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V Concurso San Miguel 2013

1st prize: Germán Olvera

2nd prize: Fabián Rodríguez Lara

3rd prize: César Delgado

4th prize: Pablo Aranday


Finalists: Alberto Albarrán, María Fernanda Castillo, Ligia Cedillo, Tenantzín Cruz, Yamel Domort, Daniel Noyola, Armando Piña, Octavio Rivas.


Invitados especiales: María Jacinta Barbachano, Karen Barraza, Jorge Echeagaray Gutiérrez, Carlos Velázquez Acuña.

Twelve Mexican opera singers from different states came to San Miguel de Allende as finalists of the fifth contest organized by Ópera de San Miguel. The final gala was held on March 2, 2013 at the Ángela Peralta Theater.


There, an elegant stage had been designed, with dark curtains in the background, a grand piano positioned to the left, and two vases of flowers adorning the stage; a large space in the center, subtly lit, would be where the contestants would perform, under a backdrop printed with the words "Concurso San Miguel 2013".


John Bills, the artistic director of Ópera de San Miguel, said during his presentation that "the best singers in Mexico have voices with a rich, Latin quality, that can transmit the passions of opera in a natural and direct way". However, he added, "opportunities are limited for advanced study and stage experience". His organization goes out of its way to find the “best young singers” from every corner of the country. Once found, their group of opera professionals and their sponsors offer the finalists, through its annual competition, cash prizes, personal mentoring and, when possible, job opportunities. Bills insisted that Ópera de San Miguel is solely and exclusively due to the funds donated by its sponsors, known as the “Angels” of the opera.


The finalists who competed for those funds that night were: Armando Piña (baritone), Yamel Domort (soprano), Fabián Rodríguez Lara (tenor), Alberto Albarrán (baritone), Tenantzin Cruz (soprano), Daniel Noyola (bass-baritone), Ligia Cedillo (mezzo-soprano), Octavio Rivas (tenor), Pablo Aranday (baritone), María Fernanda (soprano), César Delgado (tenor) and Germán Olvera (baritone), whose ages fluctuated between 21 and 29, and who came from the states of Mexico, Sinaloa, Jalisco, San Luis Potosí and, of course, Mexico City.


These young artists, who are intensely preparing for careers in the world of opera, offered two arias each; familiar selections, fundamentally from the French and Italian repertoires. All the performances were more than respectable, and here and there there were some very well done and notable effects. However, for some of them, their voice projection was worrisome: singing accompanied by piano in a theater the size of a doll's house, such as the Peralta, cannot be compared with the sound that they will have to project in a real opera house, above the muscular roar of a full orchestra rising from the pit.


Still, they should not despair. Those who reach the grand final of a contest like this one have shown something that legitimizes their passion to appear on a lyrical stage; not necessarily on the stage of La Scala or the Met, but there are many theaters around the world, more modest in character and size, that can give shelter to talents that are also more modest.


It was a pleasant surprise that, while the jury deliberated at the end of the presentations, the San Miguel Opera presented four "guest" singers, still very young but whose merits cannot go unnoticed: Jorge Echeagaray Gutiérrez (baritone), María Jacinta Barbachano (mezzo-soprano), Carlos Velázquez Acuña (tenor) and Karen Barraza Lizárraga (soprano). Particularly noteworthy was the moving interpretation of 'È la solita storia del pastore' (Federico's Lament) from L'arlesiana de Cilea) in the voice of tenor Velázquez.


Of course, the grand finale of the contest is the awards ceremony, and everyone got a prize, starting with their participation in the final itself. The jury was made up of John Bills, the aforementioned artistic director of the San Miguel Opera, and previously a chorister and soloist of the Metropolitan Opera in New York; Sharon Thomas, stage manager for 22 seasons at the Met; John Daly Goodwin, music director and arranger for 25 years of the New York Choral Society; John McClain, founder and artistic director emeritus of the San Miguel Opera, previously artistic director of the Austin Lyric Opera and singer; and superstar Paul Plishka, a prominent Met bassist who retired last year after 1,642 performances.


First prize: in addition to a cash prize of $60,000 pesos, the winner will debut with the Acapulco Philharmonic Orchestra, receiving an honorarium of $15,000 pesos, as well as a copy of the DVD that will be filmed from the concert. He or she will also automatically advance to the semi-final round of the next Carlo Morelli National Singing Contest, which will take place in the second half of this year at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. The jury's decision to award this prize to the baritone Germán Olvera was seconded by the majority vote of the attendees, who awarded him the Audience prize for an additional $10,000 pesos, sponsored by Ópera de San Miguel.


It is not difficult to understand this choice. Although he does not have the most attractive voice, Mr. Olvera offered the most complete presentation as a singer-actor, vigorously expressing Count Almaviva's pent-up rage in 'Hai già vinta la causa' from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, and finally presenting the well-known Toréador song from Bizet’s Carmen, 'Votre toast', with savoir faire.


The second prize, of $30 thousand pesos, went to the tenor Fabián Rodríguez Lara who, in addition to singing 'Che gelida manina' from Puccini's La bohème, performed a very heartfelt 'Quando le sere al placido', from Verdi's Luisa Miller.


Third prize, of $20,000 pesos, was awarded to fellow tenor César Delgado, for his moving delivery of the aria 'Salut! Demeure, chaste et pure' from Gounod’s Faust and, in the second round, 'Asile héréditaire' from Rossini’s Guillaume Tell.


Fourth prize, of $15 thousand pesos, was given to Pablo Aranday, baritone, who sang Valentin’s aria from Faust, 'Avant de quitter ces lieux', and 'Nemico della patria' from Giordano’s Andrea Chénier.


Several special prizes were awarded, as follows: the Edgar Mason Kneedler Award ($10,000 pesos), for outstanding performance and style, for Alberto Albarrán; the Therese Anne McCarthy Award ($10,000 pesos), for youthful potential, went to María Fernanda; and the In Memoriam Herman Marcus award ($10,000 pesos), was for Daniel Noyola. For its part, the award from the Celaya Conservatory of Music and Arts, which consists of an honorary of $12,500 pesos at the Inaugural Opera Gala of the San Miguel Opera/Celaya Conservatory, went to Fabián Rodríguez Lara.


Finally, the rest of the contestants were awarded a donation as a stimulus for their career ($2,500 pesos each): Octavio Rivas, Armando Piña, Yamel Domort, Tenantzin Cruz and Ligia Cedillo. The charming mistress of ceremonies was María Teresa Dobarganes, and the indispensable, indefatigable pianist, on whose hands various musical adventures in San Miguel depend, was maestro Mario Alberto Hernández.


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