Lakehead University music student wins first in Crescendo vocal competition at Carnegie Hall

Opera is Jessica Hayes’ forte

Photo of Jessica Hayes at Carnegie Hall

February 22, 2022 – Thunder Bay, Ont.

Lakehead music student Jessica Hayes spent the last two years mastering Si, mi chiamano Mimi, which earned her first place in the opera category at the Crescendo International Music Competition held at Carnegie Hall on Monday, Feb. 14.

She chose the song for Crescendo in 2019 – and then the pandemic hit, giving her more time to perfect it.

“At first it was just a lovely piece to me, but since I started it at the beginning of second year and now I’m finishing my fourth year, each year my voice grew and I learned more,” she said.

“I grew with that song and character, and that was the most consistent piece in my life. With the context of the song being so sweet and hopeful, I think that also helped me through the pandemic and I believe this piece will forever be special to me.”

Hayes was able to attend the Crescendo finals after coming in second in the semi-final competition in January, which she participated in by submitting a video.

She arrived in New York City two days before the competition, giving her plenty of time to see the sights and prepare for Crescendo.

After visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Russian Tea Room, Hayes prepared for the competition by practicing with piano accompanist Anna Vasilyeva, and with help from her personal hairstylist, her mom Lana, who works as a hairdresser in Thunder Bay.

Backstage before her performance, Hayes spent time in a dressing room once used by one of her favourite composers, Gustav Mahler, a world-renowned conductor who made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1908 conducting the New York Symphony Orchestra.

Then she found herself in the greenroom examining posters on the walls – for Maria Callas and other famous opera singers who performed at Carnegie Hall.

“I was a little star struck,” she said. “These were artists I listened to while learning my pieces. I wasn’t really nervous – I wasn’t thinking about the end result. I was just excited to be there and I was super calm while taking it all in.”

Performances started at 7 pm and Hayes found herself on stage at approximately 7:30, with Vasilyeva on piano, in front of around 200 audience members, including her mom.

“Going out there on to the stage, it was amazing. The audience was great. It was surreal. I had an out-of-body experience,” she said.

When Vasilyeva played the first few notes on the piano, Hayes began to sing while portraying the character of Mimi from Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Bohème.

After her performance, Hayes watched the rest of the competition in the audience with her mom. Then Hayes went backstage to learn she’d come in first.

She ran out to tell her mom the good news, which caused them both to cry tears of joy while standing on the sidewalk outside Carnegie Hall. 

Coming in first means Hayes will spend three weeks touring Italy this summer, taking master classes with renowned musicians and performing at auditoriums and conservatories.

She expressed gratitude to everyone who helped along the way.

“Professor Kim Erickson has been fantastic. She really shaped my voice into an opera voice. The private classes I took in high school with Alana Valente pushed me and encouraged me to take the leap into music as a career,” Hayes said.

“I’m also grateful to my parents Lana and David, and my stepdad Jim, professor Evgeny Chugunov, and my Thunder Bay accompanist Sean Kim.”

Follow this link for a video of Hayes performing Si, mi chiamano Mimi.


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Lakehead University is a fully comprehensive university with approximately 9,700 full-time equivalent students and over 2,000 faculty and staff at two campuses in Orillia and Thunder Bay, Ontario. Lakehead has 10 faculties, including Business Administration, Education, Engineering, Graduate Studies, Health & Behavioural Sciences, Law, Natural Resources Management, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Science & Environmental Studies, and Social Sciences & Humanities. Lakehead University’s achievements have been recognized nationally and internationally, including being ranked, once again, among Canada’s Top 10 primarily undergraduate universities in Maclean’s 2021 University Rankings; as well as included in the top half of Times Higher Education's 2022 World Universities Rankings for the third consecutive year, and in the top 100 of 1,115 universities from around the world in THE's 2021 Impact Rankings (which assesses institutions against the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals). Visit