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XII Concurso San Miguel 2020

1st prize: Akemi Endo

2nd prize: Ethel Trujillo

3rd prize: Jennifer Mariel Velasco


Finalists: Alejandro del Ángel, Esaú Efraín Corralejo (cancelled due to apendicitis), María de Jesús Herrada, Kevin Alejandro Luévanos, Angélica Mata, Ana Luisa Morelos, Jorge Ruvalcaba (cancelled due to engagement with the San Francisco Conservatorio).


Invitados especiales: Fernanda Allande, Sofía Garza, Alberto Robert, Daniel Sandoval, Olymar Sandoval.

A few minutes after 7 pm Álvaro Nieto came out on stage at the Ángela Peralta Theater and, as president of Ópera de San Miguel (OSM), announced the beginning of its 12th Concurso.


It is a special contest, where a nervous enthusiasm, but not tension, dominates the environment. The difference is due not only to the stipulation that no one goes home empty-handed, but despite adhering to the traditional ranking format of first, second, and third place winners, the other prizes —either a scholarship, a chance at a concert, residential tutelage, studies abroad, the possibility of a contract with an opera company, or even an automatic pass to the semi-final or final of another competition— are substantial for singers in the early stages of their careers.


Another innovation adopted by this competition, as artistic director John Bills explains, is to see that its judges not only arrive, make their decisions and leave, but spend the preparatory week in the city meeting and training the contestants.


During his presentation, in a spirit of cordiality, Nieto welcomed the audience, particularly the “Angels” of Ópera de San Miguel: the sponsors whose contributions support the awards. Usually maestro Bills would follow him, but since he is still recovering from illness, he limited his participation to the award ceremony at the end. Charles Oppenheim, assistant artistic director, was the master of ceremonies and conducted the program in the usual way, introducing María Teresa Dobarganes, long-time host of the Concurso. She shared the podium with Oppenheim, providing the Spanish version of the English commentary on each singer's repertoire.


Two tenors (Alejandro del Ángel and Alejandro Luévanos, both 28 years old), a mezzo-soprano (Angélica Mata, 29) and five sopranos (Akemi Endo, 29; María Herreda, 29; Jennifer Mariel, 25; Ana Luisa Morelos, 25; and Ethel Trujillo, 26), formed the cast of the Concurso 2020.


As usual, the program consisted of two parts, with an intermission. In addition, two regular features helped to “break the ice”, so to speak, of nerves and tension. One was the distribution of ballots for the votes of the audience for their favorite artist. The other was a presentation of “special guests”, young singers who are not among those competing, but whose operatic potential is on display during the jury's deliberations.


Although the tenor Luévanos, who began the program singing 'Quando le sere al placido' from Verdi's Luisa Miller, had difficult moments that continued to bother him during his second aria, 'La fleur que tu m'avais jetée', from Bizet's Carmen, the quality of his voice revealed why he was part of the contingent that survived the elimination process. For this listener, tenor Del Ángel revealed the kind of voice one wants to hear singing Macduff's lament from Verdi's Macbeth, and 'O souverain, o juge, o pere' from Massenet's Le Cid. His voice can take him somewhere in the world of opera, if he uses it subtly and intelligently.


I guess we shouldn't be surprised to find that all the women were very satisfying. Among them, Ana Luisa Morelos. Her poise, her flawless voice quality throughout her range was challenged by the legato of Charpentier's Louise in 'Depuis le jour'. The lightness of her voice, however, would hardly have been projected in a great opera house. But María Herrada would, as her voice clearly resonated in 'D'amor sull'ali rose' from Verdi's Il trovatore and 'Ma dall'arido stelo divulsa' from Un ballo in maschera.


Perhaps Ethel Trujillo could have sung 'Ach ich fühls' from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte with more desperation but, endowed with a solid yet fluid voice, she impeccably articulated the scene of madness from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Jennifer Mariel's audition —with Mimì's entrance aria in Puccini's La bohème and Leoncavallo's 'Stridono lassù' from Pagliacci— was also quite successful.


Mezzo-soprano Angélica Mata sang with great conviction and forcefulness 'Smanie implacabili' from Mozart's Così fan tutte, and with a hint of nostalgia and emotion 'Qui m'aurait dit la place' from Massenet's Werther; and Akemi Endo (first prize winner) offered the difficult scene from Zerbinetta 'Grossmächtige Prinzessin' from Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, and in the second part of the programme, Juliette's waltz, 'Je veux vivre' from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette .


The invitados especiales (“special guests”) proved that they also have winning voices, and that one day, in a future contest, they will be able to compete for a prize. Accompanied by the peerless pianist Mario Alberto Hernández, soprano Fernanda Allande (22), performed 'De mi amor' from Keofar by Felipe Villanueva; baritone Daniel Sandoval (20) sang 'Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo' from Mozart's Così fan tutte; his brother, the tenor Olymar Sandoval, (20) continued with 'Quanto è bella, quanto è cara' from L'elisir d'amore by Donizetti; fellow tenor Alberto Robert (20) sang 'Una furtiva lagrima' from the same opera; and soprano Sofía Garza (23) presented 'Chi'il bel sogno di Doretta' from Puccini's La rondine.


