2017 Judges

Diane Thornton

Cited five times in Opera News reviews, Diane Thornton has enjoyed a career of thirty years as a solo performing artist, mentor, and vocal pedagogue.  In addition to her appearances in opera productions, she is critically acclaimed as a recitalist, orchestral soloist and as a chamber musician, the most recent reviews coming from her performance as alto soloist with the Western Piedmont Symphony in their production of Gustav Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony as a sixty one year old breast cancer survivor in 2015.

Ms. Thornton’s career in opera began immediately after receiving her Master of Music degree in Opera Performance from Temple University, premiering the works of American composers Joseph Summer (Hippolytus with the Contemporary Opera Company of America) and Sam Dennison (Rappacini’s Daughter with the Institute of American Music). This was followed by a performance as Rosina in the Delaware Valley Lyric Opera’s production of Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia as well as her work as Plan Artist for the Opera Company of Philadelphia’s productions of Barbiere (Rosina) and La Cenerentola (Angelina or Cenerentola).  With OCP she also performed the role of Maestra delle Novizie in Suor Angelica, followed by the roles of Angelina and Hansel with Camerata Opera Theater.  After becoming a mother, she switched her concentration to character roles, performing Flora (La Traviata), Mercedes (Carmen,) Dame Quickly (Falstaff), Marthe (Faust), Alisa (Lucia di Lammermoor), Tisbe (La Cenerentola), Gertrude (Romeo et Juliette), Zulma (The Italian Woman in Algiers) Mamma Lucia (Cavalleria Rusticana) and Third Lady (Die Zauberfloete) with Greensboro Opera, Piedmont Opera, Piedmont Opera Theater, Triangle Opera Theater, Gold Coast Opera and Opera Carolina, among others.

Before, during and after her inclusion on the roster of William Hendrickson Artists Management, Ms. Thornton was engaged as a soloist with organizations that include the Winston-Salem Symphony, the North Carolina Symphony (PBS broadcast), the South Carolina Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra (PBS broadcast), the Charlotte Symphony, the Philadelphia Choral Society and Orchestra, the Raleigh Symphony, the Kansas City Symphony, the Messiah Choral Society, the New England Symphonic Ensemble (Carnegie Hall) The Bach Aria Group, and the National Chorale (Lincoln Center). Works include Handel’s Messiah and Jeptha, Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody, Mozart’s Requiem, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and Missa Solemnis, Durufle’s Requiem, Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky, Vaughn-Williams’ Serenade to Music, and J.S Bach’s Magnificat, Mass in B Minor, St. John Passion, St. Matthew Passion and Cantata No. 21.

Ms. Thornton’s love of story-telling through vocal recitals and chamber music has brought her to a variety of venues, including the International Lute Symposium, the Reynolda House Museum of American Art (WFDD-FM broadcast), the Hermitage Mansion Summer Festival in Philadelphia, the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities Artists Series, and WDAV’s Main Street Sessions broadcasts, as well as live recitals at a number of colleges and universities in the eastern United States; the repertoire ranging from early baroque to melodie and Lieder and on to American spirituals and contemporary music.  Through the Davidson College Concert Series as well as the ACS Orpheus Alliance, the College Music Society, the Penn Composers Guild, the Shakespeare Concerts in Boston, the Belvedere Chamber Music Festival and other organizations, she has premiered works by American Composers from across the country.  

Awards for her include a fellowship with the Bach Aria Institute, District Winner in the National Association of Teachers of Singing Artist Awards, 2nd place in the New York Center for Contemporary Opera International Opera Competition, and five year appointee to the North Carolina Arts Council Visiting Artists Roster.  

As a mentor and pedagogue, Diane Thornton has guided singers ranging from young teenage years to senior citizens and from seriously engaged amateurs to professionals.  Her fascination with the science as well as the art of singing, combined with her experiences in regaining her singing process while recovering from breast cancer, has caused her to embrace teaching those with physical disability, with especially challenging vocal issues and with vocal concerns associated with aging.  Considering vocal music as a great opportunity to expose others to new musical and social perspectives, she has also created and/or produced initiatives during her twenty-two years as Artist Associate in Voice at Davidson College that include the Davidson College Opera Theater Workshop,  Bachfest ‘96,  BaroquefestMississippi God Damn! (lecture-recital on Nina Simone), Infinite Variety (developed by the Royal Shakespeare Company and performed by Davidson students at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland), and An Evening of Jazz Song.  She has also offered vocal master classes at various institutions as well as organized like initiatives involving guest artists.  Her experience as an adjudicator includes the Charlotte Opera Guild, the National Association of Teachers of Singing District Artists Awards, the NC Governor’s School, and the NATS Student Auditions at the state, regional and national levels.  Upon her retirement from Davidson College in 2015, she finally opened her own private studio and is an affiliated teacher with the Opera Carolina Vocal Academy.  Reaching back and pulling people forward through the study of vocal music has also been a focus throughout her teaching career –something she especially wants to develop in this new musical stage in her life — and new initiatives will be happening in this regard.  One can visit her website at www.dianebthornton.com.


