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Opera San José Names Semi-Finalists for Irene Dalis Vocal Competition

Chosen from hundreds of entrants, the 12 semi-finalists will compete on May 18th.

Opera San José Names Semi-Finalists for Irene Dalis Vocal Competition

This May, Opera San José will play host to the nation's next generation of opera stars during its Irene Dalis Vocal Competition, named for the internationally-acclaimed mezzo-soprano who founded Opera San José. Chosen from hundreds of entrants, the 12 semi-finalists who will compete include: mezzo-soprano Veena Akama-Makia (Little Rock, Arkansas); bass-baritone Ben Brady (Denver, Colorado); soprano Susanne Burgess (Atlanta, Georgia); baritone Andres Cascante (San José, Costa Rica); mezzo-soprano Chantelle Grant (Toronto, Canada); mezzo-soprano Shanley Horvitz (Voorhees, New Jersey); soprano Emily Michiko Jensen (San Diego, California); soprano Anastasia Malliaras (Los Angeles, California); baritone Samson McCrady (Tucson, Arizona); soprano Nina Mutalifu (Ürümqi, China); baritone Sejin Park (Seoul, Korea); and tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven (Lockport, New York).

The public is invited to view, and vote on an audience favorite, at the competition's Semi-finals 5:00pm (PDT), May 18, which will be live-streamed FREE from Opera San José's Heiman Digital Media Studio where one artist will snag the coveted "Audience Favorite" slot to advance to the finals. Two days later, the finalists will compete for nearly $10,000 in cash prizes. First prize is $5,000; second prize, $3,000; and third prize, $1,500.

The remaining finalists will receive $300 as Encouragement awards. For the first time in the event's history, the dazzlingly talented line-up of singers from around the country will join the Opera San José Orchestra to compete in a heart-stopping contest of unbridled operatic passion and prowess. Tickets can be purchased to the finals of the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition, to be held 3:00pm, May 21, 2022 at the California Theatre, 345 South 1stStreet, San Jose. For more information or to purchase tickets ($50-$200 subscribers; $75-$225 public), the public can visit or call (408) 437-4450 (open Monday through Friday, 9:00am-5:00pm).

The prestigious panel of judges for the Semi-finals include Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano J'Nai Bridges, Houston Grand Opera General Director Khori Dastoor and Opera San José Music Director Joseph Marcheso. The Finals will also be judged by a stellar group including world-acclaimed mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, San Francisco Opera Center Artistic Director Carrie-Ann Matheson, and Opera San José General Director Shawna Lucey.

In memory of Janice Toyoshima, long-time patron and member of Friends of Opera San José volunteer guild, Opera San José has received an anonymous gift to support its student ticket and education program. For every ticket sold to the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition, one ticket will be available at no cost to a local student.

"We look forward to welcoming our nation's rising opera stars to the stage of the California Theatre next month," says Lucey. "As we gear up for this thrilling, high-voltage event, we encourage opera lovers from around the world to take advantage of the free live-stream option for our Semi-finals. This new element enables us to share the talent of these brilliant singers with not only international audiences, but leaders from opera companies around the world, maximizing exposure for the participants." Lucey adds, "I am honored that we are able to use our Heiman Digital Media Studio to share these voices with audiences from every corner of our globe."

About the artists:

Veena Akama-Makia

Cameroonian/Ugandan-American mezzo-soprano Veena Akama-Makia joined Chicago Opera Theater (COT) as a Young Artist for the 2021-2022 season. At COT, Akama-Makia has covered roles in performances of Bizet's Carmen and Adamo's Becoming Santa Claus. Earlier this month, she made her COT debut as the Tree Spirit in Wang Lu's The Beekeeper as part of the company's Vanguard Initiative. She will also appear as Tawny Betty in the world premiere of Errollyn Wallen's Quamino's Map with COT next month. This summer, Akama-Makia will be a Young Artist in the Merola Opera Program, where she will perform the roles of Dritte Dame in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. Last summer, she was a Tomita Young Artist with the Finger Lakes Opera, where she performed the role of Cherubino in Davies's The Three Little Pigs and sang arias in the company's summer scenes concert. Other recent appearances include concerts with Opera On Tap Boston and the NEMPAC Opera Project. In 2019 Akama-Makia debuted the role of Mother and Grandmother in Davies's Little Red's Most Unusual Day at the Rochester Fringe Festival, and made her Mass Opera debut as Gloria in Dan Shore's Freedom Ride. Accolades include being a Finalist in the 2020 Mildred Miller Competition; an Encouragement Award from the 2021 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Illinois District; and Second Place in the 2022 Musicians Club of Women Vocal Competition, to name a few.

