2019 Competition

The 7th Annual Handel Aria Competition took place on Friday, June 7, 2019 at 7:30 in Mills Concert Hall of the University of Wisconsin Madison Mead Witter School of Music.  The seven finalists, selected from a field of 100 applicants from five different countries, were accompanied by the Madison Bach Musicians under the direction of Trevor Stephenson.

Handel Aria Competition 2019 3 Winners

First Prize: Morgan Balfour
Second Prize: Emily Yocum Black
Third Prize & Audience Favorite: Jonathan Woody

Handel Aria Competition 2019 7 Finalists

The  finalists in the 2019 Handel Aria Competition

  • Morgan Balfour, soprano
  • Emily Yocum Black, soprano
  • Scott J. Brunscheen, tenor
  • Ryne Cherry, baritone
  • Sarah Moyer, soprano
  • Katherine Cecelia Peck, soprano
  • Jonathan Woody, bass-baritone

04-Morgan Balfour Headshot

Morgan Balfour, soprano

Soprano Morgan Balfour holds a Master’s Degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and a Bachelor’s Degree from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. In 2016, Morgan appeared as a soloist in the Brisbane Baroque Festival, followed by her 2017 debut with Pinchgut Opera in their Rameau Triple Bill. Morgan has appeared as a soloist with organizations such as American Bach Soloists, Sydney Philharmonia, Canberra Symphony Orchestra and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. For the San Francisco Conservatory, she performed the title role in Handel’s Rodelinda and Meleagro in Atalanta under the baton of Corey Jamason. Morgan’s oratorio work has seen her perform as the soprano soloist in Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s Magnificat, Vivaldi’s Gloria and Magnificat, and Mozart and Hasse’s Requiem to name a few. She has also performed the role of Merab in Handel’s Saul, as well as both Queens and 1st Harlot in a staged production of Handel’s Solomon.

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Emily Yocum Black, soprano

Described as a “sleek and glistening vocal talent” (San Francisco Chronicle), American soprano Emily Yocum Black is quickly emerging as a versatile and accomplished performer of varying genres of music including oratorio, musical theatre, art song, and opera. She has performed concerts and major works with the Louisville Orchestra, Spire Chamber Ensemble, the Jackson Symphony Orchestra, and Bourbon Baroque. She was the Silver Medalist of the 2019 American Traditions Vocal Competition and is a 2019 Artist with the Sherrill Milnes VOICE Programs. Emily is an alumnus of the American Bach Soloists Academy, Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute, and SongFest. Opera roles include Iris (Semele), Laurie (The Tender Land), Pamina (Die Zauberflöte), and Laetitia (The Old Maid and the Thief). Emily currently resides in Paducah, Kentucky with her husband Fowler, where she teaches private voice.

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Scott J. Brunscheen, tenor

TenorScott J. Brunscheenhas received national acclaim for recent performances of Haydn’s L’isola disabitata, Marais’ Ariane et Bachus, and Cesti’s L’Oronteawith Haymarket Opera. Past seasons baroque and early classical presentations have included Purcell’s The Fairy Queenwith Chicago Opera Theater and Long Beach Opera, Bach’s Coffee Cantata (Great Lakes Baroque), Haydn’s The Creation (College of DuPage) and Handel’s Messiah (Madison Bach Musicians) and Judas Maccabaeus (North Shore Choral Society). Other performance highlights include Rossini’s Mose in Egitto, Glass’ The Fall of the House of Usher, the world premiere of Stewart Copeland’s The Invention of Morel(Chicago Opera Theater); Dialogue des Carmelites (Caramoor Festival); La Cenerentola (Lyric Unlimited); Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland (Opera Theater of St. Louis); Don Giovanni(Opera New Jersey);Die Zauberflote, La fille du regiment, and Tosca (Madison Opera); and The Turn of the Screwand The Rape of Lucretia (Chicago Fringe Opera).

Handel Aria Competition 2019 - 7

Ryne Cherry, baritone

Baritone Ryne Cherry is an opera, oratorio, and ensemble singer based in Boston, MA, whose opera roles include the Forester in Janácek’s The Cunning Little Vixen, Mustafa in Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri, the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance, Tomsky in The Queen of Spades, Belcore in L’elisir d’amore, Olin Blitch in Susanna, and Mr. Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Recent concert performances include the Requiems of Mozart, Faure, and Duruflé, Rossini’s Petite Messe solennelle, Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, and Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs. Premieres include Dominick DiOrio’s opera The Little Blue One, Nazaykinskaya’s opera The Magic Mirror, and Kallembach’s oratorio The Tryal of Father Christmas. Mr. Cherry was a Tanglewood Music Center Vocal Fellow in 2016 and 2017 and returned this past summer to appear in the TMC production of Leonard Bernstein’s A Quiet Place as Sam. His 2017-18 season included performances of Handel’s Messiah and Beethoven’s 9th with the Handel & Haydn Society, Beethoven’s Fidelio with Boston Baroque, as well as multiple supporting characters in Weill’s Threepenny Opera with Boston Lyric Opera. Mr. Cherry’s 2018-2019 season has him performing with Handel and Haydn Society, Boston Baroque, Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra, while also joining the roster at Emmanuel Music for Britten’s The Beggar’s Opera in June of 2019. Visit www.rynecherry.com for more info

Handel Aria Competition 2019 - 3

Sarah Moyer, soprano

Known for her “purity and flawless range” (South Florida Classical Review), sopranoSarah Moyer was exclusively featured in the 2014 Boston Globe Magazine for her work as a professional singing artist and deemed her “the kind of church singer whowill rock your sacred-music world”. Recent and upcoming solo work includesperformances with Aspen Chamber Symphony, Bourbon Baroque, Emmanuel Music,Lost Dog New Music Ensemble, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Boston’sMasterworks Chorale, Handel Society of Dartmouth College, Mistral, and LesBostonades. She has performed American premieres by Melani and Nørgård, andworld premieres by Harbison, Kallembach, Theofanidis, and Runestad, amongothers, and can be heard as a soloist on the GRAMMY® nominated album SEVEN by Skylark Vocal Ensemble. She is a founding member of Illumine, a trio devoted tocreating arrangements and recordings for soprano, trumpet, and harp.

