Maryland soprano takes top prize at Palm Beach Opera Vocal Competition

By Lawrence Budmen

Soprano Corinne Winters from Frederick, Maryland, took the First Place prize in the Advanced Divison of the Palm Beach Opera Vocal Competition on Sunday

Soprano Corinne Winters from Frederick, Maryland, took the First Place prize in the Advanced Divison of the Palm Beach Opera Vocal Competition on Sunday

Over the past four decades the Palm Beach Opera Vocal Competition has compiled a distinguished record of identifying and promoting outstanding vocal talent. Such operatic stalwarts as Vivica Genaux, Nicole Cabell, Eglise Gutierrez, Leah Partridge, Eric Owens, Sandra Lopez and Angela Brown have been past winners.

The 41st annual edition of the competition finals on Sunday afternoon at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach showcased an exciting roster of gifted young singers in both the junior (ages 18-23) and advanced (ages 24-30) divisions.

The top prize of $8,500 in the advanced division went to soprano Corinne Winters, also winner of the audience favorite award. Winters exhibited flawless coloratura, passionate intensity and rich vocal coloration in Violetta ‘s arias from the first act of Verdi’s La Traviata. The $5,500 first prize of the junior division went to Michael Young, an authentic Verdi baritone who brought dark, molten tones and a real sense of drama to Ford’s E sogno from Falstaff.

Irene Roberts unleashed a plush, big-boned mezzo wedded to impeccable Gallic style and awesome vocal dexterity in an aria from Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots, taking the $7,500 advanced division second prize. The third prize of $6,000 went to soprano Zulimar Lopez-Hernandez who exhibited a lustrous timbre, despite some unsteadiness at the climax of Manon’s Adieu notre petite table.

In the junior division, the velvety light tenor hues, superb control and resounding high tones of Martin Bakari garnered the $5,000 second prize with Spirito gentil from Donizetti’s La Favorita. Matthew Anchel, a firm bass with solid low tones and stylish Baroque coloratura in an aria from Handel’s Orlando, took the $4,500 third prize.

In any competition there will be some questionable rankings by the judges. Canadian soprano Betty Allison gave one of the finest performances of the afternoon, offering a serene version of the Song to the Moon from Dvorak’s Rusalka, marked by the purity of her high register and plangent lyricism. Yet she only was awarded fifth place among the advanced contestants.

Even more inexplicable was the fourth place ranking of soprano Rebecca Nathanson in the junior division. Her faulty intonation and screamed high notes disfigured the Czardas from Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus.

Another standout in the advanced division was Edward Mout (fourth prize), a budding bel canto tenor who dispatched the six high C’s in the aria from Donizetti’s Daughter of the Regiment with exciting bravura and dead center accuracy. R. Kenneth Stavert (sixth prize) a fine light baritone, offered an overemphatic Largo al factotum from Rossini’s Barber of Seville. In seventh place, soprano Rena Harms’ luminous sound was undercut by a weak low register in Nedda’s aria from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.

Among the junior contestants, Joseph Lattanzi (fifth prize), a personable baritone, was not well served by Count Almaviva’s aria from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Sixth prize winner Sasha Hashemipour’s brassy mezzo tended toward shrillness at the top, missing the subtle introspection of Charlotte’s solo from Massenet’s Werther.

J. David Jackson, a staff conductor at the Met, led the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra in beautifully tailored accompaniments, aiding the singers at every turn. While the audience text messaged their votes for the audience favorite award, Jackson conducted incisive, admirably musical performances of the overtures to Weber’s Oberon and Rossini’s William Tell that avoided overt bombast.

The contest was judged by Lenore Rosenberg (associate artistic administrator of the Metropolitan Opera), Susan Meyer (producer of Bard College’s SummerScape festival), Richard Gaddes (former director of Santa Fe Opera and Opera Theater of St. Louis) and Palm Beach Opera artistic director Bruno Aprea.

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Mon Apr 26, 2010
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