It was good to have maestro Hernández at the piano: the program notes recognize that he has been the coach and pianist of the OSM since its creation in 2008. But his traditional place on Saturday was occupied on this occasion by Arlene Shrut, main coach during the week and new jury of the contest. She was a pianist and teacher at Juilliard for 25 years, as well as at the Manhattan School of Music, the Aspen Music Festival, the Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation, and the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions (MONCA).


Also new to the competition was judge Kevin Murphy, pianist and coaching director of the Indiana University Opera Theater and director of the Young Singers Program at Ravinia's Steans Institute of Music since 2011. Murphy was a casting consultant at the New York City Opera (2008-2012), director of musical studies at the Opéra National de Paris (2006-2008) and vocal coach of the Lindemann Program for Young Artists as well as assistant conductor of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (1993-2006).


They joined the jury headed by John Bills, artistic director of the San Miguel Opera; Cori Ellison, playwright at the Santa Fe Opera and Juilliard Vocal Arts faculty member; Jens Neundorff von Enzberg, manager of the Theater Regensburg in Bavaria; Alain Nonat, founder and artistic director of the Théâtre Lyrichorégra 20 and Les Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques in Montreal, Quebec; and Charles Oppenheim, assistant artistic director of the OSM, opera singer and editor of Pro Ópera magazine.

Winners of the Concurso San Miguel 2020


At the 12th edition of Concurso San Miguel, the eight finalists shared $350,000 pesos in cash prizes, as well as eight scholarships to participate in competitions, auditions and opera performances in Germany, Canada, Spain , United States and France: Banff (Alberta), Barcelona (Catalonia), Haliburton (Ontario), Highland Park (Illinois), Marmande (New Aquitaine), Montreal (Quebec), Regensburg (Bavaria) and Saint-Eustache (Quebec).


Official Awards:


The first three prizes were swept away by sopranos:


1st prize: $100,000 pesos: Akemi Endo.


Amistad Canada 2nd prize: $75,000 pesos: Ethel Trujillo.


3rd prize: $50,000 pesos: Jennifer Mariel.


Other prizes in kind


The “Bavaria Project” Award: consists of a trip to the Regensburg Theater in Germany to participate in master classes and group auditions with 10 to 15 opera house managers from Bavaria, with the possibility of receiving contracts. The selected singers will participate in a grand gala with the Theater Regensburg orchestra. Accommodation and per diem provided by Theater Regensburg. Round-trip air travel provided courtesy of Barbara Hayes and the Oliver Deehan Memorial Fund. They are: César Delgado, tenor (1st prize winner of Concurso 2015); Carlos López, baritone (1st prize winner of Concurso 2017); Alejandro López, bass (2nd prize winner of Concurso 2019); and Akemi Endo, soprano (1st prize winner of Concurso 2020).


The Marmande Prize: direct entry to the semifinal round of the Marmande International Voice Competition in Bordeaux and audition for 20 European opera house directors, with the possibility of winning a prize and/or contracts. Winner: Alejandro del Ángel, tenor.


The Saint-Eustache Award: invitation to sing at this summer opera festival in Quebec, Canada. Includes accommodation, travel expenses and fees for singing during the festival. Winner: Alejandro Luevanos, tenor.


Les Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques Award: $15,000 for transportation to Montreal in November to audition with more than 12 opera house directors from 10 countries, with a chance to win cash prizes and contracts. Winner: Ethel Trujillo, soprano.


Opera in the 21st Century Award: Full scholarship to attend the Banff Center for Arts and Creativity in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, Canada. Includes registration, accommodation, per diem and travel expenses. Winner: Alejandro Luevanos, tenor.


The Highlands Opera Studio Award: Full scholarship to attend the Highlands Opera Studio in Ontario, Canada. Includes registration, accommodation and travel expenses. The recipient will sing the role of Donna Elvira in a production of Mozart's Don Giovanni. Winner: Angélica Mata, mezzo-soprano.


Liceu Conservatory Award: full scholarship to attend the Liceo Conservatory of Barcelona, Spain, in the Master of Opera diploma program in 2021. Includes transportation and per diem. The recipient will sing the role of Susanna in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. Winner: Ethel Trujillo, soprano.


The Steans Music Institute Award: Three-week fellowship at the Ravinia Center, the summer residence of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Includes travel expenses, classes with opera coaches, participation in recitals and master classes during the oldest opera festival in North America. Winner: Ana Luisa Morelos, soprano.


Other cash prizes: Joy Levine Award for Outstanding Achievement: $20,000 pesos. Winner: María Herrada, soprano.


Edgar Mason Kneedler Award for Outstanding Performance and Style: $15,000 pesos. Winner: Ana Luisa Morelos, soprano.


Terese Anne McCarthy Memorial Award for Youth Potential: $15,000 pesos. Winner: Jennifer Mariel, soprano.


Stimulus scholarships of $10,000 pesos each. Winners: Alejandro Luévanos, tenor; Maria Herrada, soprano; Angelica Mata, mezzo-soprano; Luisa Mordel, soprano; and Alejandro del Ángel, tenor.


Rosewood San Miguel de Allende Audience Award: $10,000. Winner: Jennifer Mariel, soprano.


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