VanderLaan PrizeVanderLaan Prize

VanderLaan Prize

Application for the 2022/23 VanderLaan Prize is now closed.

Join us as the top ten students from around the nation compete for one of the largest purses available for undergraduates.

TICKETS $10, General Admission

Purchase online or by calling the Box Office: 616-451-2741

Opera Grand Rapids is proud to announce the 2022/23 VanderLaan Prize.

The 19th annual VanderLaan Prize is an opportunity for college-level voice students to compete for cash prizes and receive feedback from adjudicators who themselves are acclaimed opera artists. Opera Grand Rapids brings world-class professionals into its adjudication process in order to give contestants meaningful instruction and critique. 10 finalists will be chosen to perform in the final-round concert at the Betty Van Andel Opera Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on April 1, 2023. The finalists will sing for three adjudicators and participate in educational and social activities with one another.


Emily Damasco | Soprano

Curtis Institute of Music

Kayla Raschke | Soprano

Wheaton College

Jack Burrows | Bass-baritone

Pacific Lutheran University

Sarah Fleiss | Soprano

Curtis Institute of Music

Tivoli Treloar | Mezzo-soprano

University of California, Los Angeles

William Fishwick | Tenor

University of Michigan

Anna Thompson | Soprano

Eastman School of Music

Demetrious Sampson, Jr. | Tenor

Georgia State University

Natalia Adame | Mezzo-soprano

University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music

Adriana Stepien | Soprano

The Juilliard School

This competition boasts one of the largest purses in the nation at nearly $25,000, awarded as follows:


First Place
Second Place
Third Place
FOTO Award
Audience Choice Award

chosen by audience members during the final-round concert

10 Finalists will receive $500 to be used as a travel stipend. Prizewinners will also receive special consideration for roles in upcoming Opera Grand Rapids productions.


Tobias Picker | Composer

Tobias Picker has drawn commissions from and performances by the world’s leading musicians, orchestras, and opera houses. The New Yorker has called him “a genuine creator with a fertile, unforced vein of invention”; The Wall Street Journal wrote he was “our finest composer for the lyric stage”; and BBC Music Magazine described him as “displaying a distinctively soulful style that is one of the glories of the current musical scene.”

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His operas have been commissioned by the Santa Fe Opera (Emmeline, 1996), LA Opera (Fantastic Mr. Fox, 1998), Dallas Opera (Thérèse Raquin, 2001), Metropolitan Opera (An American Tragedy, 2001), San Francisco Opera (Dolores Claiborne, 2013), and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (Awakenings, 2022). His operas have also been produced by the New York City Opera, San Diego Opera, Opéra de Montréal, Chicago Opera Theater, Covent Garden, Opera Holland Park, English Touring Opera, Glimmerglass Festival, and many other companies. In 2015, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis mounted a major new production of his Emmeline that won universal acclaim as “a work of gripping emotional intensity and extraordinary musical expressivity” (the Dallas Morning News), “one of the best operas written in the past twenty-five years (The Wall Street Journal), and “the greatest American opera of the 20th century (the St. Louis Post-Dispatch). The world premiere recording of Fantastic Mr. Fox, his family opera, was released by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Odyssey Opera in Spring 2019 on the BMOP label, which won the 2020 Grammy award for best opera recording. In 2022, Picker’s opera Awakenings, based on “Awakenings,” Oliver Sacks’ 1960’s chronicle of his efforts to help the victims of an encephalitis epidemic, premiered at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

His extensive discography also includes albums devoted entirely to his works on Nonesuch, Sony Classics, Virgin Classics, Angel, Chandos, Ondine, Albany Records, Wergo, and Tzadik. Individual works have appeared on Sony Classics, Angel, and Ondine albums. Tobias Picker has had symphonic works commissioned and performed by the BBC Proms, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Opéra de Montréal, Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Vienna Radio Symphony, and Zurich Tonhalle, among many others. In addition to three symphonies, he has composed concertos for violin, viola, cello, and oboe, as well as four piano concertos and a ballet, Awakenings, also based on the book by Oliver Sacks, commissioned by the London-based Rambert Dance Company.

