2012 Alumni Award Recipients
Black Hills State University honored five individuals during the annual BHSU Alumni Awards Luncheon on Friday, September 21, at 12:00 p.m. in the Jacket Legacy room of the David B. Miller Yellow Jacket Student Union. Those honored this year were, left to right: Keith Stover, Class of ’71, Excellence in Education Award; William “Bill” Weyer, Class of ’62, Distinguished Alumnus Award, Johanna Meier & Guido Della Vecchia, Special Service Award; and Jerome A. Greene, Class of ’68, Special Achievement Award.
Johanna Meier is known for being one of the foremost Wagnerian sopranos of her generation. She is a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music and began her career at the New York City Opera, which was the start of her major international recognition. She appeared throughout Europe, North and South America in opera, concert, and recital, as well as being the leading soprano at the Metropolitan Opera for 15 years.
She was the first American ever to sing the role of Isolde in Tristan und Isolde at the Bayreuth Festival in Germany. As a recitalist, she has appeared at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and others, as well as throughout Europe.
Meier has twice appeared on PBS Great Performances, the first time in the title role of Vanessa and later in the world premiere of Dangerous Liaisons with the San Francisco Opera, as well as in the CBS Special Premiere of The Questions of Abraham with Sherrill Milnes. She sang for a Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C., as well as at the formal dedication of Mt. Rushmore by President Bush. Meier also acted as Mistress of Ceremonies at the concert celebrating the South Dakota Bi-Centennial in Pierre in 1989.
After retiring from her singing career in 1994, she returned home to the Black Hills, where she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from BHSU. She was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame in 2006 for her work in the field of arts and humanities.
Meier served as director (1991-2008) of the famed Black Hills Passion Play, an outdoor drama presented for 70 years in its South Dakota and Florida amphitheaters.
Each year Meier travels to New York City to give master classes for young singers, and has taught at the Juilliard School, the Manhattan School of Music, Mannes Conservatory, and Ithaca College, as well as privately. In 1998 she founded the Johanna Meier Opera Theatre Institute, which is held annually on the campus of BHSU. Meier teaches the institute, joined by an internationally recognized faculty of former operatic colleagues. She is also currently on the Board of Directors for the Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, Vice-Regent of the Black Hills Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and owner/curator of the Dolls at Home Museum.
Guido Della Vecchia began vocal studies at the age of 18 and was trained in radio communication during the Korean conflict. He was selected as one of six to go to Germany where he sang as an entertainer in the Special Services. Following his discharge in Germany, Della Vecchia moved to Italy where he refined his musical art by studying with several of Italy’s foremost maestri at the Cherubini Conservatory and at the Florence Theatre, following which he concertized extensively in Italy before returning to the United States.
Beginning in 1961, Della Vecchia made extensive concert and operatic tours throughout the United States, including appearances at Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall at the Lincoln Center. His earliest performances were in the demanding role of Fernando in Favorita and the role of Fenton in Verdi’s Falstaff in a production staged and conducted by the eminent Boris Goldovsky.
He and Meier appeared together in both concert and opera before moving to Spearfish in 1984, where he acted in and co-produced the Black Hills Passion Play from 1991 to 2008. For three years he served on the Board of Directors of the Rapid City Symphony and has also served on the Boards of Directors of the Spearfish Arts Center and Matthews Opera House and the Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary in Spearfish. Della Vecchia has been active in the inception and promotion of the annual Johanna Meier Opera Theatre Institute held at Black Hills State University.
He was granted an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2003 by the South Dakota Board of Regents of Education in recognition of his distinction within his profession, his outstanding contributions to the community of Spearfish, and his dedication to the advancement of the arts in the state of South Dakota.
Meier and Della Vecchia have been married for 50 years.