Ben Brady

Bass-baritone Ben Brady has been recognized for his "sonorous" tone by SF Classical Voice and "commanding" stage presence by SF Gate. Originally from Denver, Colorado, Brady received his BM in Vocal Performance at the University of Michigan before moving to the Bay Area. Operatic roles include Banco (Macbetto), Zaccaria (Nabucco) and Rocco (Fidelio) with West Bay Opera; Dottore Malatesta (Don Pasquale) at the Mendocino Music Festival; and the Page in San Francisco Opera's Roberto Devereux. After being named the winner of the Western Regionals, Brady was selected for the 2020 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Semifinals in New York. In 2021 he was awarded the Oakland Symphony Award in the Tier I category of the James Toland Vocal Arts competition. In 2018 Brady was awarded Audience Favorite and First Place in the Tier II category. He was honored to participate in San Francisco Opera's Merola Young Artist Program in the summer of 2021, and has been selected for the Santa Fe Opera Apprenticeship this summer, where he will cover the role of Don Basilio.

Susanne Burgess

British-American soprano Susanne Burgess has been described as "flat out best in show...a star on the rise" (ArtsATL) with "a unique combination of precision and wonder" (Opera Wire). Recent appearances include the lead role of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance and Handel's Giulio Cesare, covering Cleopatra. Accolades include First Prize at the National Opera Association's Argento competition and Second Prize at Opera Mississippi's John Alexander Competition, as well as advancing to the Southeastern Regional of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions after being named Winner of the Georgia district in both 2021 and 2022. After making a role debut as Gilda with Boheme Opera NJ earlier this month, Burgess will appear as Helena in Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream with Des Moines Metro Opera in July 2022. Last season, Burgess joined Atlanta Opera for its "Reimagine Opera" series, singing Lucy Brown in Bertolt Brecht's The Three Penny Opera and covering Micaela in Bizet's Carmen and Nedda in Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. Earlier in 2020, she performed the role of Violetta Valéry in Verdi's La Traviata, starring in eight performances of the US tour with Teatro Lirico d'Europa. Other notable appearances include Musetta in Puccini's La bohème at New York City Opera and oratorio appearances with the New England Symphony at Carnegie Hall.

Andres Cascante

In 2017 baritone Andres Cascante was one of the Metropolitan Opera National Semifinalists as well as a Prize Winner in the Opera Index Vocal Competition. The following summer, he appeared in the productions of Verdi's Il trovatore and Mozart's Die Zauberflöte at Central City Opera as an Apprentice Artist, covering the role of Count Di Luna. In 2019 Cascante starred in the title role of Gianni Schicchi at the new LA Vocal Arts festival. Shortly afterwards, he became an Emerging Artist at the Dolora Zajick Institute for Young Dramatic Voices, performing with the Reno Philharmonic alongside mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick and soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen. Cascante was also seen at the Internationale Opernwerkstatt Waiblingen in Stuttgart, Germany with Stuttgarter Philharmoniker, sharing the stage with artists including baritone Thomas Hampson and soprano Melanie Diener.

Chantelle Grant

Later this year, Chantelle Grant will appear in the ensemble for Anthony Davis's X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X with Detroit Opera and Opera Omaha. Following the prolonged absence of live performance opportunities, Grant was invited to join the extra chorus of the Metropolitan Opera during its 2021-22 season for four productions, including the Met's historic production of Terrance Blanchard's Fire Shut Up In My Bones. She made her solo debut with City Lyric Opera in Menotti's The Medium and Riverside Opera Company in 2019. Past appearances include Erda in Wagner's Siegfried with Trilogy: An Opera Company, Waltraute in Wagner's Götterdämmerung, and Monisha in Joplin's Treemonisha. She has worked with conductors that include Joseph Colaneri, Steven White, Timothy Myers, and Peter Oundjian. Grant has also performed American Song Book series at the Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center Honors, and the Metropolitan Opera.

