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VII Concurso San Miguel 2015

1st prize: César Delgado

2nd prize: Pablo Aranday

3rd prize: Karen Gardeazabal

4th prize: Dhyana Arom


Finalists: Jacinta Barbachano de Agüero, Yamel Domort, Fabián Lara, Octavio Rivas; Jorge Ruvalcaba de la Torre, Edgar Villalva.


Invitados especiales: Esteban Baltazar, Julietta Beas, Eimy Osuna, Carlos Velázquez.

Sometimes, after an opera or musical theater performance, we leave the theater humming or whistling some memorable tune. But this writer found himself bewitched by an old melody that no one sang during the opera gala presented last Saturday, March 7 at the Ángela Peralta Theater in San Miguel de Allende.


The 2015 Concurso San Miguel, as in previous years, presented us with ten young Mexican singers, from all corners of the country, selected after an arduous audition process, all of them with impressive voices and stage presence to justify their ambitions of making a career out of singing opera.


The ten finalists performed in concert, with the hope of receiving one of the four main prizes and the various memorial prizes awarded by the jury, as well as the Audience award that is given to the singer with the highest number of votes by those attending the grand finale of the contest.


The old melody that I came humming out of the theater was the joyous song “It's a Grand Night for Singing”, which Ópera de San Miguel unknowingly awakened in me as it celebrated its contestants, as well as its enthusiastic and lively audience, infected by the verve and joy of this night full of opera.


Of the finalists, four had already participated in Concurso 2013. There were three sopranos, one mezzo-soprano, four tenors and two baritones, whose ages ranged between 21 and 30 years. Each of them presented two arias in languages such as Italian, French, German or Russian, and each of them had what it takes to participate in a contest: a voice to start a career as an opera singer.


However, one wishes that the wide-sounding soprano had the help she needed to find the pianissimi in her voice. Or that the baritone of little resonance finds arias more suitable for a contest like this (and perhaps more appropriate for the repertoire that he can sing). Or that the mezzo-soprano who is living in the same world as Joyce DiDonato and Cecilia Bartoli gains mastery of her instrument in order to articulate the frenetic coloratura required by the bel canto roles she hopes to sing in the not too distant future.


This Concurso is a significant competition for each of the young singers who participate, beyond the final results. This is because the artistic director of Ópera de San Miguel (OSM), John Bills, wants none of the contestants to return home empty-handed. The former tenor who had a 26-year career with the Metropolitan Opera Choir in New York has worked hard to help his finalists take the international step in their careers. The 2014-2015 period has been a watershed for OSM in this sense, since he has managed to establish contacts to grant scholarships to his singers in musical institutions in New York, Philadelphia, Valencia, Amsterdam, Moscow and Montreal.


Some OSM singers have received opportunities to continue their studies abroad or even contracts to sing in international theaters. A notorious case is that of mezzo Cassandra Zoé Velasco, winner of third prize and the audience award at Concurso 2010, and who in 2014 received the Therese Anne McCarthy Memorial Award. This year she made her debut at the Met in the small role of Laura in Tchaikovsky's Iolanta, alongside Anna Netrebko.


Another sign that the Concurso is broadening its horizons is that on this occasion it had an international jury, which John Daly Goodwin, music director for 25 years of the New York Choral Society and current guest director of the Bellas Artes Choir in Mexico City, was part of, along with John Bills.; Nicolas Mansfield, general and artistic director of the Nederlander Nationale Reisopera (Netherlands Traveling Opera Company), as well as concert and choral director at the Dorset Opera Festival in England; Alain Nonat, founder, general and artistic director of Théâtre Lyrichorégra 20 in Montreal and creator of the program Les Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques; vocal teacher and renowned soprano Maureen O'Flynn, with a 28-year career in the world's leading theaters, including the Met, Covent Garden, the Staatsoper in Vienna, La Fenice in Venice and La Scala in Milan; and bass Charles Oppenheim, editor of Pro Opera magazine.


Before the start of the concert, the president of Ópera de San Miguel, Álvaro Nieto, gave a warm welcome to the audience, and María Teresa Dobarganes once again served as mistress of ceremonies and simultaneous translator of the event, which, since its inception, has been presented in English and Spanish. Of course, if there is one person who has given great relevance to the Concurso since its first edition, it is the resident pianist and coach of Opera de San Miguel, maestro Mario Alberto Hernández. He is a true musical treasure and any event in San Miguel is decked out as soon as he comes out on stage to take his place at the piano.


