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Brandon Coleman with mother and friend [Photo by author]
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Annapolis Opera’s 26th Annual Vocal Competitions

Baritone Brandon Coleman’s mother, Linda, knew that 3-year old Brandon would be a great singer when a stranger who had heard him, predicted it.

Annapolis Opera’s 26th Annual Vocal Competitions

By Maureen L. Mitchell

Above: Brandon Coleman with mother and friend [Photo by author]


His military mother encouraged him to develop his talents, and, Coleman, 26, rewarded for his captivating performances of Verdi and Gershwin, sparkled as he sang at the Annapolis Opera’s 26th Annual Vocal Competition Finals May 3 and 4 at Maryland Hall.

And, it was Huanhuan Ma, Peabody Institute student clad in a lamé gown, performing “Morro, ma prima in grazia from the opera “Un ballo I maschera” and “Il es doux, il est bon” from the opera “Herodiade,” with “lyricism and a lovely legato,” said Ronald J. Gretz, Annapolis Opera Artistic Director. Ma, who stole the spotlight when she won the Grace Marion Gelinas Clark Memorial grand prize award of $2,500, “looked like a singer who could sing,” said Dr. William Ray, judge and former opera star. Ma also won the $1,000 Director/Conductor award.

Huanhuan-Ma3-LoRes.gifHuanhuan Ma [Photo by Michael Teems]

The Annapolis Opera Competition, supported by the Helena Foundation, held every year and free to the public, is open to singers ages 20 – 35, culled more than 76 singer applicants from the mid-Atlantic who stun and soothe with warm expression and wonderful breath control for the semi-finals. Semi-finalists and judges proficient in the music world would then participate in a pick of eight outstanding voices who sing on that Sunday and then leave with the top prizes.

Ariana Wehr, wearing a purple gown and winner of the $2,000 2nd Prize Marie Crump Award, said that her adjustment in attitude “altered my perspective in auditions and competitions from ‘It’s an honor to be nominated’ to ‘I could actually win this thing.’”

Soprano Marina Costa-Jackson, accompanied by Eileen Cornett on piano, had a warm and beautiful voice, that soared and spun as she sang Leoncavallo’s “Stridono Lassu” from Pagliacci. The judges are looking for a “varied and knowledgeable approach in language, diction, and the ability to switch between the sad and upbeat.”

Judge and mezzo-soprano Patrizia Conte, an internationally acclaimed opera star, said that the “level of performance has been excellent this year.” Conte, who lives in Annapolis, Maryland said it is a “wonderful competition,” that is done every year. “They actually use the winner,” she said of the AO first place singer.

The finalists included a stunning Baritone Brian Major, $1,500 3rd Prize Hughes Award winner, Costa-Jackson, $750 Links of Annapolis Study Award winner, Kevin Wetzel, $600 Severn Town Club Study Award winner and Wei Wu, John Viscardi and Coleman, who all won the $500 Study Awards. The charismatic Viscardi also won the $500 Audience Choice Award.

Wehr, who sang with specific dramatic intentions, complimented the seven other singers. “All of the finalists were incredibly talented and had a unique sound,” she said.

Maureen L. Mitchell

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