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Music

Opera Theater of Pittsburgh vocal competition's not over until best voice sings

| Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
Elizabeth Baldwin, winner of the 2013 Mildred Miller International Voice Competition, starred in the July 2014 staging of 'Ariadne auf Naxos' by Richard Strauss by Summerfest in July 2014.
Opera Theater of Pittsburgh
Elizabeth Baldwin, winner of the 2013 Mildred Miller International Voice Competition, starred in the July 2014 staging of 'Ariadne auf Naxos' by Richard Strauss by Summerfest in July 2014.
Opera Theater of Pittsburgh founder Mildred Miller
Opera Theater of Pittsburgh
Opera Theater of Pittsburgh founder Mildred Miller

Discovering a new delight is one of life's great experiences. For opera fans, discovering new voices has the added physical thrill of the sound of the voices themselves.

Opera Theater of Pittsburgh started its vocal competition three seasons ago, and named it in honor of the company's founder, mezzo-soprano Mildred Miller. She had a 25-year career at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and a notable one in Europe, as well, before making Pittsburgh her home.

“I am very happy with the competition, especially since the most marvelous winners have emerged,” Miller says. “The first two of them, Andrey Nemzer and Juan Jose de Leon, have gotten Metropolitan Opera contracts, and I think the third, Elizabeth Baldwin, is on her way.”

The semi-finals of the 2014 Mildred Miller International Voice Competition will be Nov. 1 at the Mellon Institute Auditorium in Oakland. The finals will be Nov. 2 at the 20th Century Club, also in Oakland.

Twenty-six singers will compete in the semi-finals, chosen from 222 applicants from 13 countries. Up to eight singers will compete in the finals. The top three winners will receive prizes of $5,000, $3,000 and $1,000. Each of the top winners will receive a contract to perform at the 2015 season of Opera Theater's Summerfest.

The 2015 season will run from July 9 to 26. The main productions will be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's “The Marriage of Figaro,” Richard Strauss' “Capriccio” and the world premiere of Gilda Lyons' “A New Kind of Fallout,” an eco-opera inspired by the works of Rachel Carson. The musical will be “Damn Yankees.” The recital series will focus on the songs of Franz Schubert.

Miller, who will be one of the judges, says that when last season's winner, Elizabeth Bishop, performed, “We would say ... ‘That is an operatic voice. That is an opera singer.' She stood out. Mind you, opera singers come in all sizes and shapes and colors of voices, and we need them all.”

Competitions provide crucial career opportunities for singers today. But when Miller began, she says, there was nothing of the kind.

“When I was young, I was very fortunate to be involved with the one and only regional opera company, the New England Opera Theater,” Miller says. “That's why I called my company Opera Theater of Pittsburgh.”

Her mentor was Boris Goldovsky. Thanks to him, she had the experience of singing Carmen, Cherubino, baroque music and many one-act operas such as “The Old Maid and the Thief.”

“So, when I went to Germany, though I didn't know what a resume was, I had my clippings and reviews from the Boston critics, who, by the way, were very kind to me and predicted a wonderful career for me.” Miller says.

She was hired by Stuttgart Opera but lasted only one season for the best of reasons. She was hired away from Stuttgart by Metropolitan Opera general manager Rudolf Bing.

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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