Canadian soprano nabs top prize in Palm Beach Opera Vocal Competition
[L to R: Palm Beach Opera General Director Daniel Biaggi, Advanced Division 1st place winner Yannick-Muriel Noah, Conductor Eve Queler, and Junior Division 1st Place winner Elliot Madore]
Suddenly, the much-maligned cell phone was welcome during the opera — Palm Beach Opera, that is. On Sunday afternoon, cell phone text messages were the only way that opera-goers could vote for the singer of their choice to win the company’s first-ever contest, the Audience Favorite Award.
The award didn’t carry a cash prize, but it arrived as the newest installment of the Palm Beach Opera Vocal Competition, now celebrating its 40th anniversary, which took place at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.
And as it turns out, the audience winner was the judges’ winner, too. Toronto soprano Yannick-Muriel Noah won top prize in the Advanced Division (singers ages 24-30) as well as the Audience Favorite. Performing last on Sunday’s program – notably a spot to watch in previous events — the 30-year-old singer captured the largest cash award of the competition: $8,500.
Noah performed the famous Verdi aria Pace, pace, mio Dio (from La Forza del destino). Her emotionally intense singing, large pearly voice and dramatic story-telling skill immediately drew bravos and an ovation from many in the packed venue.
Noah was one of the 14 winners who had risen through the semifinal ranks on Thursday and Friday to win a spot on Sunday’s Grand Finals Concert with the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra. After performing on the Kravis stage in front of 2,000 spectators and three judges — soprano Diane Soviero, Michael Harrison and Thomas Muraco — the contestants earned their final ranking and cash prizes.
The singers were splendidly assisted by New York-based guest conductor Eve Queler who must surely earn a vote as the most acclaimed and accommodating helpmate that a young singer could ask for. She should also be voted Most Likely to Return as a Vocal Competition regular.
Queler stuck to the singers like glue. She knew their every pause, difficulty. and cadence. The orchestra created a soft glow of sound to cushion 4th-place Junior Division winner Michael Sumuel, a 23-year-old baritone from Odessa, Texas, for an O du mein holder Abendstern (from Wagner’s Tannhaüser) of great beauty and delicacy.
But Queler’s direction was a tad too loud for the top Junior Division winner, Eliot Madore, aka Figaro. The 22-year-old Toronto singer was a vigorous if uninspired actor in the famous Largo al factotum (Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia). But vocally, Madore was a technical wizard. He came in too early toward the end of Rossini’s best-known aria, but quickly snapped back to the beat with a helpful glance from Queler. He takes home $5,500 for first place among Juniors (ages 18-23).
Miami’s popular Betsy Diaz, who sang the same Verdi aria as Audience Favorite Noah, has a large, gloriously lustrous voice. But the 20-year-old dramatic soprano contended with intonation problems almost from the start. Poor articulation smudged the aria’s chromatic lines and her acting was nearly non-existent. Still, she won Third Place among the Juniors for a $4,500 prize.
Radical for Palm Beach Opera, but totally deserved, was the Second Place Advanced Division win for Anthony Ross Costanzo, a countertenor. The 26-year-old from Durham, Noth Caroline, was in fact the most polished of the 14 performers, delivering not just a dramatic aria, but a heart-wrenching, stage-ready scene with Stille Amare (Handel’s Tolomeo, ré d’Egitto) in a rich, robust voice.
Amid the cell-phone voting beeps, the Opera Orchestra carved two beautiful interludes with the Meditation from Massenet’s Thaïs—with a heavenly solo by Concertmaster Eliot Chapo—and Weber’s Overture to Der Freischütz with Queler building up a real head of steam. In, both orchestral excerpts she gave in to the lyricism, but never to the excess of sentimentality.
Winners of the 40th Annual Palm Beach Opera Vocal Competition are:
First Prize and Audience Favorite Award: Yannick-Muriel Noah, soprano
Second Prize: Anthony Roth Costanzo, countertenor
Third Prize: Jessica Julin, soprano
Fourth Prize: Rie Miyake, soprano
Fifth Prize: Scott Quinn, tenor
Sixth Prize: Joelle Harvey, soprano
Seventh Prize: Joshua Kohl, tenor
Eighth Prize: Sung Eun Lee, tenor
First Prize: Elliot Madore, baritone
Second Prize: Simone Osborne, soprano
Third Prize: Betsy Diaz, soprano
Fourth Prize: Michael Sumuel, baritone
Fifth Prize: Andrea Shockery, soprano
Sixth Prize: Mary-Jane Lee, soprano
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Mon Apr 27, 2009
at 12:01 pm