Shanley Horvitz

American mezzo-soprano Shanley Horvitz has been recognized for spinning "lovely, warm legato phrases, replete with ease of emission, dynamic variety, elegance, yet holding obvious power in reserve." She has been awarded First Place at the Orpheus Vocal Competition (2022), Houston Gilbert & Sullivan Career Grant Competition (2022), Mario Lanza Institute Competition in Philadelphia (2021), and Vienna Summer Musical Festival. Other accolades include Second Place at the Pasadena Vocal Competition (2022) and the Encouragement Award for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Laffont Competition at the Pittsburgh District. Horvitz recently debuted the role of Anacaona in Alberto Franchetti's Cristoforo Colombo with Teatro Grattacielo, Ježibaba in Dvořák's Rusalka, and the title role in Bizet's Carmen with Vincerò Academy. Earlier this year, she made her Carnegie Hall debut singing music from Carmen. This summer, Horvitz will also make her debut as Donna Elvira in Vienna Music Festival's production of Mozart's Don Giovanni. Horvitz is from the Philadelphia area and based part-time in Liguria, Italy.

Emily Michiko Jensen

Praised for her "theatrical instincts and intriguingly versatile instrument," Japanese-American soprano Emily Michiko Jensen joined Pensacola Opera as an Artist-in-Residence for its 2021-22, where she made her company debut as First Lady while covering Pamina in Mozart's in Die Zauberflöte. She also covered Berta in in Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia. This summer, Jensen returns to Chautauqua Opera as an Apprentice Artist, covering the title role of Tosca and singing Angel More in Mother of Us (while covering Susan B. Anthony). As a studio artist, she sang 2nd Soprano in Missy Mazzoli's Song from the Uproar and covered Annina in La Traviata (2016). She also covered 2nd Soprano in Hydrogen's Jukebox in 2017. Jensen recently made her company debut with Florentine Opera when she appeared as Jessie in Weill's Mahagonny: Ein Song Spiel in May 2021 as the soprano Baumgartner Studio Artist. During the 2019-2020 season, Jenson made her role debut as Suor Angelica at the Indiana University Opera Theater. She also sang Donna Anna (Don Giovanni) at the Boston Opera Collaborative, where she made her company debut as Marguerite (Faust) in 2016.

Anastasia Malliaras

Soprano Anastasia Malliaras is a versatile artist whose repertoire ranges from Early Music to Contemporary works. In the spring of 2019, Malliaras made her debut with West Bay Opera, singing the role of Nannetta in Verdi's Falstaff. In 2017 she performed the role of Marie Astor Hampton in the world premiere of Carson Kievman and Thomas Babe's Tesla with SoBe Arts. During the summer of 2016, Malliaras was involved with Central City Opera's apprenticeship program as a Studio Artist, where she played the role of Ruth Baldwin in Mark Campbell's Later That Same Evening, as well as Despina (Mozart's Così fan tutte) and Marie (Donizetti's La fille du régiment) in the scenes program. Additional appearances include the iSing! International Young Artist Festival and the Young Artist Vocal Academy at Houston Grand Opera. A finalist in the 2019 Loren L. Zachary Vocal Competition, Malliaras was also a winner at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in the Los Angeles District and the recipient of the Encouragement Award at the Metropolitan Opera Western Regional Auditions. An active performer in the Los Angeles area, Malliaras was recently seen singing with the Huntington Beach Symphony Orchestra, the American Contemporary Ballet, and with her classical voice and guitar duo, Duo Apollon.

Samson McCrady

American baritone Samson McCrady recently garnered First Place in The Metropolitan Opera Laffont Competition Illinois District. In October 2021 he won Third Place in the prestigious Montserrat Caballé International Singing Competition. Last month, McCrady made his robe debut as Giorgio Germont in Verdi's La traviata with South Bend Lyric Opera. As a Cafritz Young Artist of Washington National Opera, he made numerous appearances on the Kennedy Center Opera House stage, including the role of Papageno in the Maurice Sendak production of Mozart's The Magic Flute, under the baton of Eun Sun Kim. Other roles include Wagner in Gounod's Faust, Sciarrone in Puccini's Tosca, and the Policeman in the world premiere of Carlos Simon's Night Trip. McCrady was also seen in Francesca Zambello's presentation of Menotti's The Consul for the United States Supreme Court. Other operatic appearances include "Pa" Zegner in Missy Mazzoli's Proving Up (Aspen Music Festival), Marchese d'Obigny in Verdi's La traviata (Opera Theatre of Saint Louis), and Edward G. Robinson in Robert Xavier Rodriguez's Frida (Cincinnati Opera). McCrady discovered his love of singing through his participation in the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus, where he also learned fancy trick rodeo roping.

