Fierce Competition for Mario Lanza Opera Prize in Birmingham

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Fierce Competition for Mario Lanza Opera Prize in Birmingham (GR)

Singing competitions often provide a platform for students to present their talents to a wider public; but the adjudicator’s placements can sometimes give rise to disagreements among the audience. Sponsored by the British Mario Lanza Society, this particular contest on June 2nd at the Birmingham Conservatoire was no exception. The adjudicator presented with the unenviable task on this occasion was Yvonne Howard, a major player on the UK opera scene. In their introductions, both Michael Barry and Julian Pike from the Conservatoire recalled personal and emotive recollections of Howard’s sterling accomplishments. I remembered a 2003 Holland Park production of Fidelio, when her Leonore was such an intense interpretation. And it was this ‘performance from within’ that Howard said she was looking for from the ten students selected – six sopranos, one mezzo, two baritones and a tenor. Any Mario Lanza show without at least one tenor would be unthinkable!

Every one of the ten had something going for them in their two chosen arias. Soprano Elizabeth Ryder opened proceedings and showed she loved life with Gounod’s Je veux vivre from Romeo et Juliette. Mezzo Urszula Anna Bock then used her impressive low register to advantage as Dalila in Saint-Saens’ Amour! Viens aider ma faiblesse! SopranoRachel Bowden used a tiara to great effect in It’s my wedding from Dove’s The Enchanted Pig, proving she could both sing and produce a laugh; her other choice of Adieu, notre petite table from Massenet’s Manon provided the ideal complement. Baritone Matthew Durkan also used a simple prop (a small mirror) to pull off the scheming antics of Dr Malatesta in Bella siccome un angelo from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale; his contrasting piece was a moving rendition of Within this Frail Crucible of Light from Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia. SopranoNatalie Hyde gave admirable variation to the multiple stanzas of Handel’s Non disperar from Giulio Cesare together with some delightful fioratura, aided by the fluidic accompaniment of the Mr Reliable, Jonathan French.

In sixth spot, baritone Samuel Oram followed with another Handel aria, Si, tra i ceppi from Berenice, tackling the aria di bravura with fire and gusto; his Billy Budd ballad as the doomed sailor’s sentence looms portrayed a credible innocence. A second excerpt from Billy Budd was next with tenor Brock Roberts as Captain Vere, reflecting in the Epilogue upon his conduct and coming to terms with it; this was distinguished by his excellent diction. As Tatyana from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, soprano Amelia Burns gave an outstanding rendition of the Letter Scene; with her glamour and youth she was able to poignantly recreate the lovesick young girl of Pushkin’s original verse novel – a riveting piece. At one with her own accompanist Robin Bowman, the audience loved her. However I was a little disappointed with her second number, Lehar’s Meine Lippen Sie Küssen so Heiß from Giuditta: more might have been made ofthe opportunity to change character and to ‘glide and float’ as the night club dancer. Soprano Carrie-Ann Williams also succeeded in getting inside her character – the Trojan princess Ilia from Mozart’s Idomeneo. In Padre germane she portrayed not only the grief of losing her father and brothers but also guilt at her response to the attentions of the Greek prince Idamante; it was there in both her eyes and vocal line. I thought she might have provided more contrast with her second choice Eccomi in lieta vesta from Bellini’s I Capuleti i Montecchi, but her superb tone and technique shone through. The final contestant was Georgina Stalbow whose two arias, Mozart’s Ach ich fuhl’s from The Magic Flute and Gounod’s Je veux vivre had unfortunately been heard already. However judging by the talent and potential shown by her efforts (and those on a recent S4C concert with Rhydian Roberts, a previous winner of this Mario Lanza Prize) she might well achieve her immediate aspirations in musical theatre.

I thought three numbers were worthy of the award: Rachel Bowden’s Wedding, Amelia Burns’ Tatyana and Carrie-Ann Williams’ Ilia. I had no objections then when Yvonne Roberts gave first prize to Carrie-Ann Williams, while Matthew Durkan was her runner-up. Good luck to all ten in the future!

Geoff Read