Year on year the
competition’s status has grown and this was reflected last night in both the quality of the singing,
and the quantity of audience there to listen – the place was packed with keen Handelians of all
ages, music agents, directors and critics. Some sixty original young performers had started out
on the audition and knock-out rounds, so the final six singing last night had made it through
against considerable opposition and it showed. What was perhaps most interesting of all was
perusing the contestant’s resumés and noting that two came from Australia, one from South
Africa, one from Portugal and one from Eire.
As with all competitions, what the judges are looking for is not always what is appreciated most
by the audience, but at least the London Handel one acknowledges this with both 1st and 2nd
prizes and also an Audience Prize, given to the singer who gains the most votes in a quick-fire
ballot taken immediately after the singing stops. Last night overall victory went to the only
baritone singing, Derek Welton, the possessor of a fine, robust instrument who concentrated his
fire on shorter oratorio and anthem pieces, with only one excerpt from an opera. His singing was
focused and exact and technically very secure, his wider experience showing, even if he was
rather wooden in his character portrayals. At the other end of the male vocal scale, and
receiving the 2nd prize, was the countertenor Christopher Ainslie who conversely concentrated
on Handel’s great arias for castrato from Serse, Orlando and Tamerlano. His rather elegantly
“English” voice, although slightly covered at times, was complemented by a pleasing stage
presence and flair for interpretation. For the ladies, it came as no surprise when the Audience
Prize was bestowed on the charming Irish soprano, Anna Devin. Her strong interpretive skills
were matched by a strong, secure technique and beautiful vocal tone and she shone in her two
arias from Alcina and Giulio Cesare.
The losing competitors had nothing to be ashamed of – they all sang with credit and commitment
and with great promise for the future: Gilliam Ramm, Joana Seara, sopranos and Julia Riley,
mezzo-soprano. The first named had a big voice, perhaps lacking a little in Handelian style but
impressive nevertheless, Seara from Portugal sang with delightful delicacy and precision, without
too much power however, and Riley seemed to suffer a little from nerves and a rather odd choice
of repertoire in her first items which hardly showed her voice off as they might. Her final aria
from Ariodante showed glimpses of what she may be capable of in time.
As usual all the young singers were accompanied by the very supportive and elegant London
Handel Orchestra, guided by Laurence Cummings.
© Sue Loder 2007