creative:impact - Tempting Prizes Draw Singers To The Light And Comedic Opera

Feb 11, 2020

(From L to R) John Guidinger and Tom Petiet of Ann Arbor's Comic Opera Guild.
Credit David Fair / 89.1 WEMU

The Harold Haugh Light Opera International Vocal Competition does duo duty.  It attracts singers from across the country, and it introduces them to the charm of light and comic opera.  The Comic Opera Guild’s Tom Petiet and John Guidinger co-produce the competition.  They sit down with The Arts Alliance’s Deb Polich and WEMU’s David Fair to talk about managing a competition and the resulting educational impact on this week’s edition of "creative:impact."

Deb Polich, President and CEO of the Arts Alliance

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy.  In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of The Arts Alliance, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.


The Comic Opera Guild, a semi-professional lyric theater company, has performed classics of light opera over 45 years.  The Guild’s repertoire includes that which is both vocally challenging and appropriate for its unique combination of professional singers, students from the surrounding universities and colleges, and talented amateurs from the Ann Arbor and Southeastern Michigan area.

The Guild has been committed to outreach since its inception, and has toured to over 30 communities in Michigan and Ohio with an entire production, including full cast, orchestra and scenery.  It has performed on college campuses such as Ferris State University, Mercy College, and Alma College as well as in many underserved communities, such as St. Ignace, Petosky, Escanaba, Ionia, and Gaylord.  Since its inception, the Guild has created 115 productions of operas and operettas.

The group specializes in reviving, and in some cases redeveloping, European and American light opera to bring these works to life once again for modern audiences.  The Guild’s recent productions include Offenbach’s THE GRAND DUCHESS OF GEROLSTEIN, the first American production of Von Suppe’s LIGHT CAVALRY and Rossini’s THE BARBER OF SEVILLE.  The productions, all in original English versions, with orchestrations, are made available to other theater companies.

In 2003, the Guild began its program of American Musicals in Concert, featuring revivals of little-known works by major composers of the early 20th century.  The program developed into the VICTOR HERBERT and JEROME KERN FESTIVALS, which have subsequently produced performances and recordings of 64 shows by these composers and others from this period.  As the only record of many of these shows, COG CDs have now been delivered to libraries and individuals across the country.  Most recently, the Guild restored and recorded Victor Herbert’s MY GOLDEN GIRL and THE GIRL IN THE SPOTLIGHT.  The Guild has the largest recorded archive of early Broadway shows in the world.

In addition to its own productions, the Guild also sponsors THE HAROLD HAUGH LIGHT OPERA VOCAL COMPETITION.  It is the only competition nationally in which the judging criteria are divided into technical and presentation weightings.  Singers must perform a technical selection (displaying their vocal ability) and a presentation selection (displaying their ability to connect with an audience).  The presentation selection must be from the light opera genre, making singers aware of the importance of this area of theater music.  This emphasis helps prepare singers for auditions with opera companies.  From 2000 to 2019, the competition has awarded 107 prizes worth $60,900.


Comic Opera Guild managing director Thomas Petiet
Credit Thomas Petiet / Comic Opera Guild

Tom has long been one of the motivating forces in promoting lyric theater.  Founding the Guild in 1973, he and his wife Patricia have kept the torch of light opera alive by producing over 100 shows in Ann Arbor, as well as touring complete productions across Michigan and Ohio.  As a script writer for the Guild, he has created 14 English translations of European shows, as well as having modified period American shows such as Jerome Kern’s Sally.  He has sung more than 80 lead roles with opera companies in Michigan, and has been responsible for rescripting and recording over 50 shows of early Broadway musicals and operettas.  Tom also serves as a vocal judge for the Harold Haugh Light Opera Vocal Competition.  When not involved in theatrical pursuits, Tom operates Concept Studio, a commercial art studio.


John Guidinger is 77 years old and retired from a career in environmental planning.  He worked for Commonwealth Associates Inc. for 37 years and also served in the Navy Reserves for 29 years.  While he is not a singer or an actor, he is deeply interested in great music.  This is the 10th year that he has been co-producing the Harold Haugh Light Opera International Vocal Competition.  2020 is the 17th year of the competition.  John devotes time to raising funds, securing the venue, recruiting volunteer staff to help for the day of the event, and finalizing arrangements.  In retirement, John is also devoted to writing histories of American musicals and hopes to turn his many histories into a future book. 


Comic Opera Guild

Comic Opera Guild "About Us" Page

Comic Opera Guild Recordings

Comic Opera Guild's Upcoming Shows

Harold Haugh Light Opera Vocal Competition

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at