful “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka by Dvorák.

For the Emerging Professional division, the first-place prize was $2000, the second-place prize was $1250 and the third-place prize was $750. The first-place performer in the Emerging Professional division also received a guaranteed spot in one of Eugene Opera’s upcoming productions.

The winner of the Audience Favorite award went to Kiharangwa. The Audience Favorite award was open to both divisions and included a $500 prize.

The inaugural PNW Sings was a success; it allowed Eugene Opera to actualize the part of their mission that aims to support and promote emerging professionals. The cash prizes and exposure from PNW Sings will help the winners continue their careers in opera and hone their craft.

“I just want to thank Eugene Opera for giving me the chance to perform for them and the wonderful audience this past weekend, and I look forward to working with them next season,” said Lenox.


Meet the finalists!

College Division:

“Opera to me first and foremost is a passion. I absolutely love the music, I love the technique and I love the teaching aspect to it. I really love teaching, so that is my favorite thing about opera.”

Trevor Cook, Clackamas, Oregon. Singing opera for 10 years.

“Opera brings together all the elements of the arts. You have design, makeup, costume, singing, music, orchestra, acting and dance, so it is really fun to do, and people just light up when they are up on stage.”

Aria Minasian, Bainbridge Island, Washington. Singing opera for 5 years.

“My favorite part of opera is learning a new character and really getting lost in who that person is. I try to find things from my life that I can relate to that character to really bring them to alive on stage.”

Elizabeth Schoen, Vashon Island, Washington. Singing opera for 7 years.

“My favorite part of opera has been during tech week when everything is finally coming together. You have all of the singers in costume with the orchestra and you just run it. It always comes together into this amazing production no matter what hiccups had been in the way.”

Sonia Cummings, Wisconsin. Singing opera for 6 years.

“I love [opera] because it is a chance to perform a style a music that isn't getting as much exposure as a lot of people would hope, myself included. [Opera] is the kind of thing where once you really understand it, it gives you that chill up your spine like a good book or song would.”

Matthew Soibelman, Tarzana, California. Singing opera for 6 years.

“Opera is one of those art forms that really shows the full capacity of what it means to be human because you get such guttural reactions to situations that you don't get to necessarily see in real life. You get to really show the world what it means to feel a certain way, and I think opera is a really cool way to be an artist.”

Sarah Saturnino, Grass Valley, California. Singing opera for 10 years.

Emerging Professionals:

“Opera has been a part of me for my entire life. I love the whole process of learning a new role, especially a new piece or a piece you have never done before, and then bringing that character to life on stage.”

Alison King, Portland, Oregon. Singing opera for 15 years.

“Opera to me means a whole new world of joy, laughter and happiness, and it also means sharing your innermost feelings to the audience. To me, [opera] is a gift I am going to share with the audience and anyone listening to me.”

Lawrence Barasa Kiharangwa, Nairobi, Kenya. Singing opera for 6 years.

“As a singer, where we get to perform at different capacities, Opera is an opportunity to sing in ensembles and do something grand--more grand than we typically would when we are singing on our own or in a recital.”

Martina Cacciaroni Bingham, Antioch, California. Singing opera for 10 years.

“I just think opera is a beautiful combination of all the arts. Opera shows all the joys and tragedies of life. It’s very dramatic and I love that about [opera].”

Jessica Choi, Los Angeles, California. Singing opera for 16 years.

“The medium of opera gives [the music] meaning whereas with orchestral music you hear it and sometimes don't know what they're trying to get at. But with opera, the music just fits perfectly with the drama.”

Timothy McCoy, Junction City, Oregon. Singing opera for 8 years.

“Well opera is definitely a two- fold art form because if we didn't have an audience, there would be no reason for us to be up on stage. A big part of opera to me is telling the story to somebody or to the audience”

Zachary Lenox, New York, New York. Singing opera for 5 years.