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Longtime Herald columnist Marilyn Hagerty and her review of Olive Garden going viral is the Herald's 2012 story of the year. Grand Forks Herald photo by John Stennes.

MARILYN HAGERTY: Opera arias coming to UND campus

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Opera singers don't sprout in concert halls. They come from nooks and corners of the continent. And the public is invited -- in fact, encouraged -- to come out to the Josephine Campbell Recital Hall Saturday. There, beginning at 11:30 a.m. in the UND Hughes Fine Arts Center, seven singers will be doing operatic arias.

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They will be hoping to advance to regional auditions in February at the Ordway theater in St. Paul.

And, says G. Paul Larson, it's really a concert. It lasts a couple of hours. And there is no charge for admission.

Larson is a retired UND professor of economics and a singer well-known in Grand Forks. He long has been associated with the Metropolitan Opera tryouts here. And this year, he is retiring as chairman and passing the torch to Louise Pinkerton. She is a part-time voice teacher at UND.

The seven singers competing here include four from Winnipeg, two from the Fargo-Moorhead area and one candidate from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He is Luke Votava, Big Fork, Minn., who was born in Grand Forks. He last year won an audience choice award in the competition.

The singers also include Christopher Kenny from Hawley, Minn., and Justine Scarbrough of Brookings, S.D. Both are Concordia students in Moorhead. From Winnipeg, the contestants are Victoria Borg, Ashley Boychuk, Lida Szkwarek and Susan Watkins.

The contestants are 20 to 30 years old and must have been born after Aug. 1, 1983. Larson said they would want to be professionally trained and usually have advanced to graduate school. They sing two arias in front of three judges.

50 years

This is the 50th year for the North Dakota District competition, which is one of 40 districts in the country. Then there are 13 regional competitions.

Events ahead include a conversation with students with singer Carol Kirkpatrick at 3 p.m. Friday preceding the Saturday auditions.

She also will be coaching singers in the music department of Hughes Fine Arts Center.

Judges will be Delores Ziegler from the University of Maryland, Richard Boldrey of Northwestern University and Kirkpatrick from the Denver area.

This is the 60th year the Metropolitan Opera has sponsored auditions outside of New York with the goal of discovering talented young singers. The first auditions were held in 1954 in Minneapolis.

Ten years later, North Dakota held its first district auditions.

Larson's history of the event shows that the late Martha Hoghaug and Jim Fudge from UND Music became involved the next year. Laraine Kennedy, Phyllis Kannowski and Alex Kotch worked with auditions into the early 1990s. And Larson has been the director since 1994.

Thursday Music Club has been a sponsor and there has been a grant from the UND Fellows, along with help from the music department and individual contributors.

Larson says North Dakota can be proud of several winners who went on to regional competition. One of them is Maria Williams-Kennedy, a Grand Forks resident and singing instructor, who won regional competition twice. She advanced to national finals at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

She now owns and teaches at the Bel Canto Voice Studio in Grand Forks. And she teaches voice at UND.

Reach Marilyn Hagerty at mhagerty@gra.midco.net or by telephone at (701) 772-1055.

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