Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Elizabeth Hanje: Winner of Top Prize in Eleanor McCollum Competition at Houston Grand Opera


Elizabeth Hanje is a fourth-year Vocal Performance major from Alabama. This February, the Tanzanian-American soprano won first place after performing in the 36th annual Eleanor McCollum Competition for Young Singers Concert of Arias at Houston Grand Opera and received a $10,000 cash prize. Hanje is a winner of the inaugural Duncan Williams Voice Competition, the 2022 George Shirley Vocal Competition, and the Richard Miller Award for Fine Singing.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What was it like to perform in the Concert of Arias? What was going through your head and how did you prepare?

A lot of practicing — I spent my entire Winter Term practicing for the Concert of Arias. I studied a lot of singers doing the same arias I did, and I kind of chose what I did like about them — not exactly how to copy it, but how I could make it my own — and what I didn’t like about them, just so that I didn’t give the audience the same version of the same arias. I think that this was really important in helping me connect to the arias. When I was competing, I was extremely nervous. There were so many people there: there were agents, other opera companies in the audience, my friends showed up, my teacher was there. Something I tell myself, especially in competitions, is, “It’s just a performance.” Yes, you win a prize or money, but the goal is to affect somebody with your performance. So I need to perform. When I get on stage, I’m like, “Well, the nerves have to go. I’m just gonna share the gift.” That’s what I tell my friends, “Share the gift.”

How do you think Oberlin has prepared you for success?

I really love my teacher. He really pushes me in a very beneficial way to, not grow my voice, but to get to know my voice. I think that’s where my artistry comes in because I know what my voice can and can’t do and how to create colors. And I think being at an undergrad-only institution has led me to have so many opportunities that a lot of other institutions don’t have for their younger singers. I have a lot more access to teachers, coachings, and performances. I’m not fighting with a 24-year-old. And so, although part of the instrument is DNA and you can’t rapidly grow your voice or your age, I can have the same performance experiences and the same knowledge as someone who’s older than me.

Who’s your favorite singer?

Impossible question. I have two favorite singers. My favorite singer of all time is Leontyne Price. And then my other favorite singer is Ghena Dimitrova. She was a Bulgarian soprano. The reason why I love Leontyne Price is — there’s no perfect singer — but  the closest to perfection is her. I mean, the voice is amazing; no one can argue that her voice isn’t amazing, but her artistry is what sets her over the top. She doesn’t push her voice. She knows how to use her voice for every role. She knew what her instrument was and she knew how to use it according to her repertoire. A lot of people listen to her for enjoyment, but I study her voice. 

Ghena Dimitrova is just, I try and tell all my friends to listen to her because she is one of the biggest voices I’ve ever heard, but she has so much control over the voice: It’s going to be the loudest Macbeth you’ve ever heard in your entire life, but her coloratura isn’t stuck. And that’s quite impressive for a dramatic soprano. And then I just listen to a lot of the Italian sopranos: Renata Tebaldi, Renata Scotto. 

What advice would you give your younger self?

Good God, I was a crazy kid. I think I would tell my younger self to not be afraid to try new things because, you know, part of me wanted to be that professional trombone player and it was really hard for me to give it up. But I think I was settling with comfortability ’cause I knew I was good at the trombone and people told me that I was good at trombone. But I was starting to become more interested in singing and that wasn’t guaranteed. Everyone knows you’re not guaranteed a voice career as a singer. But I feel like if you are driven by passion, you’re always gonna put in the hard work, and that will pay off. So just follow that curiosity. 

What are you most excited for?

To sing! Singing is like air to me; I can’t live without it. I’m most excited to sing for the rest of my life. I don’t have to sing at the Metropolitan Opera — I know that’s everyone’s goal — but as long as I’m out performing and singing, I’m set.

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