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IX Concurso San Miguel 2017

1st prize: Carlos López Santillán

2nd prize: José Manuel González Caro

3rd prize: Darenka Chávez

4th prize: Gamaliel Reynoso


Finalists: Julietta Beas, Daniel Cerón, Carmen Ferrá, Diana Peralta, Octavio Rivas, Héctor Valle.


Invitados especiales: César Delgado (palomazo), Alejandro Kevin Luévanos González, Beatriz Meléndez, Valeria Vázquez.

From the front row of the Ángela Peralta Theater, just in front of the lid of the orchestral pit, on which stands a Steinway grand piano, I leaned over the edge of the stage to see the progression of gleaming black shoes and silk or satin hems, forerunners of the brilliance that was seen, as the singers who participated in the 9th Concurso San Miguel were “coming out into the ring”, so to speak. Not only was the elegance of tuxedos, long dresses and jewelery paraded on stage memorable, but above all the resplendent performance of the contestants.


The event began, as always, with the welcome given by the President of Ópera de San Miguel (OSM), Álvaro Nieto, followed by a list of the achievements made this year, given by the vice president and artistic director John Bills. Given the bicultural nature of the event, the master of ceremonies, María Teresa Dobarganes, translated the comments from English to Spanish and vice-versa for the benefit of the entire public. She began by saying that one of the contestants announced on the show, soprano Angélica Alejandre, had had to cancel her participation given her imminent debut at the Bellas Artes Opera in the leading role of Lucia di Lammermoor.


He also announced that this contest was dedicated to the memory of José Mojica (1896-1974), on the centenary of his operatic debut, as Count Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia at the Arbeu Theater in Mexico City, on October 5, 1916. A resident of San Miguel, Mojica was “the most acclaimed Mexican tenor of his time,” discovered by Enrico Caruso, who sang leading opera roles before becoming a movie star. The memory of Mojica is still present in San Miguel thanks to the conversion of his house (the restored  17th century Antigua Villa Santa Mónica) into the Hotel Santa Mónica, and by Mexiquito, a children's orphanage founded by the artist.


It could be said that the Concurso was an ideal tribute to Mojica, since each of the ten selected finalists (out of a total of almost 100 applicants) performed two passionate arias that worked musically and histrionically with the teacher Maureen O'Flynn in the week prior to the Contest. It speaks highly of the work of the Ópera de San Miguel coaches that their young students can stand on the stage and convey their emotions so well through song.


Suffice it to mention the great histrionics of the baritone who strutted physically and vocally as Sergeant Belcore from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore before intermission and returned as another brave soldier, Valentin from Gounod’s Faust, with his emotional prayer. Or the mezzo-soprano who first sang Carmen’s seductive “Seguidilla” in the first part, and returned with equanimity to perform Isabella's devilish coloratura in 'Cruda sorte' from Rossini's L'italiana in Algeri.


Another baritone seemed to specialize in pathos, offering us 'Mein Sehnen, Mein Wähnen' from Erich Korngold's Die tote Stadt, creating a collected silence in the theater. But the most impressive onstage transformation was that of a soprano carefully whispering the coloratura of 'Caro Nome' from Verdi's innocent Gilda in Rigoletto, only to come back with a chiseled rendition (let's forget her crammed English diction) of 'Glitter and Be Gay', Cunegunde’s funny scene from Bernstein’s Candide. And I am very pleased to note that Opera de San Miguel included, among the finalists, a countertenor, reminding us that the time has come for us to see these singers on stage sharing roles for castrato or written for mezzo-soprano in pants-roles.


We must also comment on the enormous progress that Ópera de San Miguel has made in promoting its singers outside the country. Not only because of its increasing monetary incentives (John Bills stressed that today this contest is the most generous of all the vocal competitions in the country, with a bag of more than half a million pesos in prizes), but because the winners receive opportunities to continue to develop vocally and perform outside of Mexico; opportunities that, we suppose, are only achieved when one has worked, like maestro Bills, for more than 25 years at the Metropolitan Opera.


The OSM has catapulted the careers of some of its past winners, who have received invitations to sing and/or compete in countries as diverse as Canada, Holland and China, and in important cities for opera, such as Barcelona, London, New York, Paris, Moscow and Salzburg.


All the members of the jury for Concurso 2017, along with maestro Bills, have participated in previous years: John Daly Goodwin, former music director, for 25 years, of the New York Choral Society; renowned soprano Maureen O'Flynn, now a voice teacher at the Hartt School of Music in Connecticut; the heldentenor Alain Nonat, general director of Les Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques de Montreal; and Charles Oppenheim, opera singer, editor of Pro Ópera magazine, and honorary board member of OSM.


