Friends of Eastman Opera Announce Winners of Annual Voice Competition

November 25, 2009

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For Media Only: Helene Snihur (585-274-1057,

 FEO 2009 Winners

Shown following the annual Friends of Eastman Opera Voice Competition are, from left, Marielle Murphy, second place; Debra McKinney, first place and recipient of the Lynne Clarke Vocal Prize; Rebecca Farley, third place; and Willie Anthony Waters, who adjudicated the competition.

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Debra McKinney, Marielle Murphy, and Rebecca Farley were named the winners of this year’s Friends of Eastman Opera voice competition, held Nov. 21 at the Eastman School of Music as part of the first-ever celebration of National Opera Week.

McKinney, a soprano and second-year master’s degree student at the Eastman School, was awarded first place in this year’s event. She received the Lynne Clarke Vocal Prize in the amount of $1,000, donated by John Clarke in honor of his late wife, a founding member of the Friends of Eastman Opera. McKinney, who is studying with Katherine Ciesinski, received her undergraduate degrees from Brigham Young University-Idaho in music education and vocal performance. She was a regional finalist in the 2008 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and covered the role of the Countess in Eastman’s production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro last spring. She also has performed the role of The Greek Woman in Iphigenie en Tauride as well as scenes in Cosi Fan Tutte, La Bohème, and Der Freischütz.

Second prize in the amount of $750 was presented to Murphy, a soprano and a senior in Eastman’s Bachelor of Music program studying with Rita Shane. She has appeared on NPR’s From the Top, a series showcasing America’s best young musicians; won the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts’ young artist talent search and the National Association of Teachers of Singing-San Francisco’s art song division; and was a finalist in the Carmel Music Society Voice Competition. Her most recent roles include Mélisande in Pelleas et Mélisande and a Grisette Girl in The Merry Widow, both productions of Eastman Opera Theatre.

Farley, a soprano and a second-year master’s degree student in the studio of Carol Webber at Eastman, was awarded the third place prize of $500. At Eastman, she received the 2009 Renée Fleming award and performed with the Philharmonia as a concerto competition winner. She sang the role of Countess Almaviva in last spring’s Eastman Opera Theatre production of Le nozze di Figaro. Farley received her Bachelor of Music degree from Houghton College in 2008.

The adjudicator for the finals was Willie Anthony Waters, formerly general and artistic director of Connecticut Opera and artistic director and principal conductor of Florida Grand Opera. He has been a guest conductor for the Arizona Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Cologne Opera, L’Opera de Montreal, San Diego Opera, and other companies in North America, Europe, and South Africa. Among his orchestral engagements are performances with the Hartford Symphony and the Florida Philharmonic, as well as several European orchestras, including the Bavarian Radio Orchestra in Munich. Waters hosts a monthly program on Beethoven Radio, Looking Through the Opera Glasses, and is a frequent guest panelist on the quiz of the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts.

The Friends of Eastman Opera is a membership organization that supports the Eastman School’s opera students, programs, and productions and promotes Eastman Opera Theatre in the Rochester community. It has sponsored an annual voice competition for Eastman students since 2001.

This year, the competition was part of the newly organized National Opera Week. More than 90 organizations across the country, including professional companies and educational institutions, participated in this celebration of opera held Nov. 13 through 22. Organized by Opera America with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the week featured a wide variety of free public programs, such as performances, lectures, and open houses, which demonstrated the inventiveness, excitement, and accessibility of the opera art form.

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