As it moves into the final stretch of its 25th anniversary seasonSchmidt Vocal Arts (SVA) is eagerly anticipating the final destination: from June 3–5, 2022Sarasota Opera will host over 30 singers – the top three winners from each of 13 regional competitions and from an independent, virtual cohort are eligible – competing in the company’s William E. Schmidt Opera Theatre for the first national award in the Schmidt Vocal Competition’s history. Distinguished judges for the national competition will be bass-baritone Eric Owens, Sarasota Opera General Director Richard Russell, and soprano Tamara Wilson. There will also be an alumni concert on June 4 that will feature SVA alumni Virginia Mims and Aaron Crouch with pianist Brent Funderburk.
Linda McAlister, who assumed the role of SVA’s Executive Director in 2019 after managing the competition since 2012, explains:
“After two years of online competitions, it is a breath of fresh air to hear these young singers live once again! We have had a great turnout at our live and online regional competitions and it will be exciting to see and hear these high school singers perform on the stage of the William E. Schmidt Opera Theatre – just as Bill would have liked it. Schmidt Vocal Arts and I look forward to highlighting the talent of our singers into the future with the continuation of our National Competition.”
Sarasota Opera General Director Richard Russell says:
“Introducing young people to the art of singing opera has been an important part of Sarasota Opera’s mission for almost 40 years. William E. Schmidt was a generous supporter of Sarasota Youth Opera, which is why we are especially delighted to partner with Schmidt Vocal Arts on this inaugural event.”
Funded by the William E. Schmidt Foundation, the Schmidt Vocal Competition is an annual event for U.S. high school students that sees 400+ singers compete each year – this season for more than $625K in cash awards and scholarships – just at the critical point in their early careers when they begin to look toward training on a professional level. The final regional competitions in the 2021-22 season will be held in Tacoma, Chicago, and Boston. These and the other regional locations are selected with the goal of providing a central location for as many corners of the country as possible. Past competitors have been known to travel up to eight hours by car or take a short flight to get to the regional competitions, but SVA’s introduction of a virtual cohort – as well as the fact that the entire competition moved online last season because of the pandemic – has also opened up possibilities for singers from more rural areas, including some of the first singers from Alaska and Montana.
The milestone of SVA’s first national competition will take place over a long weekend, beginning with the Friday arrival of the semi-finalists in Sarasota and rehearsals with pianists. On Saturday are the semi-finals, heard by a panel of five judges. At an alumni concert that evening featuring SVA alumni Virginia Mims and Aaron Crouch with pianist Brent Funderburk, up to sixteen finalists will be announced for the finals on Sunday, and four encouragement awards ($300) will be given to non-finalists, three of whom will also be invited to participate in a Sunday master class with soprano Judith Haddon, soprano Dr. Katherine Jolly, and tenor Stanford Olsen. Owens, Russell, and Wilson will judge the finals and decide upon the First Place ($10,000), Second Place ($7,500), Third Place ($5,000), and Finalist ($650) Awards. A reception and awards ceremony wraps up the weekend on Sunday evening. Information on some of the young contestants can be found here.
SVA’s support and resources continue long after the competition. The award winners are eligible for need-based scholarships to support their continued study at the university level, and SVA continues to have relationships with many alumni throughout their careers, providing educational, mentoring, and networking opportunities as well as grants for summer study. SVA recently launched an Undergraduate Awards initiative, building on the programs designed for high school students to create opportunities for college-level singers as well. Also under the SVA umbrella are the Schmidt Vocal Institute (SVI), a two-week summer intensive training program established by McAlister in 2016, and its Vocal Artists Network, a roster of vocalists and vocal pianists/coaches boasting celebrated performers who are also dedicated teachers. The network includes such luminaries as Margo GarrettChristine GoerkeDenyce GravesNathan GunnCraig TerryRussell ThomasTamara Wilson, and many more, and from its ranks come competition judges, master clinicians, and guest faculty.