United States Various composers – George London Foundation Awards Competition Finals: Soloists, Lydia Brown (piano), The Morgan Museum & Library, New York, 21.2.2020. (RP)
The George London Foundation, named in honor of the great Canadian-American bass-baritone George London (1920-1985), has supported young singers financially for almost half a century through its annual awards program. This year, fifteen singers competed in the competition at The Morgan Museum & Library, and a total of $60,000 was bestowed. Five promising young singers were given George London Awards of $10,000 each, while the others received $1,000 George London Encouragement Awards.
The panel of judges included soprano Harolyn Blackwell, mezzo-soprano Susan Quittmeyer, baritone Richard Stillwell (one of the first George London Award winners), George London Foundation Executive Director John Hauser and President Nora London. Bass-baritone James Morris (who is married to Quittmeyer and also a former prize winner) was also on hand but did not participate in the deliberations.
The competition is open to American and Canadian singers under the age of 35 who have performed in at least one professional opera engagement. This year the average age of the singers was older than in the prior two years, which was reflected in their stage savvy and confidence. Age is hardly a determining factor, however, as some of the most exciting singers of past years were the youngest on stage. The winners this year were all women, and they were a stellar lot.
Soprano Jessica Faselt has a powerhouse of a voice and sang an electrifying ‘Or sai chi l’onore’ from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. She is in her second year in the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Program and has already performed on the Met stage. Bubbling coloratura and crystal-clear high notes marked soprano Jana McIntyre’s ‘Care compagne’ from Bellini’s La Sonnambula. McIntyre gave one of the most polished performances of the evening, and her innate sense of style was evidenced in both her musicianship and the chic yellow gown that she wore.
Mezzo-soprano Katherine Beck’s voice has a striking, distinctive timber. With an easy top range and plummy, rich notes, she dispatched the coloratura of ‘Non più mesta’ from Rossini’s La Cenerentola with aplomb. She’s a young singer to watch.
Two dynamic, dramatic mezzo-sopranos, Lindsay Kate Brown and Anne Maguire, who have quite dissimilar voices but comparable dramatic flair, rounded out the list of the top five. Maguire’s voice is a column of clear sound, and the mezzo bristled with indignation as she spit out Fricka’s aria, ‘Wo in Bergen du dich birgst’, from Wagner’s Die Walküre. Brown’s voice is more complex in terms of texture and color, which she deployed in a tour-de-force performance of Léonor’s poignant ‘O mon Fernand’ from Donizetti’s La Favorite.
As is the case every year, there were singers who shone but didn’t win one of the top prizes. With immaculate diction and a shimmering soprano, Danielle Beckvermit spun ‘Ain’t it a pretty night’ from Floyd’s ‘Susannah’ into an anthem of wonder and hope. Soprano Cheyanne Coss was another singer with a truly distinctive sound. In ‘Come autrefois’ from Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles, Coss instantly established an aura of sensuality, which was intensified by some breathtakingly beautiful high notes.
A professional since the age of four, Justin Austin’s handsome baritone and winning style enlivened ‘Bella siccome un angelo’ from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. (Soprano Catherine Malfitano, his teacher and prior London award winner, was in the audience.) Finally, I hope to hear more of the other two male singers who reached the finals, tenors Ryan Johnson and Terrence Chin-Loy.
Prior to the announcement of the winners, Nora London expressed her gratitude to the Foundation’s many generous supporters. ‘I have known for three generations how difficult the career of an opera singer remains,’ she said, adding that she wished that she could give prizes to every singer they had heard in the three days of auditions leading up to the finals, but she’s always told ‘there isn’t enough money’. Nonetheless, the George London Foundation is proof of the amazing things that living within one’s means can accomplish.