The Cincinnati Opera named Xavier graduate Margaret Russo the winner of the company’s first Opera Idol competition. The Opera announced the selection from the stage of Music Hall on Wednesday, July 22, just prior to a performance of Georges Bizet’s Carmen, the company’s final production of its 2009 Summer Festival.
Russo then surprised the sold-out crowd by performing the aria “Quando me’n vo” (also known as “Musetta’s Waltz”) from Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème, accompanied by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under conductor Henri Venanzi.
The 25-year-old copywriter from Zionsville, Ind., said the Opera Idol experience exceeded her expectations and invigorated her desire to perform.
"It's difficult to sum up the variety of emotions I feel about being voted Cincinnati Opera Idol,” she said. “I'm excited, amazed, a little overwhelmed, and, most of all, extremely grateful. I’m grateful to my friends and family for supporting me, to voters for choosing me, and to Cincinnati Opera for organizing an event that both showcased local talent and inspired the Cincinnati community.”
“Margaret’s voice is one in a thousand,” said Xavier music professor Tom Merrill. “She walked into the Xavier music department and our jaws hit the floor when we heard her sing. We are proud to claim her as a Xavier alumna.”
Cincinnati Opera launched Opera Idol, the company’s search for the next great opera star, in June. More than 160 amateur singers turned out for an open audition before a panel of professional judges. Through multiple rounds of voting, six finalists were chosen. Videos of those finalists in performance were posted on the Cincinnati Opera web site, and the public was invited to view the videos and vote for their favorite. More than 10,000 total votes were cast.
As the winner, Russo receives a $3,500 contract with Cincinnati Opera. The award caps a lifelong love of singing and opera that was discovered at an early age almost by mistake. Russo, a soprano who lives in Cincinnati and works as a copywriter for a marketing firm, was scolded at age 6 when she mimicked her first grade teachers’ vibrato during class and was given a detention.
Instead of punishment, however, her teacher taught her to sing a scale and recommended that she use her talent in voice lessons, rather than mocking her teachers. She studied voice and English at Xavier, graduating cum laude in 2007. She appeared in Xavier productions as Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney Todd" and Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn in "The Music Man." She was also a soloist in choral repertoire.
“I said it from the stage of the Aronoff Center at our Opera Idol concert, and I meant it: Cincinnati's got talent,” said Evans Mirageas, the Harry T. Wilks Artistic Director of Cincinnati Opera. “I am delighted Margaret Russo has won our first ever Opera Idol competition. She is a poised young woman with a lovely voice and lots of potential.”