SPRING HILL — It's every singer's aspiration to see how he or she stacks up against other talent in the field. For Spring Hill vocalist Audrey Ann Southard, that moment of truth came about a week ago when she boarded a plane for a trip to the scenic Mediterranean island of Sicily.
For the 43-year-old Southard, who teaches voice privately, the sojourn to the Ibla Grand Prize Bellini International Vocal Competition is a chance to make good on a personal promise to herself.
"I've been studying vocal performance for about 10 years now, and I think I'm ready for this," Southard said in a recent interview. "It's probably one of those now-or-never things."
Southard grew up in California loving the sounds of opera. As a youngster, she sang in school choruses and took voice lessons with the hope of perhaps finding a career in music. But the demands of raising a family never allowed that dream to come to fruition.
Then, a chance introduction last year to Spring Hill voice teacher Joseph Tomaselli at a meeting of the Spring Hill Opera Club inspired her to work harder at developing her voice.
Tomaselli took one listen to Southard and knew he had found a rare gem.
"She has a magnificent voice that is capable of doing many things," Tomaselli said. "You don't find many singers in this area like that.
Southard, who is described by Tomaselli as a "lirico spinto," who is capable of both lyrical and dramatic roles, has spent much of the past year learning arias by such composers as Puccini, Verdi and Rossini, as well as lighter fare from Broadway musicals.
"I'm told it's good to have diversity when you perform at this competition," Southard said. "So I'm taking along a lot of different music."
The competition itself is unique in that it is open to any singer, amateur or professional. Unlike other vocal contests, performers have several opportunities to sing before judges over a 10-day period, which concludes Tuesday. Participants get to perform in numerous venues throughout the city of Ragusa, from churches to cafes to parks. The top prize pays $25,000.
"It's not American Idol by any means," Southard said. "If you love to perform, this is the place to do it."
Although she performs occasionally around Tampa, Southard's most notable Hernando County performances have been limited mainly to musical productions at Stage West Community Playhhouse.
Now that she has rediscovered her love of performing, Southard says she is eager to return to the stage on a regular basis.
"Singing is a true passion for me," she said. "Now that I have more time, I want to pursue it more. It brings me a lot of joy."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.