New York City Opera Announces The Winners of the Duncan Williams Voice Competition

In partnership with Manhattan School of Music

New York City Opera proudly announces the winners of the 2023 Duncan Williams Voice Competition. Hosted by JNai Bridges, the competition spotlights Black and Latinx singers and awards over $50,000 in prize money. On February 3, 2023 at Manhattan School of Music, 11 winners were announced in 4 categories: The Emerging Artists category, awarding $8,000 to Cierra Byrd, Daniel Rich, and César Andrés Parreño; the Developing Artists category, awarding $5,000 to Elizabeth Hanje, Benjamin Ruiz, and Jazmine Saunders; the Encouragement Award, awarding $3,500 to Joseph Parrish; and the Black and Latinx Song Presentation category, awarding $750 to Daniel EspinalKresley Figueroa, Lwazi Hlati, and Ardeen Pierre.

The Duncan Williams Voice Competition is named for baritone Todd Duncan and soprano Camilla Williams, the first African American singers to sing with a major United States opera company when they made their debuts with New York City Opera in 1945 and 1946, respectively. The Duncan Williams Voice Competition aims to address systemic barriers faced by singers of color within opera and classical music. The competition’s mission is to discover rising talent while supporting singers and meeting needs that are often unaddressed in traditional competitions.

The Duncan Williams Voice Competition is a no-fee competition, open to anyone 18+ with two divisions: the Developing Artist division for singers aged 18-25, and the Emerging Artist division, which has no upper age limit. Should singers advance to the later rounds of the competition, travel-related expenses are covered. This includes flights, overnight accommodations, and travel to and from the venue during the semi-finals and finals in New York City. While singing well is always the focus of a great audition, the Duncan Williams Voice Competition has the goal of approaching each artist as an individual, taking into account the life experiences that bring them to the stage and inform their work on and off the stage. One way the competition addresses this is through a personal statement submitted with the application.

This year’s judges include opera star Denyce Graves, National Sawdust Managing Director Ana de Archuleta, General Director and CEO of the Florentine Maggey Oplinger, New York City Opera General Director Michael Capasso, and composer, instrumentalist, and arts educator Damien Sneed.


Founded as “The People’s Opera” by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia in 1943, New York City Opera (NYCO) has remained a critical part of the city’s cultural life. Launching the careers of dozens of major artists, presenting engaging productions of both mainstream and lesser-known operas alongside commissions and regional premieres, NYCO has continued to endure as a uniquely American opera company of international stature with a distinct identity and singular mission: affordable ticket prices, a devotion to American works, English-language performances, the promotion of up-and-coming American singers, and seasons of accessible, vibrant and compelling productions intended to introduce new audiences to the art form.

Stars who launched their careers at New York City Opera include Plácido Domingo, Catherine Malfitano, Sherrill Milnes, Samuel Ramey, Beverly Sills, Tatiana Troyanos, Carol Vaness, and Shirley Verrett, among dozens of other great artists. New York City Opera has also presented such talents as Anna Caterina Antonacci and Aprile Millo in concert, as well as its own 75th Anniversary Concert in Bryant Park.

New York City Opera forged a path of inclusion and diversity in the arts. It was the first major opera company to feature African American singers in leading roles (Todd Duncan as Tonio in Pagliacci, 1945 and Camilla Williams in the title role of Madama Butterfly, 1946); the first to produce a new work by an African American composer (William Grant Still, Troubled Island, 1949); and the first to have an African-American conductor lead its orchestra (Everett Lee, 1955).

A revitalized City Opera re-opened in January 2016 with Tosca, the opera that originally launched the company in 1944. Outstanding productions since then include: the world premieres of Iain Bell and Mark Campbell’s Stonewall, commissioned and developed by NYCO), legendary director Harold Prince’s new production of Bernstein’s Candide; Puccini’s beloved La Fanciulla del West; and the New York premiere of Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas  the first in NYCO’s Ópera en Español series. Subsequent Ópera en Español productions include the New York premiere of the world’s first mariachi opera, José “Pepe” Martinez’s Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, Literes’s Los Elementos, and Piazzolla’s María de Buenos Aires. NYCO’s Pride Initiative, which produces an LGBTQ-themed work each June during Pride Month, includes such productions as the New York premiere of Péter Eötvös’s Angels in America and the American premiere of Charles Wuorinen’s Brokeback Mountain.

New York City Opera continues its legacy with regular main stage performances at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater, an acclaimed summer series in Bryant Park that brings free performances to thousands of New Yorkers annually, and revitalized outreach and education programs at venues throughout the city that are designed to welcome and inspire a new generation of opera audiences.

New York City

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Founded as a community music school by Janet Daniels Schenck in 1918, today MSM is recognized for its more than 1,000 superbly talented undergraduate and graduate students who come from more than 50 countries and nearly all 50 states; its innovative curricula and world-renowned artist-teacher faculty that includes musicians from the New York Philharmonic, the Met Orchestra, and the top ranks of the jazz and Broadway communities; and a distinguished community of accomplished, award-winning alumni working at the highest levels of the musical, educational, cultural, and professional worlds.

The School is dedicated to the personal, artistic, and intellectual development of aspiring musicians, from its Precollege students through those pursuing doctoral studies. Offering classical, jazz, and musical theatre training, MSM grants a range of undergraduate and graduate degrees. True to MSM’s origins as a music school for children, the Precollege Division is a highly competitive and professionally oriented Saturday music program, dedicated to the musical and personal growth of talented young musicians ages 5 to 18. The School also serves some 2,000 New York City schoolchildren through its Arts-in-Education Program, and another 2,000 students through its critically acclaimed Distance Learning Program.

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