Many are called, few chosen

June 04, 1993

This week marks the 30th year of the Baltimore Opera Company's annual vocal competition, which brings young singers from across the country together to compete for $26,000 in cash prizes and performance contracts. As always, the semi-finals tonight and finals tomorrow in Peabody Conservatory's Friedberg Concert Hall will be presided over by the venerable Loretta Ver Valen, who has served as audition chairman for every BOC vocal contest since the competition was founded.

Nearly 100 aspiring Mimis, Alfredos, Lucias and Figaros have registered to participate in this year's event. Past winners of the contest include such stars as James Morris, Paul Plishka, Gordon Hawkins, Florence Quivar, Juliana Gondek, Harolyn Blackwell, Marilyn Mims, Michael Sylvester, Deborah Voigt, Maria Ewing and John Aler. The BOC contest is recognized as an important launching pad for exciting new talent.

Competitions play an important role in the development of young artists by giving them clear goals to work toward, the opportunity to have their performance heard and critiqued by seasoned judges -- and a chance to size up the competition. Nearly all the contestants are accomplished musicians who have devoted years to perfecting their skills in either conservatory vocal programs or university music departments. But if many are called, it remains true that only a few are chosen.

That makes for a lively competition -- and not a little heartbreak for those left by the wayside. Thus has it ever been. Show business, like life, has its winners and losers. Fortunately, Baltimore audiences also know how to show their appreciation to those who don't come out on top, with cheers and bouquets of flowers even when the hoped-for check and contract aren't forthcoming. The gift of song should always elicit gratitude.

Saturday night's contest also will pay a special tribute to Mrs. Ver Valen, who is stepping down as audition chairman after three decades as a guiding light of opera competitions in Baltimore. Mrs. Ver Valen, a Baltimore native, was the third person ever to graduate with an arts diploma in voice from the Peabody Conservatory. She later taught at the school and toured as a member of the old DeFeo Opera Company, where she sang such roles as Pamina in Mozart's "Magic Flute" and Mimi in Puccini's "La Boheme." She will be fondly remembered for the many young artists whose talents she helped nurture and for a lifetime devoted to the cause of music-making in Baltimore.

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