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Houston Grand Opera Announces 2024 Concert of Arias Winners

Saturday, 03 February 2024 06:30 AM

Houston Grand Opera

Six Singers Awarded Top Honors of 36th Annual Eleanor McCollum Competition

HOUSTON, TX / ACCESSWIRE / February 3, 2024 / Houston Grand Opera (HGO) is proud to announce the winners for this year's Concert of Arias, the 36th Annual Eleanor McCollum Competition for Young Singers, held last night at the Wortham Theater Center and livestreamed for audiences at home.

Image: Ziniu Zhao, Jazmine Saunders, Elizabeth "Hanje", Alissa Goretsky, Jouelle Roberson, Sam Dhobhany. Photo by: Michael Bishop.

The 2024 Concert of Arias winners include:

  • 1st Place prize of $10,000 was awarded to Elizabeth Hanje, Soprano
  • 2nd Place prize of $5,000 went to Ziniu Zhao, Bass-Baritone
  • 3rd Place prize of $3,000 was won by Alissa Goretsky, Soprano
  • The Ana María Martínez Encouragement Award of $2,000 went to Sam Dhobhany, Bass-Baritone
  • The Audience Choice Award of $1,000 went to Jazmine Saunders, Soprano
  • The Online Viewers' Choice Award of $500 went to Jouelle Roberson, Soprano

The winners of this year's competition were chosen by a panel of distinguished judges: HGO Principal Guest Conductor and Music Director of San Francisco Opera Eun Sun Kim; HGO General Director and CEO Khori Dastoor; and HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers. HGO Artistic Advisor Ana María Martínez selected the winner of her Encouragement Award, an award she created nine years ago to celebrate artists developing their craft.

The event was available for home viewing via the company's YouTube and Facebook pages. The evening's livestream host was a Butler Studio alumnus and company favorite, the bass-baritone Ryan McKinny, who is performing with HGO this season as Amfortas in Parsifal and Leporello in Don Giovanni. McKinny entertained online viewers and kept audiences apprised of all the action happening behind-the-scenes.

Each year HGO holds the highly anticipated Eleanor McCollum Competition as part of its mission to identify and support emerging artists in opera. During this process the company seeks to identify candidates for its prestigious training program for young artists, the Sarah and Ernest Butler Houston Grand Opera Studio. Singers from across the world travel to Houston to compete as semi-finalists, with the artists named as finalists taking the stage for the Concert of Arias, the competition's live final round.

"What a joyful evening we just shared. These inspiring young competitors put on an unforgettable show, and did themselves very proud," says Dastoor. "There is no better distillation of HGO's mission than the Concert of Arias. This fantastic group of emerging artists fill us with tremendous hope for the future of our peerless art form."

"My first Concert of Arias since taking over leadership of the Butler Studio was exhilarating," says Colin Michael Brush, who joined HGO as the new director of the program in fall 2023. "Having led the audition process and spent a week getting to know our gifted semi-finalists and finalists, I wanted them to show us what makes them such unique artists - and they did that and more. I felt their music in my heart. It is my honor to help guide these young singers as they pursue careers in opera."

After careful consideration of over 900 candidates, HGO narrowed the applicants to 20 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 sopranos Alissa Goretsky, Elizabeth "Hanje", Jouelle Roberson, and Jazmine Saunders; tenor Rafael Rojas; bass-baritones Sam Dhobhany and Ziniu Zhao; and bass Edwin Jhamaal Davis.

This year's Concert of Arias was graciously chaired by the Hon. Theresa and Dr. Peter Chang. The event raised over $680,000 to benefit the Eleanor McCollum Competition for Young Singers and the Houston Grand Opera Studio.

At last year's Concert of Arias, Khori Dastoor announced that the company had 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. Dastoor also shared that the company's Studio program had been renamed to honor their commitment to the operatic art form.

Since its inception in 1977, 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.

2024 Concert of Arias Winner Biographies:

1st Place

Elizabeth Hanje, Soprano

Elizabeth "Hanje" is an alumna of HGO's Young Artist Vocal Academy and the Des Moines Metro Opera Apprentice Program. She is a senior at Oberlin Conservatory, where her roles have included Ernestina in L'occasione fa il ladro, Comedian in Matthew Recio's Puppy Episode, and Lyra in Melissa Dunphy's Alice Tierney, as well as performing in the chorus of Acis and Galatea. "Hanje" has sung in masterclasses with director Michael Capasso, soprano Christine Goerke, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, and soprano Harolyn Blackwell. She is a winner of the 2023 Duncan Williams Voice Competition and the 2022 George Shirley Vocal Competition. In 2021, she received the Richard Miller Award for Fine Singing and a YoungArts Award.

2nd Place

Ziniu Zhao, Bass-Baritone

Ziniu Zhao is a member of the Opera Talent Training Program of the China National Arts Foundation. He won the first prize in the Colorado International Music Competition in the United States, the Rossini Singing Award for Best Singing in the Fiorenza Cedolins Opera Competition in Italy, and the Maria Callas Award in the Vincerò International Opera Competition, also in Italy. He has appeared in operas such as Don Pasquale (title role), La bohème (Colline), and Così fan tutte (Don Alfonso). Last year he gave a solo concert in China's Shandong Province. He holds a bachelor's degree from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where he received the Outstanding Student Scholarship for four consecutive years.

