NEW! Four Winners Emerge from the 2015 Hilde Zadek Singing Competition

15/04/2015

Four Winners Emerge from the 2015 Hilde Zadek Singing Competition

Winners and finalists with Hilde Zadek (Foto Fayer)

Winners and finalists with Hilde Zadek (Foto Fayer)

 This Saturday at Vienna’s Musikverein, four sopranos, two mezzos and one baritone competed in the final round of the 9th Hilde Zadek competition. The first and second prizes went respectively to American mezzo Raehann Bryce-Davis and British soprano Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson, both 28. Croatian soprano Tamara Ivanis, 21, and American baritone Tobias Greenhalgh, 25, were joint third prize winners. The four winners also made a clean sweep of the special prizes, some voted on by donors to the Hilde Zadek Stiftung and a media jury new to this edition of the competition, others sponsored by organizations including the Internationale Opernwerkstatt Schweiz, Neue Oper Wien, Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe, and Arnold Schönberg Center.

Each finalist performed a programme of three numbers including one aria or song composed after 1970, a requirement embraced by the singers who placed first and second with bold choices from Tobias Picker’s Emmeline and Jonathan Dove’s Flight. The Picker melded particularly well with the final scene from Gounod’s Sapho, Raehann Bryce-Davis’s performances of Aunt Hannah’s aria and ‘Ô ma lyre immortelle’ showcasing the most emotionally charged and uninhibited singing of the final as well as a show of raw vocal power at the end of the Gounod which possibly clinched the competition for her. Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson had the fiercest instrument of the nine finalists, brassy and evenly loud, which put me in mind of Gun-Brit Barkmin, and also how Barkmin often shines as the most musically compelling singer on stage despite seeming in limited control of volume and attack. The flight controller’s aria from Jonathan Dove’s opera most belied the voice, with Jenkins-Róbertsson powering down to not much less than a mezzo forte and yet finding a suitably poetic register for the aria’s final moments of quiet rapture at the skies. This final was my second encounter with Tobias Greenhalgh, who is a member of the Kammeroper ensemble here in Vienna and on paper the complete baritone package: resounding voice, spotless control, looks fit for regular postings on Barihunks. He gave a vigorous rendition of the Count’s aria from Nozze, all the singing quite conspicuously disciplined by first-rate vocal training, but at the expense of individuality, and not helped by an intense stage manner that can be mistaken for wide-eyed blankness on an opera stage. Tamara Ivanis’s soprano I found too dusky and lacking in Straussian style for ‘Ich wollt ein Sträusslein binden’, but at 21 her sights seem more set on the Gilda business and it was with a confident ‘Caro nome’ that she earned her third place showing.

The jury was chaired by Brigitte Fassbaender and made up of industry figures including soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, accompanist Charles Spencer, conductor Walter Kobera, agent Samantha Farber, and managing directors from a handful of German and Austrian houses. 2017 will mark both the 10th edition of this competition and the 100th birthday of Hilde Zadek, who presided over this year’s final from a front row seat together with her friend Christa Ludwig, who now assumes the honorary presidency of the competition. Zadek, being Jewish, left Germany for Palestine in 1935, but returned to Europe after the war and made the Vienna State Opera the centre of her singing career, in defiance of lingering anti-Semitism. She retired after over 700 performances at the Vienna State Opera and has dedicated herself in the decades since to mentoring young singers.

Seb Smallshaw

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