Over-the-Topera production returns with a competitive twist

Judging panel adds new element to decade-long tradition

Zileni Milupi, Staff Reporter

This year’s Over-the-Topera, Death by Aria edition, was an operatic battle royale to determine whose vocals soared above the concert hall, featured for the first time in the production’s history at CWU. 

The event took place on Feb. 3 at the Wayne S. Hertz Concert Hall in the Mclntyre Music Building and was put on by Music Department Professor Dr. Gayla Blaisdell, who started Over-the-Topera 15 years ago. The concert showcases the talents of the classical music enthusiasts in the program. She decided to switch things up this year and incorporated concepts from talent shows like ‘The Voice’ and ‘America’s Got Talent.’ 

This year’s production consisted of three rounds with three judges and 13 student performers. The first round featured each of the 13 students performing an aria, or a dramatic art song with aria-like elements for one minute. The second round featured six students, and this round had no time limit for their performances. The last round featured the final four performers. The final round ended in a surprise tie with winners, Mckayla Sherman and Trevor Pierce.  

“I participated in an opera program in Utah,” Blaisdell said. “Death by Aria was often talked about in the program. That’s what the singers called it ‘arias,’ because it felt like death.” 

An aria is a vocal piece that blends musical theater elements with opera. Arias are an opportunity to showcase one solo voice and to get to know what is going on in the mind of the character in the moment, according to Opera Colorado.

The judges of the competition were esteemed and respected members of the CWU community: Kathleen Beach, Dean Jason Knirck and Joe Regelbrugge. None of the judges had professional opera experience, which made choosing the winner more interesting, according to Blaisdell. 

“There’s a difference between performing for a professional and performing for a lay person,” Blaisdell said. “You have to be very particular about the details when performing for a professional. When you’re performing for a lay person, you need to know what you want to communicate to them and how to draw in the audience.” 

Third year music major and third place finalist, Sophie Otness, explained how she hoped to impress the judges before the event. 

“I want to use my movement to tell a story and communicate the feelings of the character,” Otness said. “It’s hard to convey the emotions of a character while singing in a different language, I want to do my best.” 

Fourth year music major and performer in the competition, Madison Larson, also expressed the importance of grabbing the audience’s attention prior to the performance. 

“I’ll do my best to perform and make it fun and visually enjoyable to watch.” Larson said. 

Some members of the audience showed appreciation for the students and their talents after the event. 

“It’s hard to believe they’re students, they’re so professional,” Associate Professor of Psychology Rich Marsicano said. 

Despite the competitive aspect of this year’s production, Blaisdell and her husband Torrance Blaisdell who co-hosted the event, emphasized the value of all the performers beyond this.

“One thing the people you audition for will value the least is the number of competitions you’ve won,” Torrance said. “Competition is very subjective and not representative of who you are as a person or how hard you work. None of that can be seen in two hours.” 

After the last round of the event, Blaisdell had some final words for the participants.

“No matter what you’re competing for or what you’re doing, your efforts are appreciated,” Blaisdell said.