Young talent competes for prizes in the finale of the 12th Glenarm Festival of Voice

United KingdomUnited Kingdom 12th Glenarm Festival of Voice: Competition Finale: Hannah O’Brien (soprano), Heather Sammon (mezzo-soprano), Michael Bell (tenor), Owen Lucas (tenor), David Kennedy (baritone), Tristan Russcher (piano), Doireann O’Carroll (piano). Church of the Immaculate Conception, Glenarm, 28.8.2022. (RB)

The five finalists and pianist selected for NI Opera’s, 12th Glenarm Festival of Voice © Declan Roughan

Opera Arias:
Gilbert and Sullivan – ‘Regular Royal Queen’ from The Gondoliers
Handel – ‘Sorge infausta una procella’ from Orlando
Mozart – ‘Mi tradi quell’alma ingrata’ from Don Giovanni
Bizet – ‘O lumière sainte’ from The Pearl Fishers
Gounod – ‘Salut! Demeure chaste et pure’ from Faust
Rossini – ‘Un soave non so che’ from La Cenerentola
Handel – Svegliatevi nel core’ from Giulio Cesare
Puccini – ‘E lucevan le stelle’ from Tosca
von Flotow – ‘The Midnight Quartet’ from Martha

Irish Song Selection:
Charles Wood – ‘At the Mid Hour of Night’
Herbert Hughes – ‘Oh men from the Fields’
Samuel Barber – ‘Rain has Fallen’
Michael Head – ‘Nocturne’
James Joyce – ‘Bid Adieu’

Glenarm is a historic coastal village in Northern Ireland which forms part of the Glens of Antrim, an area of outstanding natural beauty. Since 2010 Northern Ireland Opera have hosted an annual festival of voice in Glenarm and the surrounding villages. The festival culminates in a competition finale where several young singers compete for the Deborah Voight Opera Prize. An additional song prize was added to the competition in 2021 and this has continued in 2022. This year five young singers from across Ireland and Northern Ireland competed for these prizes. The five finalists offered a wide range of very demanding and contrasting repertoire. The Patron of Northern Ireland Opera, Sean Rafferty, introduced the operatic numbers from the stage and spoke to the competitors during the interval.

In the first part of the concert, operatic arias were interspersed with ensemble numbers. Pianist Tristan Russcher did an excellent job accompanying the singers throughout. Baritone David Kennedy opened with a performance of Zoroastro’s ‘Sorge infausta una procella’ from Orlando. David produced dark rich timbres from the bottom of the vocal register and did a very good job with Handel’s intricate vocal line. Occasionally, I would have liked more vocal projection over the accompaniment and a more focused sound. Soprano Hannah O’Brien was up next with Donna Elvira’s ‘Mi tradi’ from Don Giovanni.  Hannah sang with a rich vibrant tone and did a great job negotiating Mozart’s rapid runs and leaps. She lost momentum a little towards the end of this demanding aria and there was perhaps scope for her to bring out more of the conflicts in Elvira’s character which are crystallised by this aria. Tenor Michael Bell tackled another great staple of the repertoire from Gounod’s Faust, ‘Salut! Demeure chaste et pure’. Michael gave a very accomplished performance with a high degree of technical finish and attention to detail. I was particularly impressed with his diction and he captured Faust’s anguished longing brilliantly although the emotional climax to the aria needed a more concentrated build up.

Heather Sammon also opted for Handel with a performance of Sesto’s ‘Svegliatevi nel core’ from Giulio Cesare. Heather gave a highly polished performance and her articulation was excellent. I was impressed with the very musical way in which she contrasted the fiery outer sections with the more reflective central section. While there was much to admire here, I would have welcomed a little more vocal fire in the opening section and a more open resonant sound.  Owen Lucas performed the final aria of the evening, Cavaradossi’s ‘E lucevan le stelle’ from Puccini’s Tosca. Owen brought burning passion, raw emotion and blazing top notes to this great staple of the repertoire. I would have welcomed a higher degree of technical finish but there was no doubting the raw talent on display here.

The five finalists also had to demonstrate their ability in performing ensemble numbers. The evening opened with a rollicking, jaunty number from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers which Hannah, Michael, Heather and David performed with gusto. Hannah, Michael and David then joined forces to give a rapturous performance of ‘O lumière sainte’ from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers. In ‘Un soave non so che’ from Rossini’s La Cenerentola, Heather and Owen adeptly handled Rossini’s intricate coloratura. David, Heather, Hannah and Owen closed this section by bidding farewell to the audience in a gorgeous radiant performance of Von Flotow’s ‘Midnight Quartet’.

In the final section of the competition, each of the five finalists had to sing an Irish song of their choice. A separate Peter Rankin Piano Intern Prize is awarded as part of this competition and this year’s winner, Dorieann O’Carroll, accompanied this section. In his performance of ‘At the Mid Hour of Night’, Michael delivered beautiful extended legato lines, excellent diction and effortless top notes. Heather did an excellent job capturing the haunting mood of Herbert Hughes’s ‘Oh men from the Fields’ and brought rapt tenderness to the vocal line. David brought rich dark colours to Barber’s ‘Rain has Fallen’ and captured the heaviness and elegiac atmosphere in James Joyce’s poem. Owen’s performance of Michael Head’s ‘Nocturne’ was powerful and dramatic with the final section of the song infused with lyricism. The final song of the evening was ‘Bid Adieu’ by James Joyce. While Joyce’s literary works are replete with musical allusions this is the only time where the great author wrote a piece of music himself and what a gorgeous piece it is. Hannah gave a heartfelt performance with extended lyrical legato lines and beautiful vocal inflections.

There was a very high standard of singing throughout the evening and all the performers deserved to win a prize.  In the end the jury awarded the Deborah Voight Opera Prize and Audience Prize to Owen Lucas and the Song Prize to Hannah O’Brien.

Robert Beattie

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