By Cindy Mindell
WOODBRIDGE – Growing up in a Russian-speaking home has served young vocalist Dalia Medovnikov well. In March, the 14-year-old nabbed first place in the 12- to 14-year-old division of the “Amber Nightingale” Vocal Competition, an annual international contest held every spring in Kaliningrad, Russia. The rising sophomore at Amity Regional High School was one of 175 competitors, and the only American to win a first prize.
Medovnikov is the daughter of Marina Milgram and Sasha Medovnikov, Russian Jews from the same Moscow neighborhood who only met and married after they both immigrated to the U.S. Milgram has worked for the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven for the last 20 years.
Medovnikov began singing in elementary school.
“Music found me when I was eight, when I was cast as young Cosette in the Amity High School production of Les Miserables,” she says. “It was a new form of expression for me.” Medovnikov began serious vocal training just three years ago. At age 12, her teacher suggested that she pursue classical training.
It was her current teacher, Emily Olin, a Russian native who has served as an Amber Nightingale judge, who encouraged Medovnikov to compete in the contest.
In February, the teen gave a concert for the residents of Tower One/Tower East assisted living facility in New Haven. Then, she traveled to Russia with her father, whose brother still lives in Moscow with his wife and children.
“It was a very intense competition because I had to adapt to a new environment,” she says. “There were a lot of cultural differences; although I grew up in a Russian household, that culture is only in my house, but is everywhere in Russia. My dad’s family all came to the competition, and it was really nice to have that support.”
Medovnikov grew up hearing stories from her parents about Jewish life in post-Soviet Russia.
“It was not a good environment for Jews,” she says.
“My dad wasn’t allowed to go to certain schools because he was Jewish. He did college entrance exams for his non-Jewish friends, who were accepted to the same schools that wouldn’t accept him. My mom would get made fun of because of her facial features.”
Aside from her relatives, Medovnikov did not meet any Russian Jews on the trip, although the competitors were a diverse group.
“There was a Muslim man from Kazakhstan and there was no religious tension,” she says. “It was a very friendly and accepting environment – there was representation from 16 or 17 different countries, all different types of people from different countries and cultures.”
After the competition, Medovnikov was invited by the judge from Kazakhstan to perform at an annual festival in that country, although she will not be able to attend. Since her return, she has already participated in the online Hal Leonard Vocal Competition, where she took second place.
Over the summer, Medovnikov participated in the Boston University Tanglewood Institute Young Artists Vocal Program, where she also enjoyed a weekly “Tangle-Shabbat” with other Jewish students. In the fall, she will attend the Juilliard Pre-College Division, one of five new students selected from a pool of nearly 300 applicants.
Medovnikov hopes to become a professional opera singer and teach vocal performance. She’s got Russian for singers down pat. Now, it’s on to other languages.
“For me, the vowels and positioning in the mouth of Russian are very easy; Italian is also a very easy language to sing,” she says. “But German is the hardest because I haven’t had much exposure to it. Every singer has to go through a German phase because we have to be versatile and include it in our repertoire.”