NEW! Another Major Singing Competition at RNCM Discovers Names to Look Out For

26/02/2016

Another Major Singing Competition at RNCM Discovers Names to Look Out For

[flag code=”gb” size=”24″ text=”yes”] Elizabeth Harwood Memorial Award Competition for Singers: Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, 24.2.2016. (RJF)

Elizabeth Harwood was arguably the most important British soprano to sing on the international circuit at all the best addresses since Eva Turner, a much heavier voice, in the 1930s. Born in 1938 she commenced her studies at the Royal Manchester College of Music in 1956, graduating in 1960. She won the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Scholarship, using the money to spend a year in Milan and studying with the renowned Lina Pagliughi. She worked in the old Sadlers Wells for five years learning her repertory before launching her international career. Her performances and singing at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 1967 came to the attention of Von Karajan who invited her to the Salzburg Festival in 1969. The success led to her debut at La Scala in 1972 and the Metropolitan Opera three years later. A singer of many skills, she sang in oratorio as well as giving recitals. She made records, one of the most renowned as Musetta in La Boheme alongside Mirella Freni and Luciano Pavarotti and with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Karajan. It remains a benchmark to this day. She died in 1990 aged only 52.

 

In accordance with her will, The Elizabeth Harwood Memorial Trust was established to administer an annual award at her old college, now the RNCM. The award, now valued at £6,000, is intended to enable final year students at the RNCM to continue their studies after leaving College. The award holder must make al the arrangements in connection with the proposed course of study, which must meet with the approval of the Trustees, who expect it to be used by the recipient to widen the scope of their professional training. Applicants are required to state what course of study they would wish to follow should they win the award.

 

The Award is judged at the RNCM in two parts, an eliminating round adjudicated by members of staff at the School of Vocal and Opera Studies and a final round that requires one item from a singer’s recital to be by Mozart. The competition is adjudicated by the Head of Vocal Studies at the RNCM, an eminent singer, and the Administrator of the Trust. On this evening these were Lynne Dawson, Russell Smythe and Isobel Flinn with piano accompaniments provided by Robin Humphreys, Benjamin Powell and Jonathan Fisher.

The audience heard the competitors in two halves of no particular order. All the singers have to make an impact vocally as well as in terms of stage personality – for want of a better term. This latter aspect can be influenced by the choice of repertoire and the difficulties selected items made on the singer.

In the first half I was surprised at the choices Sarah Gifford (soprano) made for the Mozart item demanded by the competition.  Quanti mi siete intorno…Padre, germani, addio from Idomeneo revealed patches of raw vocal tone when expressing the emotions in the aria. In the following item Gabriel Fauré’s Le papillon et la fleur, softer and less declamatory suited her better. Her assaying of Dvořák’s Song to the Moon, sung in the original language, was a brave choice and only partly realised.

Unlike Sarah, Aaron O’Hare (baritone) featured his mandatory Mozart last, opening with the vocal demands of Handel. His baritone sounded rather lean in the vocal decorations in Sibilar gli angui d’Aletto from Rinaldo whilst a slow husk in his voice was evident in his rendering of Schubert’s Der Doppelgänger from Schwanengesang. His choice of song by Bridge was well achieved whilst in Ravel’s Le Paon from Histoires Naturelles he showed good diction facial expression, humour and vocal range. I was less impressed by his singing of Hai gia vinta la causa… Vedro mentr’io sospiro from Le nozze di Figaro, his voice lacking the vocal weight I associate with the aria.

Hollie-Anne Bangham (mezzo-soprano) wore a dress which brought some colour to the proceedings as did her warm centered mezzo. She scaled the demanding opening to Mozart’s Deh per questo istante solo from La Clemenza di Tito. Her Granados song, sung in Spanish and Massanet’s Va! Laisse couler mes larmes from Werther indicated polyglottal competence.

Michaela Parry (mezzo-soprano) opened the second half of the competition with Mozart’s Ah qual gelido orror, Il padre adorato from Idomeneo which gave us something missing in the first part – evidence of stage charisma or presence, if you preferlike. Suddenly the competition had the wow factor. Here was a singer not only with  vocal skill aplenty, but also awareness of presentation. Her use of her hands, face and body tall used to add to what was being sung, all contributing to the overall expression of the words. The following Das Rosenband allowed us to appreciate her smooth legato and in the following work by Dove her excellent diction. Michaela’s Va! Laisse couler mes larmes from Jules Massenet’s Werther, with its dramatic opening and soft conclusion, was a judge’s delight I suggest.

 

Aidan Edwards (baritone) looked as though he would not be amiss on the pitch at Twickenham and with some power in his sung voice to match. Having warmed up with a well portrayed, in action and voice, of Tra La La La, from Hansel and Gretel, sung with a warm middle and impressive stage presence and use of hands and body, he then sang Verdi. It is not often the audience hears the vocal demands of Verdi in these competitions. Aidan’s singing of Renato’s Alla vita che t’arride from Act One of Un Ballo in Maschera was sung with brio, vocal weight and variety of expression in voice an body language. After that he slotted in his Mozart, Non siate ritrosi… from Cosi fan tutte, a lightness and subtlety that I felt sure would not be lost on the adjudicators. I worried about his choice of final item Tchaikovsky’s None but the Lonely Heart being shown in the programme as being sung in English. With two other items, The Vagabond and Sea Fever, already being sung in in English, it might have counted against him. I need not have worried; the type setters perhaps could not cope with the Cyrillic with the same confidence that Aidan did his singing.

Tall and Angular Richard Moore (bass-baritone) was a somewhat bland stage presence and not wholly steady for his opening two pieces, although showing an agreeable depth of vocal sonority. This was particularly in evidence in Massenet’s Seigneur, reçois mon âme…Je suis le chevalier errant from Don Quichotte. But nothing prepared us for his full commitment of acted and sung rendition of Leporello’s catalogue aria from Don Giovanni. Every phrase, nearly every word was accompanied by a physical act of interpretation. More importantly it was also associated with appropriate vocal expression and nuance.

The adjudicators took an awfully long time over their decision, so I wondered if they were split. If so there had been a precedent in 1997 when the prize was split. Until now only six men had been winners, and, Verdi addict that I am, I thought Aidan Edwards should be in the mix. I was correct. The prize was split between Aidan Edwards and Michaela Parry. As is often the case, the cheques were prevented by Julian Royle FRSA, Chairman of the Trustees and husband of Elizabeth Harwood, who also gave an envelope to each of the other contestants.

Robert J Farr

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