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Laura Claycomb is the Dallas Opera's Debut Artist of the Year

by Jerome Weeks 19 May 2011 9:04 PM

Not much of a surprise, really. Click through and hear her sing ‘Caro Nome’ from ‘Rigoletto.’


Laura Claycomb, the SMU grad and lyric soprano who was hailed for her Gilda in Rigoletto, was selected by the Dallas Opera‘s season subscribers as the Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year.

If you wonder why, you can listen to the video above. And then there’s Scott Cantrell, who hailed just the news she was coming here because he’d already seen her perform elsewhere and couldn’t wait for her Gilda.

The full release follows:




DALLAS, MAY 19, 2011 – The Dallas Opera is extremely pleased to announce the result of this year’s balloting for the prestigious “Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year” Award: Texas-born, internationally renowned, lyric coloratura soprano Laura Claycomb.

The award is given to a single performer each season for a particularly remarkable and memorable company debut.  The selection of Miss Claycomb, a flame-haired diva who dazzled audiences with her breathtaking vocal qualities and exceptional stage artistry, made her long-sought company debut as Gilda in the Dallas Opera’s 2011 revival of Verdi’s heart-rending Rigoletto.

Both her interactions with other principals in the cast (including the unforgettable Paolo Gavanelli in the title role) and her solo moments onstage left area critics and audiences at a near-loss for words.

Wrote Gregory Sullivan Isaacs of Theater Jones: “Her big aria, Caro nome, was impeccably sung and dramatically spot-on.  Her portrayal is that of an innocent and sheltered girl grappling with the newly awakened…passions of a worldlier woman.  Her choice to give her life to save her feckless lover’s is agonizing rather than girlishly romantic.”

Dallas Morning News Classical Music Critic Scott Cantrell praised Miss Claycomb for her “limpid tone, dazzling technique and eloquent expression.  Even atmospheric pitches were negotiated with delicacy and pliancy.”

William Burnett of Opera Warhorses added, “Hers is a lustrous voice, affecting in her duets with Gavanelli’s Rigoletto, passionate in those with tenor James Valenti’s Duke of Mantua.”

The winner of the prestigious award was announced by Artistic Director Jonathan Pell at the annual Dallas Opera Board and Trustee Appreciation Dinner, which began earlier this evening in the Crescent Ballroom of the Rosewood Crescent Hotel, 400 Crescent Court in Uptown Dallas.

“There were so many artists making their Dallas Opera debuts this season, and so many truly extraordinary performances that it must have been difficult for our subscribers to choose just one,” says Mr. Pell.  “I must confess, though, that I was very pleased that Laura Claycomb was selected as this year’s Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year.

“There is something so heartwarming about the ‘local girl makes good’ scenario, considering that so often ‘a prophet is without honor in his (or in this case, her) own land.’

“It is astonishing that Laura was making not only her Dallas Opera debut, but what amounted to her local debut as a professional singer, since she hasn’t yet sung with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

“She has had great acclaim in opera houses and symphony halls around the world, but I know that coming back to Dallas and singing for this audience meant a great deal to her.  An artist of her caliber is like a beautiful gemstone, and we were fortunate enough to now be able to show her off in the perfect setting of the Winspear Opera House.”


“If ever there were a dream cast for one of the great masterpieces in the 19th century Italian repertory—this was it,” says Dallas Opera General Director & CEO Keith Cerny.  “I was tremendously moved the first time I saw the wonderful Paolo Gavanelli onstage in the title role and—knowing that he would be joined by Laura in her company debut—I was eager to see the chemistry generated by these two extraordinary artists in roles that required such a wide range of emotions.

“Their poignant duets,” Mr. Cerny explained, “exceeded my highest expectations. When Miss Claycomb delivered her shimmering, sublime rendition of Caro nome, I knew her Gilda embodied everything the composer himself had ever meant this young woman to be.

“The Winspear stage has rarely witnessed a finer blend of musical artistry and dramatic characterization; no one who was there will ever forget it.  Together with a host of impressive performances reflected in this year’s stellar list of nominees; Miss Claycomb’s Gilda sets a very, very high bar for Dallas Opera seasons to come.

“Last year I promised you that the task of choosing an honoree for this award should become more difficult with each subsequent season,” added Mr. Cerny.

“I believe we have delivered on that promise.”


As has been the case for the past several years, balloting for the Callas Award was conducted entirely online.  However, the results were verified by the independent accounting firm of Travis, Wolff & Company, L.L.P.

