Canadian soprano nabs top prize in Palm Beach Opera Vocal Competition

By Sharon McDaniel

 [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: 

Advanced Division:

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 

Junior Division:

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


Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Canadian soprano nabs top prize in Palm Beach Opera Vocal Competition”

  1. Posted Apr 27, 2009 at 7:44 pm by William

    Biaggi made a comment that PB Opera is going to look more and more to these young singers for casting at PB Opera in the future. Although many were good, my thought was, “Oh no!” In my opinion, Florida Grand Opera and Palm Beach Opera need to forget about staging opera, if they can’t afford stars or at least second tier stars (B list singers that might or could sing at the Met). Why not just have opera in concert and save money on the sets, costumes, backstage people, and give us at least one semi-known name in each opera? As much as I like seeing young artists in competition contests, when it comes to actual opera and paying big bucks for seats I think star power makes things more exciting. If PB Opera uses more and more of these young artists in starring roles, I think I will stop going to the actual operas and just go to this one competition.

  2. Posted Jun 05, 2009 at 2:05 pm by Palm Beach

    That’s awesome that Canadians are excelling vocally. If Yannick-Muriel Noah comes back to Palm beach, I’ll be certain to go see him.

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Mon Apr 27, 2009
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