As the jury deliberated at the end of the competition, three singers even younger than the contestants, the invitados especiales, sang arias that defied their young age. On this occasion the tenor Alejandro Kevin González Luévanos participated with the Lenski aria from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, sung with the anguish of this operatic character and with good Russian diction. Valeria Vázquez, soprano, vehemently sang 'Come scoglio' from Mozart's Così fan tutte, and Beatriz Meléndez, mezzo-soprano, offered a charming version of Urbain's rondo, 'Non! non, non, non', from Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots. A special surprise was the participation of the tenor César Delgado, winner of first place in Concurso 2015, who performed 'Granada' by Agustín Lara with panache.


All the contestants and special guests were accompanied by OSM's resident pianist and coach, the talented Mario Alberto Hernández. The public wanted more… but the jury had already decided:


First prize: Carlos López Santillán, baritone, 30 years old, $100,000 pesos. He sang 'Come un ape' from Rossini's La Cenerentola and 'Per me giunto… Io morrò' from Verdi's Don Carlo. In addition, he was awarded the Les Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques prize: $15,000 pesos to travel to Montreal, as well as the Edgar Mason Kneedler Memorial Award: $15,000 pesos, for outstanding performance and style. He received an invitation to participate in the vocal competition in Marmande, France, in the semi-finalist stage. And he will also participate in the solo quartet of Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle, together with other fellow winners of the San Miguel Opera Contest: soprano Alejandra Sandoval, mezzo-soprano Diana Peralta; and tenor César Delgado, who will perform in Easthampton and in New York City, Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende.


Second prize: José Manuel González Caro, baritone, 28 years old, $75,000 pesos. He sang 'Ah per sempre' from Bellini's I puritani and 'Mein Sehnen, Mein Wähnen' from Korngold's Die tote Stadt.


Third prize: Darenka Chávez, soprano, 27 years old, $50,000 pesos. She sang 'Caro nome' from Verdi's Rigoletto and 'Glitter and be gay' from Bernstein's Candide. She also won the director's prize: $25,000 pesos.


Fourth prize : Gamaliel Reynoso, countertenor, 27 years old, $40,000 pesos. He sang 'Vedro con mio diletto' from Vivaldi's Il Giustino and 'Ich lade gern mir Gäste Ein' from J. Strauss, Jr.'s Die Fledermaus. Plus: the Award for Exceptional Integrity, Fortitude, Discipline, Tenacity and Positive Attitude: $20,000 pesos.


Octavio Rivas, tenor, 30 years. He sang 'Quando le sere al placido' by Verdi's Luisa Miller and 'Mamma, quel vino è generous' by Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana. He received The Oliver Deehan memorial award: $40,000 pesos. Also: The Rosewood San Miguel Audience Award: $10,000 pesos, and an invitation to participate in the Ricardo Zandonai Contest in Italy at the semifinalist level.


Diana Peralta, mezzo-soprano, 30 years old. She sang Bizet's “Seguidilla” and 'Cruda sorte' from Rossini's L'italiana in Algeri. She received the Gertrude Brownlee Bitner Memorial Award for Most Promising Female Contestant, $40,000 pesos. The José Mojica award, $15,000 pesos and a concert in Celaya, Guanajuato. She will also participate as a soloist in the aforementioned Petite Messe Solennelle by Rossini.


Daniel Cerón, baritone, 33 years old. He sang 'Come paride vezzoso' from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore and 'Avant de quitter ces lieux' from Gounod's Faust. His prize was in honor of Victoria Carolina Mosallem Pescador, of $30,000 pesos.


Hector Valle, tenor, 31 years old. He sang 'Che gelida manina' from Puccini's La bohème and 'Ah, lève-toi soleil!' from Gounod's Romeo and Juliette. He received the Herman Marcus Memorial Award of $20,000 pesos.


In addition: The incentive from Ópera San Miguel, of $10,000 pesos, went to Julieta Beas, a 24-year-old mezzo-soprano. She sang 'Faites-lui mes aveux' from Gounod's Faust and 'Smanie implacabile' from Mozart's Così fan tutte. Also: The Therese Anne McCarthy Memorial Award for Young Revelation, of $15,000 pesos.


Carmen Ferra, soprano, 28 years old. She sang 'Ach ich liebe' from Mozart's Die Entfǖhrung aus dem Serail and 'Ah, forse lui… Sempre libera' from Verdi's La traviata. She also received an incentive of $10,000 pesos from from Ópera de San Miguel.


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