Without a few harsh words from a controlling husband, Amy Lauritzen wouldn't be competing in the Marian Anderson International Vocal Arts Competition that begins Thursday at the University of Maryland-College Park.
Three years ago, when she was a Denver homemaker, her husband forbade her from singing outside the confines of their church. Lauritzen refused. Then she left him.
"I've always had the interest" in singing, recalls Lauritzen, now 29 and living in Beltsville. "I just never had the drive until he told me he didn't want me to do it."
Immediately after moving out, she signed up for Metropolitan Opera of New York auditions in Denver. She reached the semifinals in that competition and eventually landed an apprenticeship at the Baltimore Opera Company, where she has spent the past year with her new husband and 2-year-old son.
If she were alive today, singer extraordinaire Marian Anderson probably would applaud Lauritzen's defiant spirit. The singer for whom the week-long competition for aspiring classical vocalists is named famously struggled against those who tried to silence her voice.
Already known worldwide for her stunning musical talent, Marian Anderson became the focus of international outrage in 1939 when the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let her sing Constitution Hall in Washington because she was black.
Anderson ultimately triumphed by giving a stirring performance at the Lincoln Memorial, where she was cheered by 75,000 people. She died in 1993 having won virtually every honor available to a world-class artist.
When University of Maryland officials decided to create an international singing competition in 1991, Anderson's nephew, conductor James DuPreist, suggested that it bear her name.
"Marian Anderson had an extraordinary international career," said George Moquin, a founder of the vocal competition and executive director of international competitions at the University of Maryland.
"She was [recognized] by all the heads of countries in Europe, she was a big celebrity. . . . She had a lot of international connections in her career, so it made sense to honor her by naming it after her."
Now in its third rendition, the Marian Anderson International Vocal Arts Competition has come into its own. And with the impending completion of the $107 million Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts, the event, which takes place every four years, is gaining more momentum.
"These competitions foster excellence," Moquin said. "That is part of the mission of the university, to identify and reward excellence in every discipline."
The event, sponsored by the University of Maryland, is the only U.S. singing competition that is recognized by the prestigious Geneva-based World Federation of International Music Competitions. It has the potential to launch the careers of singers trying to break into classical music.
This year, 35 participants ages 21 to 39, hailing from 11 countries, will compete for $50,000 in prizes. The preliminary rounds will take place at Tawes Theatre at the University of Maryland. Three finalists will perform the competition's final round July 24 at the Kennedy Center in Washington accompanied by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
The competition already has helped create classical music stars. After Washington area vocalist Denyce Graves was a semifinalist in the inaugural 1991 competition, her career skyrocketed. Norah Amsellem, a French soprano who took first place in the 1995 competition, went on to share the stage with Placido Domingo at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
The first-place winner receives a $20,000 prize and a recital at the Lincoln Center in New York, which provides tremendous exposure. After that, Moquin said, it's up to the participants to take their careers to the next level.
Winning first prize "doesn't guarantee anything," Moquin said. "There may be managers in New York who are interested, and this would give a boost to the career. . . . After the competition, it depends on a lot of circumstances and luck."
Angela Powell, a soprano from Beltsville, thinks her background in drama will give her an edge over her competitors.
"I feel excited that I can bring an extra dimension to the opera," said Powell, who has done artist-in-residence programs at opera companies in Dayton, Ohio, and Cincinnati and received a master's degree in music from the University of Maryland. "I never have believed in standing and singing pretty."
But regardless of the outcome, the 31-year-old soprano plans to scale back the hours she works teaching music at Suitland High School and giving private lessons to shop for an agent and pursue her professional singing career at full throttle.
In addition to performances by contestants, audiences may attend recitals by professional singers such as Gordon Hawkins. The baritone's July 22 performance will be a special homecoming. After graduating from Surrattsville Senior High School and growing up in Clinton, Hawkins received a music degree from the College Park campus in 1980.
The last time he strolled the Maryland campus, Hawkins was an aspiring singer. After graduation, he endured the same grueling audition process that the Marian Anderson competitors are going through, which he describes as "probably the worst time in the world."
Hawkins triumphed and went on to perform solos with major opera companies and symphonies all over the world, including the Metropolitan Opera and Britain's Royal Opera at Covent Garden. For the Marian Anderson competitors, Hawkins offers this advice:
"Basically, you're standing in front of thousands of people and yelling at them in a different language for a living," Hawkins said. "What do you want to say to those people who pay $75 to see you? You have to risk saying something other than, 'Look at what a pretty sound I can make.' My bird makes a pretty sound, and he does it for free."
The Marian Anderson International Vocal Arts Competition and Festival will take place July 15 to 24 and includes the competition's preliminary rounds as well as seminars, master classes and performances by professional recitalists. Most events will be held at the University of Maryland's Tawes Theatre, University Boulevard and Adelphi Road, College Park. Tickets to preliminary rounds and peripheral events range from $5 to $12; tickets to recitals are $12 to $22. For a complete schedule of events, call 301-405-8170.
CAPTION: The competition is named for Marian Anderson, who became the focus of controversy in 1939 when the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let her perform at Constitution Hall because she was black. She sang instead at the Lincoln Memorial for a crowd of 75,000.
CAPTION: Soprano Angela Powell, of Beltsville, says she will rely on her background in drama to add depth to her stage performance. She is one of 35 vocalists from 11 countries competing in this year's competition.