The audience voted, the orchestra voted, and the judges also voted. Excitement ran high in McCaw Hall for the third International Wagner Competition, with nine competing singers who have the potential to make careers in one of the most demanding vocal categories of all.
These are natural voices that could blow the amplified pipsqueaks of the TV “Voice” and “Idol” competitions right off the stage, and it was a thrill to hear these young singers in all their infinite variety as they vied for a total of $60,000 in cash prizes.
In the end, it was a big night for tenors Issachah Savage and David Danholt, who each won a $25,000 first prize award from the judges.
Savage, whose big and lyrical tenor was at its best in “Mein Lieber Schwan” (from “Lohengrin”), also won both the audience’s and the orchestra’s prizes, bringing his total winnings to $35,000. He was further honored by Seattle Opera’s retiring general director and master of ceremonies, Speight Jenkins, who chose Savage to fill in a slot in Saturday’s opera gala, the “Speight Celebration Concert and Dinner.”
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Danholt, a Danish tenor of beautiful timbre and elegantly polished phrasing, also won a first prize — following his stellar performance of the appropriate “Prize Song” from “Die Meistersinger.”
The two first prizes were the decision of a distinguished panel of judges that included famed singer Stephanie Blythe, incoming Seattle Opera general director Aidan Lang, opera directors Peter Kazaras and Stephen Wadsworth, and Cincinnati Opera artistic director and recording producer Evans Mirageas.
It was clear Thursday evening that both Danholt and Savage are ready to go out on the world’s Wagnerian stages as accomplished professionals (in fact, they already have done so). But so were several of the other seven singers, all of whom presented two different Wagnerian arias from familiar and more obscure operas. It was certainly possible to envision a top award going to soprano Marcy Stonikas, who has already appeared in major roles at Seattle Opera and whose radiant “Dich, teure Halle” opened the competition on a literal high note.
Soprano Helena Dix also was among the top contenders, winning many admirers with her strong and attractive tone in Sieglinde’s “Der Männer Sippe” and Isolde’s “Liebestod.” Tenor Kevin Ray gave two beautifully presented performances of Siegmund’s arias (in the “Ring”), nicely shaded but a bit underpowered. Tamara Mancini displayed a soprano to be reckoned with in Isolde’s “Narrative and Curse”: loads of passion, volume … and vibrato. Suzanne Hendrix proved an Erda of highly distinctive tone quality and heft; tenor Ric Furman was at his lyrical best in Lohengrin’s “In fernem Land.” Roman Ialcic gave a good but rather understated account of Wotan’s final aria from “Das Rheingold”; his voice was attractive but not the right timbre for “Hagen’s Watch.”
Everything about the competition was first-class, including Robert Dahlstrom’s beautiful stage set — with large paintings on the side walls, and alcoves displaying gorgeous glass objects. Another special touch: a quartet of new Wagner tubas performing a new “Speight Motif” fanfare composed by Daron Hagen. The orchestra, under Sebastian Lang-Lessing’s baton, rose splendidly to the challenge of 18 different Wagnerian arias in succession.
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.