A young Sammamish opera singer has won first place and $2,000 in a prestigious nationwide voice competition.
On May 3, Olivia Qi, 16, was awarded the top honor in the senior voice category at the Music Teacher National Association (MTNA) annual national conference in Cincinnati.
Over the course of several months, Qi competed against other 15-18-year-olds to advance through the state and division levels and finally reach nationals.
Each of the seven national finalists presented four pieces to the judges. Qi performed selections from the works of Franz Schubert, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Florence Price, and Pauline Viardot.
Qi worked with her opera teacher, Shan Han, for almost a year to prepare for nationals. Her first piece, Lied der Mignon: Nur Wer Die Sehnsuchct Kennt by Franz Schubert, was the most difficult of her set. Han coached her to “pull back” her voice and be simplistic with the piece.
As a young child, Qi began singing in choirs and had never envisioned singing classical opera.
“I started learning classical singing kind of accidentally […] I didn’t really grow up listening to opera–I just stumbled into that,” Qi said.
Qi began practicing opera with Han in the sixth grade and was accepted into Seattle Opera’s Teen Vocal Studio program in the ninth grade, at which point she immersed herself in opera. She began receiving recognition for her talent soon thereafter.
Before winning the 2023 MTNA national conference title, Qi began winning first-place honors at state and regional competitions in 2021. In total, she has received seven top honors in the last three years.
“My biggest accomplishment for singing is all the passions that it has helped me unlock. It’s helped me become way more confident in myself […] whether it is presenting in front of a class or actually getting up on stage to sing and perform,” Qi said.
Opera is not the only art in which Qi excels. She is also an accomplished pianist, artist, and writer. Qi’s artwork, Imaginary Escapes, is currently on display in Bellevue Arts Museum’s 20 under 20 exhibit and she writes about the arts for TeenTix, an organization aimed at giving teens access to the arts. She also manages and writes for the blog Teens Tackle Opera and serves as the Vice President of Digital Content & Impact for OPERA America’s Opera Teens program.
In the future, Qi aspires to continue her opera career and study music in college.
“If you want to get into opera, just go for it…Don’t worry about it too much, don’t stress about all the competitions,” Qi said. “For me, I like to think of myself as just trying to constantly get better.”