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Katherine Cecelia Peck, soprano

Soprano Katherine CeceliaPeckenjoys a diverse career ranging from opera to recitals to chamber music. Recent highlights include performances at the Boston Early Music Festival, a solo recital on the Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Concert Series, and the role of Soprano I in Philip Glass’ Hydrogen Jukebox with Utopia OperaParticularly drawn to contemporary music, featured roles include Diana in Jonathan Dove’s Siren Song, Mag in Richard Wargo’s Ballymore: Winners, and Miss Wordsworth in Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring. She regularly performs and records new works, and is co-founder of the Madison New Music Festival. Equally at home with early music, she is a frequent oratorio soloist and ensemblist, and has appeared as soloist with the Stamford Symphony, New York Virtuoso Singers, and New York MasterVoices, among others. Originally from Wisconsin, Katherine holds a Bachelor of Music from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Master of Music from Boston University.

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Jonathan Woody, bass-baritone

Bass-baritone Jonathan Woodyis a sought-after performer of early and new music in New York and across North America. He has performed with historically-informed orchestras such as Apollo’s Fire, Boston Early Music Festival, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Bach Collegium San Diego, Portland Baroque Orchestra and New York Baroque Incorporated. Jonathan is also committed to ensemble singing at the highest level and is regularly featured as a member of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, earning praise as “charismatic” and “riveting” from the New York Times for his solo work. An avid performer of new music, Jonathan has premiered works including Ted Hearne’s The Source, Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves, and Du Yun’s Pulitzer-Prize winning Angel’s Bone. He has appeared with Staunton Music Festival, Aldeburgh Festival, Portland Bach Festival, Carmel Bach Festival, Oregon Bach Festival, American Bach Soloists Academy, Opera Lafayette, Gotham Chamber Opera, and Beth Morrison Projects. Jonathan has recorded with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street (Musica Omnia), Boston Early Music Festival (RadioBremen), and New York Polyphony (BIS Records).

The 2019 Handel Aria Competition Judges

We are delighted to have three eminently qualified judges joining us for the 7th annual Handel Aria Competition. All attendees at the event will be invited to vote for the Audience Favorite Prize.

Cheryl Bensman-Rowe headshot

Cheryl Bensman-Rowe

Cheryl Bensman-Rowe has sung in North and South America, Europe, Japan, and is a former member of The Waverly Consort, and Western Wind Vocal Ensemble. She received a Grammy for Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich and has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Israel Philharmonic, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Ravinia, Madison Opera, Madison Choral Project and Present Music in Milwaukee.  She has recorded for Nonesuch, ECM, and CBS Masterworks.

The former – and founding – Artistic Director of the Handel Aria Competition, she currently maintains a voice studio in Madison. Ms. Bensman-Rowe and her husband, Paul Rowe, are Co-Artistic Directors of the Madison Early Music Festival, which is celebrating its 20thanniversary season in July.

Roger Pines headshot

Roger Pines

Roger Pines, a judge for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions since 1991 and for other prestigious competitions nationwide, is dramaturg at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Among the many roles he has filled at Lyric are program editor; co-host/commentator and co-producer of the Lyric radio broadcasts; and special lecturer/consultant for the Ryan Opera Center, Lyric’s young-artist program. Pines previously held administrative positions at San Diego Opera and The Dallas Opera.

A contributor of many articles and reviews for important American and European publications —  among them Opera NewsOpera magazine, and The Times(London) – as well as for programs of every major North American opera company, Pines has also written program notes for CDs on seven major labels (including releases by Renée Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli, Joyce DiDonato, Anna Netrebko, and Jonas Kaufmann).

Pines has recently lectured for Teatro Nuovo, New York’s new bel canto opera festival; Chicago’s Newberry Library and DePaul University; and the Opera Department of the University of Texas at Austin. He will be speaking in July for San Francisco Opera’s Merola program and in October for the San Francisco Opera Guild’s lecture series. 2018-19 season was Pines’s thirteenth consecutive season as a panelist on the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts’  “Opera Quiz.”

Steven Spears Headshot

Steven Paul Spears

Noted for being “most consistently musical, most clear in diction,” possessing a “stunningly beautiful, edgeless tenor” and for “lustrous singing,” tenor Steven Paul Spears has performed with arts organizations across the United States and Europe. Specializing in works of the Baroque and Contemporary Periods, Steven’s recent repertoire includes of works of Rameau, Cavalli, Monteverdi, Bach and Handel, as well as Britten, Stravinsky, Orff and Ullmann.  Of his singing, reviewers have said Steven brought out “one reason why Bach’s vocal melodies have such complex, searching contours; they’re tracing not just musical thoughts, but also the changing weight and implications of the text,” giving a performance “so true to the words” and of a performance of the Roasted Swan in Orff’s Carmina Burana, one critic wrote that it was “riveting…filled with angst and an overabundance of high notes, Spears dramatized the moment with vocal dexterity and polish.”

Receiving degrees from the University of Louisville (2002) and the Juilliard School (2004), this Fall Steven begins his 16th year of teaching at Lawrence Conservatory in Appleton, WI.  He also is Director of Music at First Presbyterian Church of Neenah.  For more info, visit www.stevenpaulspears.com.


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