Ginger Costa-Jackson

Ginger Costa-Jackson may be young, but she's a vocal force to be reckoned with. A local talent from Sandy, Costa-Jackson has just walked away with the first prize at the Leoncavallo Festival in Italy.

Of the 70 entrants in the contest, Costa-Jackson — at age 19 — was the youngest to enter. (She has since turned 20.) "Most of them were mostly 30s, late-30s, even some in their 40s," she said by phone from Palermo, Italy. "The youngest girl next to me was 26. There was quite an age gap. They were people who have already launched careers.

"About 10 of them came from the conservatory in Rome, the Santa Cecilia, which is very famous, and there was one lady in particular who had just graduated from La Scala in Milano, which is the best theater you can sing in."

Costa-Jackson said the international competition attracted singers from all over the world and is held in Montalto Uffugo, the childhood home of opera composer Ruggiero Leoncavallo (composer of "I Pagliacci").

As first-place prize-winner, Costa-Jackson said she was awarded the "Pagliaccetto d'Oro." medallion, an honorary diploma and a 2,000 Euro cash prize (about $2,500).

"Since I've already won first place, now in all of the other competitions I do, I automatically am semifinalist. I don't have to go through the first round of performance because I've already proven myself as a singer."

Costa-Jackson plans to continue competing in Italy. During the next month, she will be in two more competitions: the Ottavio Ziino in Rome and the city of Alcamo's International Singing Contest in Sicily. She has also won second place in the Concorso Velluti competition in Mira, Italy, which awards a cash prize of 2,000 Euros and auditions with several opera houses.

During her time in Europe, Costa-Jackson also has other engagements. She is singing for directors of opera houses and theaters — auditions to get her career launched. "Things in this profession look very good right now, especially for young, talented singers," she said, and while the opportunity is there, she'd like to see how far she can go.

Already, said Costa-Jackson, she has sung the lead role of Nerone in an Italian production of "L'Incoronazione di Poppea" by Montiverdi. "Since I'm a mezzo-soprano, which is a darker voice, I played the male in that opera."

While in Italy, Costa-Jackson stays with family. Her mother is Italian and father is American, and Costa-Jackson herself was born in Sicily. She moved to Utah when she wasn't quite a year old. "Italian was my first language. I went to elementary school knowing no English when I was 6."

Her mother would play opera music when Costa-Jackson was young, but it wasn't until Costa-Jackson was a teenager and her younger sister Miriam started voice lessons that she considered singing opera herself. "(Miriam) is very talented, and she inspired me with just the beauty of her voice, and I think that's what really triggered everything."

At 16, Costa-Jackson moved to Italy for two years to study opera, attending the Conservatorio Vincenzo Bellini, and finishing high school through a correspondence course. During a visit to her home in Utah, Costa-Jackson and Miriam were invited to sing in the Utah Festival Opera in Logan. Costa-Jackson was 17, and Miriam was 15. To date, they are the youngest opera singers to have performed with that company.

Costa-Jackson has also performed locally with the Utah Lyric Opera Society and the Temple Square Concert Series.

While in Utah, Costa-Jackson studies with Jennifer and Darrell Babidge. She has also studied with Patricia McCaffrey in New York.

Following her studies in Italy, Costa-Jackson returned home to Utah and started college at Brigham Young University, but found that attending traditional college means not being able to travel when needed for her career. So Costa-Jackson says she plans to get her degree online.

Meanwhile, things look promising. While in Italy for this trip, Costa-Jackson tried out for the La Scala Young Artist's program. "They have a two-year program, and I auditioned on the off-year. Next year, they've asked me to come back for the audition because they would be interested in taking me into the program."

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