An accomplished pianist, he has performed as soloist in performances of his piano concertos and chamber works with major orchestras and chamber ensembles around the world. He has received prestigious awards throughout his career and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has served as composer-in-residence for the Houston Symphony, from 1985 to 1990, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, and the Pacific Music Festival. In 2010 he founded Opera San Antonio and served as its artistic director until 2015. Picker then was appointed artistic director of Tulsa Opera from 2016 to 2022: his tenure in Tulsa would see the selection of Lucia Lucas as the first transgender opera singer to have a leading role on the American stage (for which he is featured in James Kicklighter’s documentary film, The Sound of Identity), a baseball-themed production of Rigoletto adapted for an open-air baseball stadium to accommodate the gathering restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, Greenwood Overcomes, a concert with new works by African-American composers to honor the memory of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, as well as a Thaddeus Strassberger-directed, immersive production of Salome.

He is married to Aryeh Lev Stollman, novelist, neuroradiologist, and the librettist for his forthcoming opera Lili Elbe,  an opera based on the life of the Transgender painter, Lili Elbe. His music is published exclusively by Schott (9/27/2022).

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Zoie Reams | Mezzo-soprano

American mezzo-soprano Zoie Reams has been lauded by Opera News for her “velvety mezzo” and for how she “phrase[s] with elegance and articulate[s] coloratura nimbly.”

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In the 2022-2023 season, Ms. Reams returns to the Lyric Opera of Chicago as Ragonde in Le Comte Ory, conducted by Enrique Mazzola, and as the Mezzo Soloist and Chief’s Daughter #2 in Proximity, a trilogy of new American opera curated by Renée Fleming and directed by Yuval Sharon. Other projects include Mandane in Idaspe at the Quantum Theatre in Pittsburgh, created by Claire van Kampen and the Chatham Baroque Orchestra, and the Beggar Woman in Sweeney Todd at Austin Opera, conducted by Timothy Myers. Concert appearances include performances at the Washington National Cathedral in Handel’s Messiah.

In the 2021-2022 season, Ms. Reams made her house debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Lily in James Robinson’s acclaimed production of Porgy and Bess. She was also a Company Member with Minnesota Opera, where she performed the title role of Carmen in a new production directed by Denyce Graves, and Dorothée in Joseph Bologne’s The Anonymous Lover. Finally, during the summer of 2022, she made her house debut at Cincinnati Opera as Jane in the world premiere of Gregory Spears and Tracy K. Smith’s Castor and Patience. On the concert stage, she joined Minnesota Opera for Ópera Afuera, an outdoor concert at Allianz Field celebrating Latinx vocal music, as well as Voices United, a choral concert featuring operatic favorites.

In the 2020-2021 season, Ms. Reams made her role debut as Nancy in Albert Herring at Minnesota Opera conducted by Dame Jane Glover, returned to Houston Grand Opera both as Sister Sophia in The Sound of Music and to reprise the title role in Damien Sneed’s Marian’s Song, and returned to Des Moines Metro Opera as Juno in Rameau’s Platée and the Beggar Woman in Sweeney Todd. In concert, she rejoined Houston Grand Opera for the second annual Giving Voicerecital, co-hosted by tenor Lawrence Brownlee, and also performed in a special holiday program at Minnesota Opera. Previously scheduled engagements included performances at Houston Grand Opera as Dodo in Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves and at Lyric Opera of Chicago as Witness 2/Singer 2/Woman 2 in George Benjamin’s Lessons in Love and Violence.