A relevant aspect of the Concurso, which is repeated every year, is the inclusion of a group of four young singers, the invitados especiales or "special guests", who do not participate as finalists, but have the opportunity to sing for the public while the judges deliberate at the end of the concert. (It is worth mentioning that four of the finalists of the 2015 Contest were invitados especiales in previous Concursos.)


Participating on this occasion were Eimy Osuna, a 22-year-old soprano, who performed 'O quante volte' from Bellini's I Capuleti ei Montecchi; Julietta Beas, mezzo-soprano (23), with 'Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle' from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette; Esteban Baltazar, bass-baritone (22), with 'Non più andrai' from Le nozze di Figaro by Mozart, and Carlos Velázquez, tenor (22), with 'Fra poco a me ricovero' from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.


The jury for this hard-fought competition not only chose the first four prize winners, but also the recipients of the commemorative prizes, to contribute to their advanced studies, professional expenses and artistic opportunities. The results were the following:


First prize: César Delgado, tenor, 29 years old, $60,000 pesos. The award includes a debut concert with the Acapulco Philharmonic Orchestra and the Hidalgo State University Symphony Orchestra, both conducted by maestro Eduardo Álvarez, musical director. In addition, he will participate as a semifinalist in the International Singing Competition in Marmande, France, in August 2015. He sang 'Parmi veder le lagrime… Possente amor' from Verdi’s Rigoletto, and 'Pourquoi me réveiller' from Massenet’s Werther.


Second prize: Pablo Aranday, baritone, 29 years old, $30,000 pesos. In addition, the Prize of the Nederlander Nationale Reisopera (Dutch National Traveling Opera), consisting of the debut of a role in one of the next two seasons in the Netherlands. He sang 'Ja vas lyublyu' from Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades, and 'Cortigiani, vil razza dannata' from Verdi's Rigoletto.


Third prize: Karen Gardeazabal, soprano, 23 years old, $20,000 pesos. In addition, the Les Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques Prize, of $10,000 pesos, to travel to Montreal in November 2015 to audition before international opera directors and compete for the International Prize of $1,000 Canadian dollars. She sang 'Chi il bel sogno di Doretta' from Puccini's La rondine, and 'Amour, ranime mon courage' from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette.


Fourth prize: Dhyana Arom, soprano, 21 years old, $15,000 pesos. She sang 'Al dolce guidami… Coppia iniqua' from Donizetti's Anna Bolena, and 'Ebben! Ne andrò lontana' from Catalani’s La Wally.


The Rosewood San Miguel audience award went to Fabián Lara, tenor, 27 years old, $10,000 pesos. In addition, he received the Prize in memory of Donald Winter, of $12,500 pesos. He sang 'O Souverain, ô juge, ô père' from Massenet's Le Cid, and 'Nessun dorma' from Puccini's Turandot.


The director's award went to Octavio Rivas, tenor, 28 years old: $25,000 pesos for specialized advanced studies. In addition, he received the Oliver Deehan Memorial Prize of $12,500 pesos. He sang 'Quando le sere al placido' from Verdi's Luisa Miller, and 'Mamma, quel vino è generoso’ from Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana.


The José Mojica award was received by Edgar Villalva, tenor, 29 years old: $10,000 pesos to prepare a solo recital in Celaya, Guanajuato. In addition, we received a Stimulus Award in memory of Raúl Rodríguez: $12,500 pesos. He sang 'Spirto gentil' from La favorite and 'Ah, mes amis… Pour mon âme' from La fille du régiment, both by Donizetti.


The youth revelation prize in memory of Therese Ann McCarthy went to Jacinta Barbachano, mezzo-soprano, 22 years old, of $12,500 pesos. She sang 'Podrugi milyye' from Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades, and 'Cruda sorte' from Rossini's L'italiana in Algeri.


The Outstanding Performance and Style Award in Memory of Edgar Mason Kneedler was received by Jorge Ruvalcaba, a 23-year-old baritone: $12,500 pesos. He sang 'Hai già vinta la causa' from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, and 'Vy mne pisali' from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin.


Finally, the prize in memory of Herman Marcus went to 30 year-old soprano Yamel Domort, of $12,500 pesos. She sang 'Dich teure Halle' from Wagner's Tannhäuser, and 'Glück, das mir verblieb' from Korngold's Die tote Stadt.


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