"Other awards have been given one-word names like the Oscars, Emmys, Tonys and Grammys," said Alfred Drake, star of "Kismet," "Oklahoma!" and other Broadway shows. "It has been suggested that since the initials of the National Opera Institute are NOI, we could call these awards the 'Noisies,' but we're looking for a better name."

Drake was only one of the internationally famous singers on stage last night in the Terrace Theater. Others included Beverly Sills, Evelyn Lear, Richard Stilwell and Rise Stevens. And the music was magnificent, even though none of the above did anything but talk. Vocally, the spotlight was on 10 young and still relatively unknown American singers, who divided $35,000 in NOI awards. Sills, Lear, Stilwell and Drake were on hand as hosts for the Institute's fifth annual gala awards evening. Stevens was there to receive one of this year's four citations for service to American opera, in recognition of her work with the Metropolitan Opera National Council to aid the development of young singers.

"Virtue should not be its own only reward," said NOI executive director John Ludwig, explaining the reason for the ceremony: "to honor outstanding achievement and to encourage young singers who should be the stars of tomorrow." Sills added that America has become "the world's leading producer" of such potential stars.

Her statement was validated by the 10 arias sung by sopranos Penny McMichael, Linda Mabbs, Kathryn Bouleyn, Judith Nicosia and Sally Wolf, tenor Anthony Laciura, baritones David Arnold, James Dietsch and Louis Otey and bass Sherman Lowe -- music ranging from Mozart, Wagner, Verdi and Puccini to a comic number by John Philip Sousa and the "Single bed blanket" song from Carlisle Floyd's "Willie Stark."

After about half an hour of deliberation, the judges decided to give awards to all the finalists: advancement awards to Lowe, Dietsch, Mabbs, McMichael and Wolf; career development awards to Bouleyn, Arnold, Otey, Nicosia and Laciura. Because the awards are scaled to anticipated need rather than a ranking of performances, amounts of individual awards were not made public. What is the difference between an advancement award and a career development award? Louis Otey was asked at a reception following the awards. "We don't know," he said. "We've been talking about it and none of us knows the difference."

Besides Stevens, recipients of the non-cash awards for service to American opera included the Texas Opera Theater, music publisher Robert Holton and artistic director H. Wesley Balk of the Minnesota Opera.