Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
'A rare great surprise:' NIACC vocalist excels in opera studies
top story

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

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.

Support Local Journalism

Your membership makes our reporting possible.

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.


Stay up-to-date on what's happening

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

  • Updated

With economic growth in Iowa now forecast to be stronger than expected, state government is projected for the first time to collect more than $8 billion in net general-fund tax receipts this fiscal year.

  • Updated

Johnson County supervisor Royceann Porter, the first black woman to hold county-wide office in Johnson County, endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker.

Tammy Wawro, a Cedar Rapids teacher and former president of the Iowa State Education Association, endorsed former vice president Joe Biden’s Democratic presidential campaign.

  • Updated

A $200 billion investment in school infrastructure and a raise for teachers in high-poverty districts are elements of Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker’s plans for public schools.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News