EDUARDO CEDENO, conductor, tenor, violinist, and educator, hold a B.A. degree in Music and M.M.  Degree from Butler University Jordan College of Music in Indianapolis, IN, with post-graduate work at Boston University and additional studies in Europe.  Cedeno has studies conducting at workkshops under the direction of Maestro Ennio Nicotra in Mirano, Italy, Maestro Adrian Gnam and Maestro Robert Gutter in Atlanta, Georgia.  As an undergraduate student Cedeno studied under Jackson Wiley, Music Director Emeritus of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Indianapolis and violin under Hidetaro Suzuki, former Concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.  He studied voice under the direction of Helena Lazarska, Professor of Music at the University of Music, Vienna, Austria and under André Aerne, Butler University.  He won first prize in the International Choir Competition, Guido D’Arezzo, Italy as a tenor member of the Schola Cantorum of Caracas.  Cedeno currently serves as Principal Conductor and Music Director of the Lake Norman Orchestra in Mooresville, North Carolina, which has been recognized for its performance and collaboration in both Vienna and in Salzburg, Austria.

Louise Toppin

Louise Toppin, has received critical acclaim for her operatic,orchestral, and oratorio performances in the United States, Europe, Czech Republic, Sweden,Uruguay, Scotland, China, England, New Zealand, the Carribean, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Bermuda, Japan and Spain. She has appeared in recital on many concert series including Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center. Orchestral appearances include: the Norrköping Symphony (Sweden), the Czech National Symphony, Mälmo Symphony Orchestra, (Sweden), Tokyo City Orchestra (Japan), The Montevideo Philharmonic (Uruguay), the Scotland Festival Orchestra (Aberdeen, Scotland), the Honolulu, Toledo, Canton, North Carolina, Charlotte, Lafayette, Erie Chamber and Raleigh Chamber Symphony Orchestras, The Bach Aria Group, Phoenix Bach Consort, and the Washington DC Bach Consort with conductors such as: Paul Freeman, Richard Aulden Clark, Justin Brown, James Meena, Vladmir Ashkenazy and Gearhart Zimmerman.  

Her opera roles include: the title role in the world premiere of the opera Luyala by William Banfield, Treemonisha in Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha, Mary in William Grant Still’s Highway One, Maria in the world premier of Joel Feigin’s opera Twelfth Night, The Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute, Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Clara in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Ms. Toppin most recently was contracted to sing Clara in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess for Baltimore Opera, Opera Carolina and Piedmont Opera companies.

For Joanne Rile Artist Management, she tours in “Gershwin on Broadway” with pianist Leon Bates and Robert Sims. She has recorded seventeen compact disks of American Music including: Songs of Illumination, (Centaur Records), Ah love, but a day (Albany), Paul Freeman Introduces… Vol. II and Witness (Albany) with the Czech National Symphony, William Grant Still’s opera Highway One (Visionary Records), He’ll Bring it to Pass (Albany Records), Heart on the Wall with the Dvorak Symphony Orchestra (Albany Records), the recording for A Hall Johnson Collection published by Carl Fisher and due for release Spring 2017, La Saison des Fleurs (music for soprano and fortepiano).  

2015-16 performances include the 150th celebration of the ratification of the 13th amendment for Congress and President Obama at the U.S. Capitol, a performance in Havana, Cuba for at the new U.S. Ambassador’s residence and with the women’s orchestra, Chatauqua Institute and the opening of the Smithsonian’s African American Heritage Museum last month.

Since 2010, she has been on the summer faculties of The Baltimore Summer Opera Workshop (Baltimore, MD), The Vocal Course for The National Conservatory (Bogota, Colombia), The Amalfi Coast Music Festival (Maiori, Italy) and the Accra Symphony Operatic Course (Accra, Ghana).

She serves on several boards including the North Carolina Arts Council, the National Association of Negro Musicians and she is the Director of the non-profit organization, Videmus and the administrator for the George Shirley Vocal Competition in Michigan. www.videmus.org and georgeshirleycompetition.org.  

She studied with George Shirley, Phyllis Bryn Julson, Reri Grist and was a fellow at the Britten Aldeburgh Festival studying with Joan Sutherland, Richard Boyngne and Elly Ameling. She is currently the Kappa Kappa Gamma Distinguished University Professor of Music and Chair of the Department of Music at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Please visit her website at www.louisetoppin.com