Amplitude and Calisthenics from Tomorrow’s Star Singers

United StatesUnited States Opera Scholarship Competition, University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. Corbett Auditorium, Cincinnati, OH. 16.3.13 (RDA)

Every year the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati attracts new operatic hopefuls. The school boasts a superb voice faculty—many still active as performers in opera, oratorio and concert—and year after year CCM turns out young artists who go on to make their mark, winning competitions and landing contracts with opera companies in America and Europe.

In order to encourage its post-graduates, CCM conducts an Opera Scholarship Competition in which approximately two dozen Master Degree and Artist Diploma candidates compete for five top prizes, ranging from $10,000 to $15,000. In addition, all singers selected for this best-among-best, pre-professional program are guaranteed a $3,000 award.

This past Saturday a devoted audience spent the best part of the day watching and listening to twenty-two singers being evaluated by three prestigious judges: Peter Kazaras, Kevin Murphy and Leonore Rosenberg. Assisting them, CCM professors Robin Guarino, David Adams and Kenneth Shaw paved the way for a smooth and even-handed selection process, along with two fine accompanists, Marie France Lefevbre and Donna Loewy.

The $15,000 Italo Tajo Award was given to Sofia Selowsky, a gifted mezzo-soprano who delivered an agile aria di bravura from Handel’s Serse, “Se bramate d’amar chi vi sdegna.” I had previously heard Ms. Selowsky perform this number some weeks before at a Master class given at CCM by counter-tenor David Daniels. She has obviously taken his good counsel to heart, for she dispatched Handel’s daunting roulades with total aplomb, adding her own copious embellishments to the dacapo return. She followed this with a rarity, “Vois sous l’archet frémissant,” an often-cut aria for the double role of The Muse/Nicklausse in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, and sang with soulful abandon and comfort throughout her range. Her distinct lyric mezzo will eminently suit the pants roles she’s bound to sing in what will surely be a fine career.

The $15,000 Corbett Award comes with a guaranteed audition at the New York City Opera. Soprano Maria Valdes went home with one of the two top prizes after a lovely “Mi chiamano Mimi” from Puccini’s La bohème and an impeccably-phrased “Ach, ich fühl’s” from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. The young soprano’s voice has both the necessary amplitude for the lighter Mozartian roles and the honeyed top voice for some Puccini in the not-too-distant-future.

The $12,500 prize, named after the late CCM Voice faculty member, baritone Andrew White (teacher of Sherrill Milnes) went to baritone Edward Nelson. His lyrical take on Zurga’s soliloquy from Bizet’s Les Pecheurs de Perles, and ease with the vocal calisthenics and buffo antics of Dandini’s “Come un ape ne’ giorni d’aprile” from Rossini’s La Cenerentola evidenced a terrific instinct for the stage. We heard this young singer take on the high-lying role of the Hunter in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen in 2001, and it has been most impressive to see his growth over the past two years.

Joseph Latanzi went home with the $10,000 John Alexander Memorial Award. The young baritone scored a success with his two choices, “Ah per sempre Io ti perdei”from Bellini’s I Puritani, and the Count’s aria from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, moving his voice with suppleness while displaying an easy top and an assured way with Bellini’s sustained bel canto phrases. This is a singer to watch as his voice matures and grows in heft and size.

Talia Lieberman, a light lyric-coloratura soprano, sang the tricky “Fire aria” from Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortileges with wry humor, dead-on-target accuracy and utter comfort in notes above the staff. She preceded the Ravel with a sensitive interpretation of Pamina’s aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and these two performances won herthe $10,000 Seybold-Russell Award. And even more impressive: she’s temporarily using crutches.

As it inevitably happens in vocal competitions, there were several other singers who deserved to be rewarded for their accomplishments, but who only went home with the applause of the audience at Corbett auditorium.

That said, I will single out one other young artist, who sang Yeletsky’s aria from Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades elegantly and in idiomatic Russian, capping it with a ringing top G. The singer’s name is Mark Diamond, a young artist whose flawless French, youthful looks, strong stage presence, fastidious musicality and lyric voice will make him a perfect choice for the title male role in Debussy’s Pélleas et Mélisande, which was, in fact, the source for one of his two selections.

Rafael de Acha