ISU Magazine

Volume 42 | Number 2 | Spring 2012

Teaira Burge and Jared Johnson

Teaira Burge and Jared Johnson represented Idaho State University during the auditions for the Metropolitan Opera.

ISU Photographic Services/Susan Duncan

Voice Talents Emerge

Spring 2012 Issue | By Andrew Taylor

Met Opera Audition draws talent to the Stephens Center

Growing up, Idaho State University senior vocal performance major Teaira Burge's musical aspirations were decidedly country.

"With my family, we were always listening to Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and other country singers," said Burge, who is a native of Pocatello and who attended Highland High School. "I wanted to be the next Faith Hill."

But a funny thing happened on the way to Nashville: Burge discovered her love and talent for classical, and then operatic singing.

At age 6, she began singing in the Idaho State Children's Choir. Through that entity, she met her junior high and high school voice teacher, Melanie Reynolds, who is a graduate of ISU and was a student of ISU Professor of Voice Kathleen Lane. Since then, Burge has been trying to improve and expand her singing talents after discovering a love for a different musical genre. After high school she entered ISU as a music major in vocal performance, studying the last five years with Lane herself.

The peak of Burge's operatic aspirations so far was her success at the Metropolitan Opera National Council district audition hosted by Idaho State University in late October, which was also a spectacular success overall for the University. Burge was one of three sopranos to win the competition.

Fifteen contestants from as far away as Minnesota and Texas competed, including Jessica Jones, a Pocatello native now living in Houston, Texas. ISU was represented by two senior vocal performance majors, Burge, a coloratura soprano, and Jared Johnson, a baritone.

Along with Burge, winners included Jones and Arielle Nachtigal of Missoula, Mont.

Burge said she was both pleased and surprised that she was one of the audition's winners.

"I'm only 23 years old and this was my first time auditioning for the district Met. I was determined to not get my hopes up about winning," Burge said.

When the winners were named, her name was the first announced.

"I just sat there for a few seconds thinking my ears were playing tricks on me," Burge said. "Afterwards I was still in shock."

Burge competed in the Metropolitan Opera's district competition in Seattle in January. Winners from the regional competition advanced to the National Semi Finals in New York City.

"She absolutely did her personal best. I have never heard her sing better," said Lane, her voice teacher, referring to Burge's performance in Seattle.

"She was one of the youngest singers there - of course a 29-year-old tenor won - but Teaira will always know she did her personal best," continued Lane. "It was so exciting to hear her at that level, she was so poised. She was swimming with the sharks for heaven's sake, but she sang like an angel."

Two of the winners at Pocatello's district auditions, Jones and Nachtigal, received $1,000 encouragement awards at the regional competition in Seattle, where 14 auditioned. The winner of the Northwest Region was Anthony Kahlil from Yakima, Wash.

"Idaho State University can be proud as many of the new colleagues that we met in Seattle all commented on the singers we sent to the regional round and more importantly, what they had heard about the MET experience that was provided for them in Pocatello," said Diana Livingston Friedley, ISU professor of voice and ISU Met Audition director.

Opera is alive, well and growing in Southeast Idaho, and Idaho State University scored a cultural coup by landing the Metropolitan Opera National Council district auditions, which are preliminary auditions for the most prestigious opera company in the United States. This was the first time district auditions for the Metropolitan Opera's Eastern Washington, Idaho and Montana District have ever been held in Idaho.

"I was delighted by how the auditions turned out and by the quality of judging," said Livingston Friedley. "We've received great feedback from everybody, including Bruce Bistline, who was a sponsor of the event."

Proof of the auditions' success is that they will be hosted by ISU again in 2013 at the Joseph C. and Cheryl H. Jensen Grand Concert Hall in the L.E. and Thelma E. Stephens Performing Arts Center.

"What we have is a gold mine of a facility," Livingston Friedley said. "Probably the most important reason we were considered a viable site is the Stephens Performing Arts Center, in my opinion, the premier performing venue in the Northwest. Its acoustics are unbelievable and everybody who performs there can't believe it is here in Pocatello. We are lucky to have this world-class venue. People coming to this audition, including the international judges, were floored by our facility."

Livingston Friedley also noted that ISU's choral and vocal programs, although relatively small, are also well respected by peer institutions, and that was helpful in landing ISU as the audition site.

As for Burge, after graduating from ISU, she plans to move to Portland, Ore., to immerse herself in that city's opera music scene, and to study with University of Oregon's Ruth Dobson, Lane's former voice teacher. Eventually, Burge, who still sings country tunes in her car, will attend graduate school in a vocal program.

"Teaira is incredibly talented," Lane said. "It's just as important that she has the work ethic she does, because of that I am sure she will succeed."