14 Feb 2007
The Handel Singing Competition 2007 – Win or Lose?
Singing competitions are a mixed blessing.
Rossini’s La donna del Lago at the Royal Opera House boasts a superstar cast. Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Flórez are perhaps the best in these roles in the business at this time. Yet the conductor Michele Mariotti is also hot news.
It would seem a logical step for the mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey to take on the role of the Composer in Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.
“Aim for excellence”, says Douglas Boyd, new Artistic Director of Garsington Opera at Wormsley, “and the audience will follow you”.
When I spoke with Zandra Rhodes, she was in her large San Diego workspace, which she described as having walls decorated with her own huge black and white drawings.
Palm Beach audiences are famous for their glamour, but in recent years a special star has sparkled amid the jewels, sequins, feathers and furs (whatever the weather).
When the soprano Jessica Pratt first arrived in Italy, she had yet to learn the language or sing in a staged opera.
On Wednesday evening, February 20, Los Angeles Opera gave a press conference at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion featuring Music Director James Conlon.
It is another “What Could Have Been” moment. The debut of Brokeback Mountain by Charles Wuorinen is part of Madridʼs Teatro Real coming season.
Plans for July’s Aix-en-Provence Festival were announced and opera is, of course, at the center of the program with a particularly noteworthy Richard Strauss production.
Amsterdam enjoys a rare visit from Moscow’s Stanislavski Opera at the landmark Koninklijk Carre Theater, for three performances of Tchaikovski’s Eugene Onegin and a Sunday morning opera concert, on February 1st-3rd.
A new festival hall has been inaugurated in the small town of Erl in the Tyrolean mountains.
Yesterday, Conductor Riccardo Muti opened the Rome Opera, where he is “honorary conductor for life,” with a gala presentation of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra.
When tenor Michael Spyres takes the stage at Carnegie Hall on December 5th, he will be in heady company.
One of the most noteworthy and controversial productions in recent memory arrived in Belgium with hurricane force as Director Terry Gilliam’s inaugural opera, an inspired interpretation of Hector Berlioz’s Le Damnation de Faust, blasted into Ghent, followed by a run in Antwerp.
Florian Boesch is singing Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin at the Oxford Lieder Festival on Sunday 14th October. This won’t be routine. Radically challenging conventional interpretation, Boesch says “I don’t believe it ends in suicide”
Exciting developments at Glyndebourne ! Many new initiatives which could transform Glyndebourne from a summer festival to a truly international, year-round opera experience.
The recently released numbers for the past season at Barcelona’s opera Liceu gives some hope for the future.
A record 278,978 people attended events of the 2012 edition of the famed Salzburg Festival in Austria, the largest number since its founding 92 years ago.
Just after things were settling after the scandal of baritone Evgeny Nitikin supposed swastika tattoo at the Bayreuth Festival, another one seems likely to take its place.
Three quarters of the way through this discussion, a question that inhabits the mind of anyone putting any thought to the subject — but no one dare ask — was rhetoricised, “what is opera?”
Singing competitions are a mixed blessing.
For some singers they can become a way of life, travelling from continent to continent, from jury to jury, seeking that golden fleece of success with which to adorn their CV and give them, they hope, access to commercial success on the opera and recital stage, and even (less likely these days) a recording contract. For others they can be nothing but frustrating and counter-productive, and are quickly abandoned as a route to a worthwhile career in opera.
A relatively recent recruit to the roster of such competitions is in the specialised field of baroque singing, and specifically of Handel’s music: the London Handel Singing Competition. There has been a significant increase in the popularity of this composer’s vocal music over recent decades, and even the most staid of traditional opera houses can usually boast at least one of Mr. Handel’s masterpieces in their current repertoire. With this change has come the perceived need for specialist singers trained in the idiom and comfortable with its demands, and this is where the London Singing Competition finds its niche.
Established in 2002 by musical director Laurence Cummings, the format has not changed a great deal from those early days, except that all applicants are now heard, either live or on CD, and the Competition Finals are held now in the middle of the annual London Handel Festival, based in the composer’s old church of St. George’s, Hanover Square. Looking through the requirements for entry, it is obvious that the students and young performers are expected to do a lot of work: research and carefully thought-out repertoire is at a premium. The early rounds to hear the 70-80 applicants are held at the Royal Academy of Music in London, although singers from overseas can send in suitably-recorded CDs instead. After that, the Semi Finals and Final are public affairs in front of the panel of Adjudicators and live audience, and take the form of a semi-formal concert. Like some other competitions, the HSC has introduced an Audience Prize, and this is an opportunity to both empower the listeners, involving them in the eventual outcome, and to give the singers a second chance of success. It is not uncommon for this prize to go to a different young performer than the one chosen by the jury – and who’s to say who will be proven right in time? As has been seen over and over again, win or lose, just appearing in the Semis or Finals can have a great impact on a singer’s career as the events are always attended by music business folk on the look out for new talent.
At the risk of being invidious, some very interesting and talented singers have done well at the HSC, and their names are already becoming well known in baroque circles both in the UK and further afield: Andrew Kennedy, Lucy Crowe, Elizabeth Atherton, Iestyn Davies, and Nathan Vale, to name just a few, have all made their mark since reaching the Finals over the past five years and have embarked on promising careers in opera.
Looking ahead, the HSC is intending to broaden its remit and wants to encourage more foreign singers to apply. To this end, they are offering limited bursaries to help with travelling costs, and this can only result in an even more exciting competition of the highest standard in the future.
This year’s Final is on Monday April 23rd, at 7pm, at St. George’s Church, Hanover Square, London, and the Adjudicators will be Ian Partridge, Catherine Denley, Michael Chance, Lindsay Kemp and Stephen Roberts.
For more information on application go to: http://www.london-handel-festival.com/competition.htm
Sue Loder, 2007