As the final round approaches, the Phoenix Opera’s inaugural Southwest Vocal Competition will conclude Feb. 8 at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix.

The competition, sponsored by the Mayo Clinic Voice Program, consisted of three separate rounds. The first two rounds were in mid-January at the Mayo Clinic location in Scottsdale. During the first round on Jan. 17, Gail Dubinbaum, creative director of the Phoenix Opera, said that around 40 contestants performed. Of those previous 40, only about 20 made it to the second round on Jan. 18.

Audience members were able to attend the first two rounds for free and were also able to attend Master Classes taught by the judges as well as seminars with vocal specialists from the Mayo Clinic.

The 10 finalists from the second round will compete in the last round. There will be two winners of the competition. The top prize of $5,000 will be awarded to the top male performer and top female performer.

Dubinbaum said that the final round will be a “very thrilling and fun evening.” Each singer will perform two pieces with an orchestra accompaniment. However, before each contestant takes the stage, Dubinbaum said they have prepared a short documentary-type video that will play before their first song. The video is meant to show the performers as real people and not just voices up on stage.

“Opera singers are real people,” Dubinbaum said. She went on to say that opera is theatre and has drama.

Dubinbaum also mentioned that people who have never experienced opera before do not need to fear it because “music needs no explanation.” She said that while a translation of the actual words being sung may need to be translated, the music can always get its point across.

“It is a very emotional thing,” Dubinbaum said.

Out of the 10 finalists, five come have roots in the East Valley. Finalists Anna-Lisa Hackett, Holly Sheppard, Ryan Glover, and Sergio Manzo are all from the Mesa area, while finalist Jeffrey Nardone resides in Tempe. When she is not singing in the Phoenix Chorale, Holly Sheppard is an animator and artist for a slot machine company. She said that she decided to participate in this competition because it was so close to her, but she has also a bit nervous.

“This has made me more nervous than any other type of performance,” Sheppard said. She said she is nervous about singing along with an orchestra because it has been so long since the last time she has been alone with one.

Anna-Lisa Hackett, a professional singer, decided to participate with this competition because she felt that this is the only opportunity to compete at this level locally. She explained that there really are not any other opportunities like this in Arizona. Jeffrey Nardone, after recently returning from living and performing as a professional singer in Europe, also agrees with Hackett. He also chose to participate in the competition because it was a local event.

The contestants had to fulfill the competition’s criteria before being able to participate. All potential participants had to be between the age 21 and 35 and reside in Arizona. Dubinbaum explained that they chose their particular age range because singers do not seem to vocally mature until their late-20s.

Dubinbaum said that she hopes they are able to make the Southwest Vocal Competition a yearly event that will continue to grow.

Tickets are available online at or at the Orpheum Theatre, 203 W. Adams St., about an hour to an hour and a half before show time. The price of the tickets range from $20-$40 depending on which seats.

• Elise Anaya is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. She is interning this semester for the AFN.

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