Houston Grand Opera Announces 2023 Concert of Arias Winners  

Four Singers Awarded Top Honors of 35th Annual Eleanor McCollum Competition  

Evening closes with announcement of a new $22 million fund within the HGO Endowment;  

renaming of HGO Studio to Sarah and Ernest Butler Houston Grand Opera Studio 

Houston Grand Opera (HGO) is proud to announce the winners for this year’s Concert of Arias, the 35th Annual Eleanor McCollum Competition for Young Singers, held this evening at the Wortham Theater Center and livestreamed for audiences at home.   

The 2023 Concert of Arias winners include:     

·                1st Place prize of $10,000 was awarded to Natalie Lewis, mezzo-soprano    

·                2nd Place prize of $5,000 went to Demetrious Sampson, Jr., tenor    

·                3rd Place prize of $3,000 was won by Michael McDermott, tenor    

·                The Ana María Martínez Encouragement Award of $2,000 went to Gabrielle Turgeon, soprano  

·                The Audience Choice Award went to Demetrious Sampson, Jr., tenor    

·                The Online Viewers’ Choice Award went to Natalie Lewis, mezzo-soprano    

Following the concert and announcement of winners, HGO General Director and CEO Khori Dastoor shared exciting news with the audience: the company has received the largest gift in its history from longtime supporters Sarah and Ernest Butler, who have created a new fund within the HGO Endowment valued at $22 million. “I am thrilled to announce that this visionary couple is the new naming partner for our Studio,” said Dastoor, “which from this moment forward will be called the Sarah and Ernest Butler Houston Grand Opera Studio.” 

The winners of this year’s competition were chosen by a panel of distinguished judges: Dastoor, Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, and HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers.The evening’s livestream host was Butler Studio alumna Nicole Heaston, who kept at-home viewers apprised of all the action happening behind-the-scenes. HGO Artistic Advisor and soprano Ana María Martínez selected the Encouragement Award virtually,an award she created eight years ago to celebrate artists developing their craft. The event was available to stream via HGO Digital and the company’s YouTube and Facebook pages. 

The highly anticipated Eleanor McCollum Competition is held annually to identify candidates for HGO’s internationally acclaimed young artist training program, the newly renamed Sarah and Ernest Butler Houston Grand Opera Studio. The Concert of Arias is the final stage of the competition, which brings young singers from all over the world to Houston. Each finalist performed two arias from the opera repertoire for the panel of esteemed judges.     

“It was positively thrilling to see these remarkable young artists give it their all tonight as they stepped onto the Wortham stage,” said Dastoor. “Their passion filled our hearts, and the evening was an inspiring reminder of why we do what we do at HGO: nurture the gifts of the most talented emerging artists in opera, who in turn will push our entire art form forward.”   

“What a special thing it is to watch the dreams of our finalists come to life as they sing their arias,” said Butler Studio Director Brian Speck. “We are humbled that we are able to celebrate and uplift these young artists as they continue to reach new heights in the opera world. I am honored to welcome this incredible group of singers to the HGO community.” 

After careful consideration of over 900 candidates, HGO narrowed the applicants to 14 semifinalists before selecting the eight talented finalists for the final round of the competition. All the selected semifinalists had the opportunity to learn more about HGO and work with company music staff leading up to the Concert of Arias.    

The full list of finalists included Samuel Kidd (baritone), Ani Kushyan (mezzo-soprano), Natalie Lewis (mezzo-soprano), Emma Marhefka (soprano), Michael McDermott (tenor), Demetrious Sampson, Jr. (tenor), Gosh Sargsyan (bass), and Gabrielle Turgeon (soprano).  

This year’s Concert of Arias was graciously chaired by Rita Leader and Glen Rosenbaum. The event raised over $660,000 to benefit the Eleanor McCollum Competition for Young Singers and the Houston Grand Opera Studio.    

Since its inception 45 years ago, the Sarah and Ernest Butler Houston Grand Opera Studio has grown into one of the most respected young artist programs in the world. Each of the artists in the Butler Studio has access to a learning environment that emphasizes practical experience within the professional opera world. This includes regular coaching sessions with industry professionals, roles in HGO mainstage productions, recital performances, and a variety of other concert engagements.  

Photos: Houston Grand Opera