Opera Columbus’ Cooper-Bing Competition produces five finalists

Whether we’re listening to a radio broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera or an episode of “American Idol,” we all have an opinion about what constitutes good singing.

This weekend, central Ohio music lovers will have the opportunity to listen to five of the best emerging vocalists in the opera community – and have a say in who hits the best notes.

On May 19, Opera Columbus presents its annual Cooper-Bing competition at the Southern Theater. The event, which is open to the public, features live performances from five finalists, one of whom will receive a grand prize determined by a jury of three.

The Dispatch spoke with Julia Noulin-Merat, general manager and CEO of Opera Columbus, about the upcoming competition.

What is the competition?

The competition was created – and named in part – by Irma M. Cooper, co-founder of Opera Columbus, in 1983.

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“Irma Cooper was such an advocate for emerging talent and artists,” Noulin-Merat said.

Ten years ago, donors Arthur and Hetty Bing donated money that would guarantee the future of the competition.

“The competition is gifted,” Noulin-Merat said.

How many singers compete?

This year, 329 singers from around the world submitted videos of themselves to be considered for the competition. The jury divided that pool to a smaller group of 25 singers, from which Noulin-Merat himself selected the five finalists.

Who are the finalists?

Bass Cumhur Gorgun, mezzo-soprano Olivia Johnson, mezzo-soprano Maggie Renee, baritone Daniel Rich and mezzo-soprano Mack Wolz are this year’s finalists.

What will the finalists do on Sunday?

The event, which will be hosted by WOSU Classical 101 on-air host Christopher Purdy, will feature each of the five singers performing two pieces.

“They are each going to perform a piece that they have chosen themselves,” Noulin-Merat said. “Then Opera Columbus also chooses one song… We get to hear it twice.”

Audiences can also hear about the finalists: pre-recorded video segments fill in background stories about each of the singers.

Who will choose the winner of the main prize on Sunday?

Three judges will evaluate the performances on Sunday and select a grand prize winner, who will receive $10,000, as well as a winner in the special category of best elocution.

Audience members can give their opinion by voting for their own favorite singer. (Ballots must be distributed to each member of the public.)

However, no singer will walk away without being honored in some way. In addition to each finalist receiving a monetary award, they are also celebrated at the end of the competition.

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“After the performance, we’re going to celebrate everyone on stage with a champagne toast,” Noulin-Merat said. “The audience can also enter the stage and meet the finalists.”

Will the singers ever return to perform at Opera Columbus?

The winners and finalists of the Cooper-Bing Competition will likely be heard on stages around the world, including the stage at the Southern Theater, which has long been home to Opera Columbus.

“This competition is at the core of who we are, which is championing new talent, whether they live in Columbus or are international,” said Noulin-Merat. “It is very exciting for us.”

At a glance

Opera Columbus presents the Cooper-Bing Competition on Sunday, May 19, at 3 p.m. at the Southern Theater, 21 E. Main St.

Tickets cost $19. For more information, visit operacolumbus.org.