Opera Grand Rapids Announces Winners of 2021 Collegiate Vocal Competition

By Logan Martell

On April 3, 2021, Opera Grand Rapids presented the final round concert of this year’s Collegiate Vocal Competition, held at the Betty Van Andel Opera Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Open to college-level voice students from across the country, the competition gives finalists the chance to receive feedback from acclaimed opera stars, and offers the second-largest purse of prizes in America at nearly $25,000.

This year’s finalists included sopranos Yohji Daquio, Juliet Schlefer, Megan Fleischmann, Amalia Crevani, Claire Griffin, Alexandra Kzeski, and Merissa Beddows; bass-baritone Finnian Sagal; tenor Hayden Smith; and countertenor Riley Wells. They were accompanied by Robert Byrens.

The panel was comprised of tenor Karim Sulayman, soprano Anna Schubert, and conductor Dr. Leslie B. Dunner, the concert was hosted by OGR Board Member and soprano Madelaine Lane.

From the ten finalists, three were selected to perform a second aria to determine placement. First place went to Merissa Beddows, second place to Alexandra Kzeski, and third place to Finnian Sagal; they will be awarded prizes of $10k, $5k, and $2.5k, respectively. The Friends of the Opera Award for $1k, determined by the most audience votes, went to Megan Fleischmann. Each finalist will also be considered for roles in future productions with Opera Grand Rapids.

A senior at the Curtis Institute of Music, Beddows appeared as Lady Billows in last year’s production of “Albert Herring.” Since the pandemic, she has garnered a large following on TikTok of about 750,000 followers, sharing opera and singing-related videos.

“I started last March at my grandmother’s house, she has this spare room that I started doing recordings in,” said Beddows. “I said to myself ‘wait a second, this is a really, really, wonderful way to expose the art of opera – where people can access it with ease.’ So that has been my goal since I came to that conclusion.”