Prize song ?? Are singing competitions a way to reach the top?

Prize song ?? Are singing competitions a way to reach the top?

by Joseph So/ May 14, 2005

French version …

Although Canada has produced many wonderful singers who have reached the top, their success stories represent only a small portion of those with the potential for important careers. An art director once said in an interview, “Manhattan has the most fabulous voices waiting to be discovered, but only one percent will make it. Not very good chances of success! Yet one popular way to get noticed is by participating in the many annual song competitions in which, as you would expect, Canadians performed exceptionally well. Teresa Stratas rose from a working-class Greek immigrant family in Toronto to the big stages of the world after winning the Met auditions in the late 1950s. After struggling for years to earn a living as a Opera singer Ben Heppner was catapulted to fame when he reached the Met final and won the Birgit Nilsson Award in 1988. Now one of Canada’s brightest stars, Isabel Bayrakdarian is sparkling with her voice and her personality made her a 1997 Met winner, a feat she repeated three years later in Placido Domingo’s Operalia. And let’s not forget the extraordinarily gifted contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux, who won first prizes at the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Belgium.

There are literally hundreds of singing competitions, some dating back decades. Other well-known competitions include Cardiff Singer of the World, Queen Sonja (Oslo), Belvedere (Vienna), Robert Schumann (Zwickau), Paris, Tchaikovsky and Wigmore Hall in London. Then there are those named after famous singers of yesterday and today: Caruso, Callas, Pavarotti, Corelli, Nilsson, Kraus, Caballe, Sayao, Christoff, London, Tagliavini, Gobbi, Ponselle, Price , Lawrence, Novotna, Albanese, Anderson, Horne? ? And the list continues! All have age restrictions (usually around 30), and some are limited to citizens of particular countries, while others emphasize certain composers or styles of singing. The latest one is a contest for too old singers. to participate in the myriad already existing. With a few exceptions, they take place every two or three years, sometimes in rotation with piano and violin. Often advanced students or young professionals will enter several at a time and try their luck. Some have developed a knack for competitive success as the press material will report. Mezzo Eleni Matos, for example, is proudly declared to have won “an unprecedented number of thirty-three national and international competitions, more than any other singer in history”.

This month, voice aficionados will converge in Montreal for the second vocal competition organized under the aegis of Jeunesses Musicales of Canada. When it comes to competitions, this newcomer to the stage is quickly recognized as one of the most important in terms of competitor caliber, jurors, cash prizes and organizational efficiency. Many in music circles agree that such high caliber competition in Canada is long overdue, given the number of formidable Canadians on the international stage. In the first competition three years ago, six finalists were declared winners: sopranos Measha Brueggergosman and Mélanie Boisvert, baritones Daesan No and Joseph Kaiser, tenor John Matz and bass Burak Bilgili. It is remarkable that a distinguished international jury chose three Canadians out of the top six, highlighting the breadth of talent in this country. Now, on the eve of the second competition, it is interesting to check out how the past winners are doing.

Is it fair to say that 2002 was a very good year ?? each of the six laureates has pursued an active career, although some have a higher profile than others. Measha Brueggergosman, the grand prize winner who had a future superstar written on her at the time, keeps that promise. Now on IMG’s list, his career is carefully nurtured – in a combination of concerts, recitals, oratorios, and with a little opera added. She is shaping up to be an important recording artist. In addition to two highly regarded recordings for the CBC, Brueggergosman is currently being courted not by one, but by two of the biggest classical labels, eager to include him. This is remarkable considering that the recording industry itself is contracting. Audiences will be able to taste his talent in a four-concert series in Stratford this summer, with programs ranging from classics to jazz to spirituals.

The other soprano winner, of Ontario origin Mélanie Boisvert, stands out as a coloratura. His calling card in Canada and Europe so far has been The tales of Hoffmann?? s Olympia. Equally at home in musical theater, Boisvert is also a sparkling Cunégonde in the Bernstein Candid. Of a similar caliber is the tall and handsome American John Matz, who challenges the stereotype of short and fat tenors. With a footballer’s physique and a first-rate voice, Matz is a director’s dream. He has already starred in a series of high profile engagements, most notably partnering with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa in Barber ?? s Vanessa
in Washington and Los Angeles. On the horizon, debuts to come at the Châtelet in Paris and a 9th performance by Beethoven with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic.

Turkish bass Burak Bilgili has established herself as a voice to be reckoned with, having won first prize at Belvedere, Alfredo Kraus and Neue Stimmen, and reached the final in Cardiff. With his La Scala debut as Alfonso in Lucretia Borgia already to his credit, Bilgili is in demand on many stages around the world and, naturally, his dramatic instinct for jester roles is supported by a rare and authentic bass of distinction. Korean baritone Daesan No has been argued by some to have ranked higher than fifth. Like Bilgili, No is an alumnus of the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, where he studied with the late Louis Quilico. Equally at home on opera and recital stages, No won the Lieder Prize in Cardiff and the top prize in the Mario Lanza and Licia Albanese competitions. He is highly sought after in the symphonic and oratorio repertoires both in the West and in his native Korea.

Perhaps the most notable transformation among the initial group of laureates is that of Canadian baritone-to-tenor Joseph Kaiser, who sees the competition as a key event in his development. ?? So that (jurors) Teresa Berganza, Grace Bumbry, Marilyn Horne and Joseph Rouleau categorically tell me that I am a tenor ?? they are among the greatest singers in the history of opera. It was this competition that really made the tenor’s wheels turn, ?? Kaiser said. Since then, Kaiser has studied again with Arthur Levy in New York. He reached the Met Auditions final last March, proving that the transition was successful. ?? A scheduling conflict prevented me from entering Montreal again ?? as a tenor! ?? In short, great things are happening to Kaiser, who is impatiently awaiting his debut in Aix en Provence with Simon Rattle. He later performed at the Salzburg Easter Festival with James Conlon, with Christoph Eschenbach in Ravinia and at the San Francisco Opera with Runnicles in 2007.

So, are competitions a way to reach the top? For those who are prepared and mature enough to handle the pressure, and who are given a bit of luck, competitions can indeed launch a career. The young singers are coached by renowned musicians while making valuable contacts. Admittedly, competitions are notoriously unpredictable. There is some luck of the draw. aspect to that ?? competitions reward those who succeed under pressure, and the day it matters. The big name of Russian soprano Marina Mescheriakova commented on her failure to advance to the final in Cardiff, ?? I am realistic ?? if you lose it doesn’t mean you are no good, and if you win it doesn’t mean you are wonderful. It’s like playing cards. Kaiser sums it up best, “If one’s mindset is, if I win great, and if I don’t, whatever, then you will be the most successful and the happiest. There were times when I thought it was the best I’ve ever sung, and I didn’t win any awards. And there were times when I felt I could have done some things better, and I won the top prize. ??

“I wouldn’t want singers who don’t win competitions to be discouraged because the competitive atmosphere is just not representative of the life of a professional opera singer,”? said Brueggergosman. ?? For those who don? it does not mean the end for them. The competition is a sprint! To have a career you have to be good all the time, for thirty years. ??

French version …