In the presence of its indefatigable nonagenarian artistic director, the 2019 Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition drew an interesting contingent of young singers to the National Concert Hall at the end of January.
For the first time in the triennial competition’s history, auditions were held abroad with jury chairman Jane Carty and artistic administrator Dearbhla Collins travelling to the US and various European capitals interviewing potential candidates.
From 160 hopefuls, 38 young artists – representing China, Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Korea, New Zealand, the UK and US – were chosen to compete.
The cosmopolitan jury included veteran conductor Richard Bonynge, soprano Orla Boylan, winner of the first competition in 1995, Peter Carwell of the Richard Tucker Music Foundation, which promotes young US opera singers, John Gilhooly, Irish-born director of London’s Wigmore Hall, Olga Kapanina casting director of Moscow’s Bolshoy Theatre, Andreas Massow from Munich’s Bavarian State Opera and Evamaria Wieser, artistic administrator of the Salzburg Festival and a casting consultant with Chicago’s Lyric Opera.
Following preliminary rounds, the jury whittled the starting 38 down to 16 for the semi-finals and then to six for the operatic-arias-finale with the RTÉ NSO, directed by Laurent Wagner. Making a welcome return, Laurent Wagner had been the RTÉCO’s principal conductor from 2003 to 2006.
In the event, first prize of €10,000 went to British bass William Thomas (24) following his Stravinsky, Gounod and Rossini – ‘La Calunnia’ from The Barber of Seville. I found his interpretations showing plenty of character while in his semi-final I enjoyed Mussorgsky’s ‘Song of the Flea’ and, producing excellent diction and recalling Peter Dawson’s wonderful old recording, Katie Ross’s ‘The Floral Dance’.
Polish soprano Joanna Kędzior (24), whose bel canto phrasing in Bellini and Donizetti had a special allure, took the €5,000 second prize. If I had reservations about her over-serious approach to Musetta’s ‘Waltz Song’ from Puccini’s La Bohème, Ms Kędzior was also the recipient of the €500 Joan Sutherland Prize for the most promising young singer.
Expressive in arias from Tchaikovsky’s Yevgeny Onegin and Wagner’s Tannhäuser, where he created a telling atmosphere, UK baritone Theodore Platt (24) took the €4,000 third prize.
Besides his €3,000 fourth prize, in memory of the late Margaret Quigley’s generous support of the competition, US baritone Emmett O’Hanlon (28), who must surely have Irish connections, also captured the €1,000 Audience Prize – no doubt for his panache in Figaro’s ‘Largo al factotum’.
Ukrainian baritone Yuriy Hadzetskyy (26) left with both the €2,000 fifth prize and €500 Oratorio Prize – this latter presented by Alison Young in memory of her husband William. While I might have ranked him higher on the winners’ roster, Canadian countertenor Cameron Shahbazi (26) accepted the €1,000 sixth prize. Coloratura arias by Mozart and Handel emphasised his vocal prowess and flexibility. Maybe his vibrant green jacket disconcerted the jury!
Donated by Jane Carty in honour of her late husband, the Wil Keune Prize was awarded to UK soprano semi-finalist Claire Lees (31). ‘Et incarnatus est’ from the C minor Mass ensured her €1,000 for the best performance of a Mozart aria.