Operatic highlights of previous seasons include her house debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago as Flora in La traviata and performances at Houston Grand Opera as the Third Secretary in John Adams’ Nixon in China, the Alto Winged Angel in the world premiere of Jake Heggie’s It’s A Wonderful Life, and Cece in the world premiere of Laura Kaminsky’s Some Light Emerges. In addition, she performed at Opera Columbus as Suzuki in Madama Butterfly, sang the title role in Carmen at Opera Louisiane, and made her house and role debut at Des Moines Metro Opera as Margret in Wozzeck. Ms. Reams also completed her studies in the Houston Grand Opera studio, where she sang Flora, Dritte Magd in Elektra, and Rosalia in West Side Story, among other roles.

On the concert stage, she has performed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the National Symphony Orchestra, Bruckner’s Te Deum with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, Tippett’s A Child of Our Time with the New York Choral Society at Carnegie Hall, Bernstein’s First Symphony, Jeremiah, with the Staatstheater Cottbus Philharmonic Orchestra, and Handel’s Messiah with both the Las Vegas Philharmonic and the combined choirs of Auburn University and the New Choral Society of Scarsdale, New York.

Ms. Reams’ awards include second place at Houston Grand Opera’s Eleanor McCollum Competition (2016), first place winner of the Emerging Artist division of the Classical Singer Competition (2015), and second place winner of the Gulf Coast Region of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions (2016). She holds a Master of Music degree from Louisiana State University, where she sang Isabella in L’italiana in Algeri, Dido in Dido and Aeneas, Katisha in The Mikado, and Béatrice in Béatrice et Bénédict. She earned her Bachelor of Music at Lawrence University.

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Jay Lesenger | Director

During Jay Lesenger’s more than 45 year career as stage director, administrator and teacher, he has staged over 200 operas, operettas and musicals and continues to be recognized for productions which are dramatically compelling and musically informed.

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For 21 years, from 1994 to 2015, Jay was General/Artistic Director of Chautauqua Opera, the longest serving general director in the company’s history. While there, he mounted over 50 productions including new stagings of Peter Grimes, Luisa Miller, Vanessa, Macbeth, Il Trovatore, Stiffelio, Two Widows (Smetana), Maria Stuarda, The Cunning Little Vixen, Regina, The Ballad of Baby Doe, Susannah and The Consul and much of the standard repertory. His Chautauqua production of Robert Ward’s The Crucible, was also seen at Opera Boston and Mobile Opera. Musical Theater/Operetta productions for Chautauqua include A Little Night Music, Once Upon a Mattress, She Loves Me, The Music Man, The Pirates of Penzance and Fiddler on the Roof. His new staging of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena opened Beverly Sill’s first season as general director of The New York City Opera. Other productions for NYCO include The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, and Street Scene. For New Orleans, he staged the world premiere of Thea Musgrave’s opera Pontalba commissioned for the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase. His productions there of The Ballad of Baby Doe and Die Walküre garnered Best Opera Production awards for their respective seasons. Other representative productions include The Tales of Hoffmann, Rigoletto and Candide for Palm Beach Opera; Werther, Turandot, Lohengrin and Anna Bolena for San Diego Opera; Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, Samson et Dalilah, The Magic Flute, Brundibar and Der Rosenkavalier for Opera Pacific. For Atlanta Opera he staged 15 works, including his innovative production of Ariadne auf Naxos, which was later seen in Virginia and Chautauqua and telecast on PBS from Florentine Opera/Milwaukee. Productions in Europe include La Bohème, Le Nozze di Figaro, and Eugene Onegin for Opera Nordfjord in Norway and Madama Butterfly for Volkstheater Rostock in Germany. For five years, he directed the School of Music Opera Theater at the University of Michigan and later was Director of Opera at Northwestern University where his productions included the first staging ever of the Beaumarchais Operatic Trilogy – The Barber of Seville, and The Marriage of Figaro and The Ghosts of Versailles. Lesenger is a nationally recognized teacher of acting for singers and has directed and taught at the Mannes School of Music, the Julliard School, the Academy of Vocal Arts and Indiana University. For Manhattan School of Music, he staged the first major New York revival of John Corigliano/William Hoffman’s The Ghosts of Versailles. Past productions for Opera Grand Rapids include Don Pasquale, Pirates of Penzance, Hansel & Gretel, Tales of Hoffmann, La Boheme and La Traviata. Jay is a frequent adjudicator for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and holds a bachelor’s degree from Hofstra University and a master’s from Indiana University.