Each winner receives an etched-crystal plaque, created for The Dallas Opera by award-winning designers from Tiffany & Co., which bears the likeness of legendary soprano Maria Callas, who launched The Dallas Opera with a 1957 recital at the Music Hall in Fair Park.

The 2011 recipient responded to the news, by email from Prague in the Czech Republic, with a statement read this evening by Mr. Jonathan Pell:

To the Board and Trustees of The Dallas Opera, Jonathan Pell, and the patrons of The Dallas Opera:

I am thrilled to accept The Dallas Operas Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year Award.  Singing in my hometown has been a dream of mine since I first decided to follow opera as a vocation.   This award means so much to me, and is the culmination of years of hard work.  It is extremely gratifying to have that work so appreciated, and for this I heartily thank the Dallas patrons who voted for me and Jonathan Pell at The Dallas Opera for inviting me to sing this beautiful role.

I would also like to thank my parents and sister, who pushed me from the very beginning to develop my passions and talent, and who have always been spectacularly supportive of my career.

My first experience of live opera was at age 10 at The Dallas Opera at Fair Park Music Hall.  I spent my teens attending shows there with student discount tickets, sometimes coming to see the same show numerous times.  This opera company has a profound effect on this city, and made an indelible mark on me as a young music student. As a Dallas native, having sung in choirs at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church and Highland Park High School and having studied voice at SMU, I think I am singularly qualified to know firsthand what this award means.  I am mindful of the roster of names that I join here.  I still remember the late Joan Sutherlands last Vilja Lied on The Dallas Opera stage while I was at SMU; I count myself fortunate to have been a misty-eyed witness to her farewell.

I hope you, as the Board and Trustees, understand the importance The Dallas Opera has on the many lives the Opera touches. The caliber of singing at The Dallas Opera has always been sensational; I realize the competition I had for the Debut Artist of the Year Award this year alone.  Consequently, I am deeply touched and honored that you are bestowing on me this award bearing the name of my biggest operatic idol, Maria Callas.

My only regret is that I cannot be there in person to accept this award: I am singing concerts with the San Francisco Symphony on tour in Europe this week and next.  I would love it if you could entrust this award into the safekeeping of my parents, Linda and Larry Claycomb until they can bring it to me in Italy this summer; they deserve it as much as I do, with all the nurturing they have given me and my singing over the years.

It certainly takes a village to produce a great artist, and that village has been my beloved Dallas.  A Texas-sized Thank You to you all for awarding me this prestigious distinction!


Laura Claycomb


There were seventeen additional 2010-2011 Season nominees (artists making outstanding company debuts in a principal role)—all the contenders are listed below in alphabetical order):


Meredith Arwady – “Hostess of the Inn” in BORIS GODUNOV

Evgeny Akimov – “Dmitri” in BORIS GODUNOV

Elena Belfiore – “Smeton” in ANNA BOLENA

Elena Bocharova –”Marina” in BORIS GODUNOV

Charles Castronovo – “Romeo” in ROMEO & JULIET

Kirstin Chávez – “Maddalena” in RIGOLETTO

Laura Claycomb – “Gilda” in RIGOLETTO (Winner)

Roxana Constantinescu – “Stephano” in ROMEO & JULIET

Vitaly Efanov – “Pimen” in BORIS GODUNOV

Paolo Gavanelli – “Rigoletto” in RIGOLETTO

Georgia Jarman – “Elvira” in DON GIOVANNI

Mikhail Kazakov – “Boris Godunov” in BORIS GODUNOV

Mikhail Kolelishvili – “Varlaam” in BORIS GODUNOV

Mirco Palazzi – “Leporello” in DON GIOVANNI

Ailyn Pérez – “Zerlina” in DON GIOVANNI

Oxana Shilova – “Xenia” in BORIS GODUNOV

Andrei Spekhov – “Shchelkalov” in BORIS GODUNOV

Paulo Szot – “Giovanni” in DON GIOVANNI


“The Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year Award” was launched during the 1991-1992 Dallas Opera Season and became an instantaneous institution.

Sharon Sweet became the first recipient for her impressive performance in the title role of Aida.  Subsequent winners have included Cecilia Bartoli, Mary Dunleavy, Elizabeth Futral, Hei-Kyung Hong, Denyce Graves, Indira Mahajan, Mary Mills, Patricia Racette, Latonia Moore, Christopher Ventris, Catherine Naglestad, James Valenti and the 2010 winner, Canadian tenor Ben Heppner, for his indelible portrayal of mad Captain Ahab in the Dallas Opera’s world premiere production of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s MOBY-DICK.