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'A rare great surprise:' NIACC vocalist excels in opera studies
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'A rare great surprise:' NIACC vocalist excels in opera studies

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NIACC Opera 1

North Iowa Area Community College student Isabel Blakewell is a vocal performance major from Mankato, Minnesota.

When Isabel Blakewell began studying music at North Iowa Area Community College more than a year ago, she knew little about opera.

But no one would’ve suspected such a thing Thursday evening as she showcased months of education, research and practice on stage during the college’s vocal music winter concert.

“Someday when you hear about this girl in the ‘Opera News’…you can say you heard her here first,” said Jayson Ryner, NIACC vocal music instructor/director, when introducing Blakewell.

Blakewell, 19, was greeted with applause after her effortless singing of “Ave Maria” at the concert.

The performance marked the first time many in her family, including her parents Mandi and Travis Blakewell, and her friends, had heard her sing opera, but it likely won’t be the last.

“It was very exciting to hear their responses,” she said.

Blakewell is looking to continue her studies in opera at Bemidji State University or the University of Minnesota Duluth after graduating from NIACC as a vocal performance major in the spring.

She said she initially decided to attend NIACC after she graduated from Mankato East High School in Mankato, Minnesota, last year to study music therapy, but once she arrived, she quickly fell in love with opera — its drama, its dynamics and its difficulty.

“It kind of clicked from there,” she said.

Ryner said Blakewell is “a rare great surprise.”

That’s in part because when she receives a piece of music, beyond learning the notes and words, she looks up literal translations, reads about the original show to understand the context the piece came from, and she listens to recordings all before the next lesson.

“It is rare for an undergraduate to be so detailed in their preparation,” he said.

Ryner said directors who have heard Blakewell sing are immediately impressed.

“One college director said she would be the best soprano on their campus from day one,” he said. “A voice teacher from a Big 10 school was astonished by the size of her tone and range.

“Isabel is just impressive all around.”

Blakewell said she’s grateful for her time at NIACC, and the instruction she’s received from teachers, like Ryner, who’ve believed in her and taken her under their wing.

“He has been the best voice teacher I’ve had,” she said. “It’s been awesome working with him.”

Blakewell said she was drawn to music by her grandmother Cindy Mostrom, of Mason City, who she is staying with while attending school.

NIACC Opera 2

North Iowa Area Community College student Isabel Blakewell is a vocal performance major from Mankato, Minnesota.

Mostrom lost her mother, who was a singer, in a head-on crash when she was 6 months old.

“Music has kind of always been there to connect me and my grandma,” Blakewell said. “It’s just a very special bond that we have.”

Blakewell, who was in band, orchestra and choir while attending high school, is part of the NIACC Concert Choir and NIACC Singers.

She said the stage is like a second home.

“I just feel like when I’m performing I can be myself. It feels comfortable. It feels safe,” she said.

Blakewell will take the North Iowa Community Auditorium stage again in April during NIACC’s annual Quodlibet variety show.

Photos: NIACC Graduation 2019

Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.

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