Nina Mutalifu

Hailed by Opera News as "a real find, with shimmering lyric soprano voice of fine quality," Nina Mutalifu is an Uyghur singer from a minority Turkic group of China. Mutalifu made her concert debut with the Uyghur Folk Song Concert Tour at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., and at New York's Kaufman Music Center. Mutalifu made her Carnegie Hall debut as the 2019 winner of Talents of the World International Voice Competition. As an opera singer, Mutalifu made her professional debut singing the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro with Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra. Other appearances include Alice Ford in Verdi's Falstaff with Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance and Tatyana in Pushkin's Eugene Onegin with Boyer Opera. Mutalifu was the 2019/2020 Michigan and Illinois District winner of the Metropolitan Opera Competition, and was a young artist working with Chicago Opera Theater. Upcoming performances include a mainstage debut with Teatro Grattacielo as a winner of the Giovanni Consiglio International Competition, as well as an appearance at the 2022 Aspen Music Festival as a Studio Artist.

Sejin Park

Korean baritone Sejin Park has won many competitions and awards including a Finalist in the International Competition Voci Verdiane "Città di Busseto," First Prize from Concorso Internazionale Musicale "Città di Pesaro," Second Prize from "Giuseppina Cobelli," and First Prize from the Medici International Music Competition. He recently participated in the eighth Galina Vishnevskaya International Opera Singers Competition in Moscow, Russia, and won Second Prize as well as the Audience Favorite Award. Recent appearances include Marcello in Puccini's La bohème, Belcore in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, and Figaro in Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia for the 2021 Opera Steamboat Summer Festival. This summer, Park will be seen with the Santa Fe Opera as an apprentice artist to cover the role of Ford in Verdi's Falstaff.

Kyle van Schoonhoven

Tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven is a recent graduate of the Adler Fellowship at the San Francisco Opera. His recent engagements include performances of Chekalinsky (while covering Ghermann) in Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Bacchus (Ariadne) in Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos with Cincinnati Opera, and Lenski in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin with Livermore Valley Opera. Schoonhoven's performances that were originally scheduled, but cancelled due to COVID-19 include: his Metropolitan Opera debut in Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, singing Erik in Wagner's The Flying Dutchman for Opera Maine and Lakes Area Music Festival, and returning to the Lyric Opera of Chicago for Camille Saint-Saëns's Samson and Delilah. Earlier this season, he joined the Met for Aucoin's Eurydice and appeared as Don José for Hawaii Opera Theatre's production of Peter Brook's The Tragedy of Carmen. Later this season, Schoonhoven will make his debut with Opéra de Rouen Normandie as Laca in Leoš Janáček's Jenůfa and appear with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra for Songs of a Wayfarer. He is a winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council and Brava! Opera Competition, as well as a recipient of the George London Award, Nicolai Gedda Memorial Award, and Sara Tucker Study Grant.

Since its inception in 2006, the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition, named for the San Jose native who became a Metropolitan opera star and then founder of Opera San José, has recognized emerging opera singers who flocked from across the country to participate. The last competition was held in 2014, drawing nearly 100 artists from throughout the United States. General Director Irene Dalis retired from Opera San José shortly after, concluding the three-decade leadership role that she played in the cultural life of the Bay Area. She passed away in December 2014. After an eight-year hiatus, Opera San José welcomes back this event, honoring the legacy of the company's founder as it looks forward to an exciting new future. The Irene Dalis Vocal Competition has been generously underwritten by Dr. H. Andreas Neves.

Opera San José is a flagship arts organization located in the heart of Silicon Valley. Maintaining a resident company of artists, OSJ presents four mainstage productions annually in San Jose's historic California Theatre, while regularly broadcasting fully-produced productions from its state-of-the-art Heiman Digital Media Studio. Now in its 38th season, OSJ specializes in role debuts, serving as an artistic incubator for established and emerging artists alike, producing world-class operatic performances for diverse audiences throughout the Bay Area and around the globe. More information is available at

Pictured: Finalists of the 2011 Irene Dalis Vocal Competition take a bow at the California Theatre in downtown San Jose.

Photo Credits: Courtesy of Opera San Jose.

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