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Concurso San Miguel

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Concurso 2023


Tenor Leonardo Sánchez, 1st prize; Tenor Alberto Robert, 2nd prize;

  Tenor Carlos Velázquez, 3rd prize.

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What makes Concurso San Miguel unique?

An open letter by John Bills, Opera de San Miguel artistic director (2012-2020)


At the party following Concurso San Miguel XI in 2019, I was asked by one of our Angels how our jury goes about making its very difficult decisions. I answered, “knowledge and experience,” referring to the nearly 200 years of accumulated professional opera experience represented by that year’s jury. But afterwards it got me thinking about what it is that sets Concurso San Miguel apart from any other contest I know, and I would like to share my thoughts with you.  


Most singing contests invite their judges to arrive the day before the finals. They hear the singers one time, and then go into a room and make their decisions. As a former singer myself, with more than 5,000 performances at the Metropolitan Opera under my belt, I long ago came to believe that this traditional approach is not always predictive of future success. It seemed to me that to base an investment of thousands of dollars on a moment-in-time impression is not to consider the artist as a whole. And to be clear, that’s what we are doing—we are investing in these young singers’ futures, and I feel a strong fiduciary responsibility to our Angels and donors to invest their money wisely. 


Therefore, in our contest we take a “whole artist” approach to choosing our winners. We begin by inviting judges who have vast experience in professional opera: teaching and coaching professional singers, judging contests, casting roles and leading entire opera companies, managing and representing professional singers. I specifically choose judges who all understand the state of opera today, the needs and requirements of opera companies in their hiring, and who recognize the necessary qualities in a singer to be successful. Each of our judges participates in and closely watches the week’s coachings and rehearsals so that on Concurso night their decisions can be informed by their week-long observations.  


We are investing in potential, and potential is measured in many ways. We look for singers who best display a combination of talent, technique, style, training, intelligence, musicianship, preparedness, interpretive skills, language skills, plus strength of character, and a willingness to accept constructive criticism—all qualities which are vitally important to future success, but many of which are impossible to assess in a single hearing. To be sure, how the singers perform under the pressure of a full-house, with thousands of dollars in prize money at stake, is crucial in our decisions, but other factors are fundamental as well.  


How is this approach working out?, you might ask. Well, I can say, somewhat immodestly, pretty darn well! Actually, verging on the astounding. Many of our winners are now studying in the most prestigious opera training programs in the world, and many others have performed with major opera companies in the US, Canada, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Sicily, Bahrain, Spain, Netherlands and Russia, at a rate unheard of for Mexican singers just ten years ago.


You can become a part of this life-changing work by becoming an Angel of Opera San Miguel.


For more information on how to become an Angel or join our Fan Club… 


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