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October 3, 2022

Application opens

February 20, 2023

Application deadline

February 21–March 6, 2023

Round 1 prescreening and adjudication

March 7, 2023

Finalists notified

April 1, 2023

Final-round concert in Grand Rapids, Michigan


  • Entrants must be enrolled as an UNDERGRADUATE at a higher-education institution in the UNITED STATES as of February 20, 2023.
  • Entrants must be AGE 24 OR YOUNGER as of February 20, 2023.

First-Round Application

Contestants must submit several materials for the first round:

1. Video recordings of two arias

    • At least one piece must be in a language other than English.
    • Only arias from operas are permitted. No art songs, musical theatre, oratorio, or other genres.
    • Videos may be submitted only as YouTube links.
    • You may submit video recordings with a live pianist, a prerecorded accompaniment, or even without any accompaniment at all. Our first-round adjudicators are aware of this rule and will not penalize applicants for singing without a live pianist. We aim to make this competition as accessible as possible and acknowledge that not all students can afford a live pianist. Feel free to record from a recital hall or your bedroom.

2. Photocopy of an ID with date of birth clearly displayed

3. Application fee

    • FREE for students who attend a school in the Opera Grand Rapids Collegiate Consortium
    • $50 for all other students
    • A limited number of fee waivers are available based on financial need. You must provide a 2022–23 or 2023–24 FAFSA Student Aid Report (SAR), and the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) must be $2,500 or less. Fee waivers are available on a first-come, first-served basis, so students should apply as early as possible.


It is in a spirit of gratitude and humility that Opera Grand Rapids is pleased to announce the renaming of our National Collegiate Vocal Competition to The VanderLaan Prize. Opera Grand Rapids is saddened at the loss of one of our greatest friends, Karl VanderLaan. Karl and his wife Jean have supported our music education programs for nearly twenty years and were constant champions of arts education. Karl and Jean have demonstrated the powerful impact of philanthropy and continue to do so with the establishment of the VanderLaan Music Education Fund at Opera Grand Rapids. Our National Collegiate Vocal Competition was a particular focus of Karl and Jean’s philanthropic endeavors. From sponsoring prizes to hosting dinners for the competitors, the VanderLaans’ generosity boosted the program for years.

Click here to support the VanderLaan Fund for Music Education.

Need a pianist?

Arlene Shrut | Collaborative Pianist

Contact Arlene to make a piano recording at

As a collaborative pianist, Arlene has collaborated with Renée Fleming, Thomas Hampson, Angela Meade, Isabel Leonard, Carla Rae Cook, Michael Fabiano, Anton Belov, Alissa Deeter, and Takaoki Onishi.

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She regularly serves as official pianist and judge for international opera competitions sponsored by The Gerda Lissner Foundation, the Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation, The Giulio Gari Foundation, The Loren Zachary Society, The Marcello Giordani Foundation, and the Fritz and Lavinia Jensen Foundation.

While many of Arlene’s professional activities focus on collaborations with singers, she is in demand with instrumentalists as well, featuring engagements such as her NYC debut with the Yoav Chamber Ensemble, touring with the Grand’Arte Trio, and as a finalist in the Munich International Competition in the violin-piano duo category with Julie Rosenfeld of the Colorado String Quartet, as well as winning the outstanding pianist award at the Music Academy of the West. In January 2014 Arlene teamed with pianist Anna Shelest in a 4-hand version of the Brahms Requiem with Voices of Ascension, under the baton of Dennis Keene, featuring soloists Martha Guth and Richard Zeller. Arlene has recorded for Dorian, Albany, Summit, Centaur, and Orion labels. Her discography includes works from the classical canon and recording premieres by contemporary composers.

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