3rd Place

Alissa Goretsky, Soprano

Alissa Goretsky made her operatic debut as Gismonda in Ottone at Caroline Hume Hall under the baton of Corey Jameson in 2019. Her recent roles include Foreign Woman in The Consul, Mimì in La bohème, Contessa Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro, and Emilia in Flavio, as well as covering the role of Sister Alice and Sister Catherine at San Francisco Opera in Dialogues of the Carmelites. Goretsky is the 2022 first-place winner of the Palm Spring Opera Guild Competition, the 2023 winner of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Concerto Competition, and a 2022 Finalist of the Orpheus Competition. In March 2024 she will perform the role of Ma Zegner in Missy Mazzoli's Proving Up at Caroline Hume Hall. Goretsky holds a bachelor's degree in vocal performance and a Master of Music degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music

The Ana María Martínez Encouragement Award

Sam Dhobhany, Bass-Baritone

Sam Dhobhany is a senior vocal performance major at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where this winter he sings the role of Figaro in The Marriage of Figaro. This spring, he will sing the role of Angelotti in Tosca with Dayton Opera. In summer 2023, Dhobhany was an apprentice artist with Santa Fe Opera, where he covered and sang the role of Un Médecin in Pelléas et Mélisande and covered 2nd Spirit/5th Pastore in L'Orfeo. In the summer of 2021, he joined Wolf Trap Opera's Studio Artist Program, where he covered the role of Doctor Grenvil in La traviata. Dhobhany's roles next season include Marchese D'Obigny in La traviata and covering Dulcamara in The Elixir of Love and The Notary in Der Rosenkavalier. Dhobhany was a 2023 winner of the Michigan District in The Metropolitan Opera Laffont Competition. Next summer, he returns to Santa Fe Opera as an apprentice artist.

Audience Choice Award

Jazmine Saunders, Soprano

Jazmine Saunders is an alumna of HGO's 2021 Young Artists' Vocal Academy. She is currently a second-year master's student at The Juilliard School, where she is the recipient of a Kovner Fellowship. This season at Juilliard, Saunders performs as Elaine O'Neill in John Musto's Later the Same Evening and covers Vitellia in La clemenza di Tito. Last summer, she joined the Wolf Trap Opera Studio, where she covered Donna Anna in Don Giovanni. As an Emerging Artist at Seagle Festival 2022, Saunders performed as Miss Lightfoot in Fellow Travelers and Suor Osmina in Suor Angelica. She is a New York District Winner of the 2023 Metropolitan Opera Laffont Competition and an Encouragement Award recipient of the Eastern Region. She received her bachelor's degree in voice performance from the Eastman School of Music in 2022.

Online Viewers' Choice Award

Jouelle Roberson, Soprano

Jouelle Roberson served in Opera Lucca's 2022 summer program, where she performed the title role in Suor Angelica. As a 2021 young artist with the Saratoga Opera, she performed the role of Grisostomo from Don Quichotte: At Comacho's Wedding, returning to the company to perform as Maria in the mainstage production of Man of La Mancha. She was a studio artist with Atlanta Opera in 2019-20, performing the role of Strawberry Woman in Porgy and Bess. With the Bethesda Summer Music Festival, she performed the role of Marenka in The Bartered Bride. Roberson was invited to the prestigious 2023 Castleton Festival, and to join the 2024 roster of the Opera Theatre of St. Louis's Gerdine Young Artist Program. She was a finalist in the Vincerò First Italian Worldwide Opera Competition in 2022, where she won both the Renata Tebaldi Award and the Public Award. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in vocal performance at Morgan State University and continued her training at the Manhattan School of Music.

To learn more about the evening, visit

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About Houston Grand Opera

Houston Grand Opera (HGO) is one of the largest, most innovative, and most highly acclaimed opera companies in the United States. General Director and CEO Khori Dastoor assumed leadership of the organization and responsibility for its strategic vision in 2021. HGO was the only American finalist for Opera Company of the Year in the 2019 International Opera Awards, and the only American company to be nominated twice. In fulfilling its missionto advance the operatic art, to serve the Houston community, and to be a global leader in the future of opera, HGO has led the field in commissioning and producing new works (75 world premieres to date) and in training and nurturing promising young artists and administrators. The company contributes to the cultural enrichment of Houston and the nation through a diverse and innovative program of performances, community events, and education projects that reaches the widest possible public. HGO's pioneering Community and Learning initiative has served as a model for other arts organizations. The company invites all Houstonians to experience superlative opera without the barrier of price through discounted single tickets and subscriptions, subsidized student performances, and free productions. 

HGO has toured extensively and has won a Tony, two Grammy awards, and three Emmy awards. It is the only opera company to win all three honors. 

Media Contact: Mireya Reyna, Elmore PR, 713-524-0661; [email protected]

Media Contact: Catherine Matusow, Houston Grand Opera, 713-546-0293; [email protected]

SOURCE: Houston Grand Opera

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