WMU students win top honors at Opera Grand Rapids competition

Contact: Deanne Puca
Photo of WMU student Chelsea .


KALAMAZOO—Two Western Michigan University students took top honors at an opera vocal competition earlier this month, competing against students from several other institutions.

Soprano Chelsea Helm, a senior from West Bloomfield, Mich., was awarded first place out of a total of nine finalists for the Division I of the Opera Grand Rapids 2013 Collegiate Vocal Competition. Three other students of the nine finalists also were from WMU. Helm received a $500 cash prize for her performances of “Depuis le jour,” Louise’s third-act aria from Gustave Charpentier’s verismo opera, “Louise,” followed by “Qui la voce … Vien, diletto,” Elvira’s second-act aria from Vincenzo Bellini’s bel canto opera “I puritani,” accompanied by pianist Gunta Laukmane.

Other Division I finalists included WMU School of Music seniors Ema Katrovas of Kalamazoo, Sarah Mikulski of Traverse City, Mich., and Brian Schneider of Manitowoc, Wis.

Full-time students ages 17 to 25 were eligible to participate in the professional competition to be recognized for excellence by a professional opera company. Eligible participants were recommended first by their teacher to compete in a preliminary competition held in March.

Not only is Helm the first WMU grand prize winner in the competition, the 2013 contest also was the first year the University was eligible to participate in Opera Grand Rapids Collegiate Vocal Competition.

This also was the first year the competition offered a Division II category for students age 17-23 with no more than four semesters of college experience. WMU junior Alicia Renney of Eaton Rapids, Mich., placed first in this category and received a $100 cash prize for her performance of "Connais-tu le pays" from "Mignon."

The vocalists performed April 14 at the Betty Van Andel Opera Center for an audience of nearly 200, each performing two operatic arias differing in language, style and composer.

A panel of three judges presided over the final round, including Dr. Raymond Harvey, music director for the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Dr. Rachel Gate Bergan, visiting assistant professor at Michigan State University, and Paul Mow, professional tenor and director of theatre at Southwestern Michigan College.

The competition was open to students from WMU, Aquinas College, Hope College, Grand Rapids Community College, Calvin College, Grand Valley State University and Cornerstone University.