Verdi Opera Theatre of Michigan Celebrates 30th Anniversary of Annual Italian Songs and Arias Vocal Competition for High School Students

The Concert of the Finalists is always an exciting event, sponsored by the Verdi Opera Theatre of Michigan, in collaboration with the Italian American Club of Livonia Charitable Foundation, the Italian American Cultural Society, the Dante Alighieri Society of Michigan, and Detroit Opera, under the auspices of the Italian Consulate of Italy in Detroit. It was held on May 5, 2024, at the IACS Banquet Center in front of an enthusiastic and appreciative audience, giving standing ovations to the talented young finalists.

The ten finalists, chosen from participants who entered the competition from schools throughout the state, were required to sing from memory to piano accompaniment. Their two Italian art songs or opera arias were initially submitted to enter the contest. The works performed at the concert included some of the most beautiful songs and opera arias by Bellini, Caccini, Donaudy, Donizetti, Giordani, Monteverdi, Mozart, Paisiello, Respighi, Tosti, Scarlatti, and Vaccai.

All the finalists showed noteworthy musical training and their love of singing, which made for a very enjoyable musical afternoon for the audience and a challenging task for the judges. This was demonstrated by the two tied Second Prizes awarded to Adyson Banton (Traverse City West Senior High School) and Isabel Seymour (Traverse City Central High School). At the same time, Third Place went to Isaiah Gallegos, also of Traverse City West Senior High School.
The $1000 First Prize winner, Modestina Call from Oxford High School, captivated the audience with her beautiful tone and wonderful expression. She sang the aria L’ho perduta, me meschina from Mozart’s opera Le Nozze di Figaro and the popular art song Vaghissima sembianza by Stefano Donaudy.

The remaining six finalists: Dylan DeMarco (Grosse Pointe South High School); Sloane O’Neill (Grosse Pointe North High School); Madison Garrett (Traverse City Central High School); Anna Schultz (Cranbrook Kingswood School); Caleb Mienk and Zachary Wheeler (Traverse City West Senior High School), were considered of equally high merit. A total of $3,200 in prizes was awarded to the
ten finalists, entirely provided by the Italian American Club of Livonia Charitable Foundation. The distinguished judges for the Concert of the Finalists were Detroit icon, Grammy-winning tenor, and National Medal of Arts awardee Prof. George Shirley; renowned collaborative pianist, vocal coach, and author Timothy Cheek, active on radio and television programs around the world; and mezzo-soprano Barbara Wiltsie, a former long-time touring artist with Michigan Opera Theatre, a professional adjudicator, and presently Associate Professor of Voice at Madonna University. The official Verdi Opera collaborative pianist for the Concert of the Finalists was Kevin Bylsma, acclaimed as an organist, recitalist, and conductor throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe and head of music preparation for Toledo Opera.

The Verdi Opera Theatre of Michigan extends a heartfelt thank you to all its sponsors, members, and other friends in music for their support over the years, which made possible the realization and celebration of this milestone 30th-anniversary event. Without a supportive community, the arts cannot flourish. The Dante Alighieri Society of Michigan proudly sponsors the program.
By Sandra Tornberg