Monday, April 27, 2009

ArtsBuzz: Canadian soprano takes top spot for judges, audience at PB Opera contest

Soprano Yannick-Muriel Noah.

By Greg Stepanich

WEST PALM BEACH -- A Canadian soprano who gave a powerful rendition of an aria from Verdi's La Forza del Destino walked away Sunday afternoon with the top prize of the Palm Beach Opera Vocal Competition as well as the hearts of the Kravis Center audience, who declared her their favorite in a text-message poll at the end of the contest.

Yannick Muriel-Noah, 30, was the last contestant of the 14 who sang with the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra during Sunday's competition, and was the second soprano of the day to sing Pace, pace mio Dio, Leonora's aria from Act IV of La Forza del Destino. The Madagascar-born soprano possesses a big, commanding voice with a rich, dark texture reminiscent of singers such as Leontyne Price and Jessye Norman.

Although her final B-flat wasn't precisely on the money, Noah did a fine job with the aria, particularly in dramatic presentation. She made the most of Leonora's anguish as she begs God for peace through death, and overall makes a persuasive Verdian soprano. As the winner of the Hallock, Bryan, Cooper Memorial Award, Noah received a prize of $8,500.

Noah was the first-prize winner of the advanced division in the contest, while the top spot in the junior division went to another Canadian, baritone Elliot Madore of Toronto, who sang one of the most well-known of all operatic arias, the Largo al factotum from Gioachino Rossini's The Barber of Seville.

Madore was a charming Figaro, getting real laughs out of the audience as he sang with a pleasant, clear, lightly colored voice. His reading of the Figaro, Figaro section shifted octaves from top to bottom, and then to comic falsetto, before dissolving in a flurry of repeated notes. He almost overdid it, falling a little behind on his entrance after that, but it was an entertaining performance and suggested, like Noah's, that the opera stage was a comfortable place for him to be.

As winner of the Arthur W. Silvester Memorial Prize, Madore received a cash award of $5,500.

The singers in the 40th annual competition sang with the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra, which was directed Sunday by the veteran New York opera conductor Eve Queler. She demonstrated that she knows a thing or two about how to be flexible when accompanying singers, and the orchestra played quite well for her.

The only exception came during the two orchestra selections that were played as the three judges -- soprano Diana Soviero, opera company director Michael Harrison and Manhattan School of Music faculty member Thomas Mucaro -- deliberated. While the familiar Meditation from Massenet's Thais was sensitive and poetic, the Der Freischutz overture of Weber was oddly flaccid and contained little of the excitement or Romantic color for which this music is celebrated.

The singing performances Sunday were generally rather good overall, though some were more notable, including that of countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, a 26-year-old singer from Durham, N.C. Costanzo, who picked up the $7,500 second-prize award in the advanced division, did so with a moving rendition of Stille amare, an aria from Handel's Tolomeo.

Costanzo has the same purity of tone that today's leading countertenors (David Daniels, Andreas Scholl) exemplify, and he also offered very tastefully sung embellishments in the reprise of the melody. A similarly high level of musicianship was evident in the work of the third-prize winner in the division ($6,500), soprano Jessica Julin, 28, of Danville, Calif.

Julin's singing of La luce langue, from Act II of Verdi's Macbeth, was very effective, not least for the strong sound Julin is able to bring out in her lower registers. And here, too, were indications that Julin's voice is a good fit for dramatic Verdi roles.

The second-prize winner in the junior division, 22-year-old Simone Osborne of Vancouver, Canada, gave a somewhat speedy (at least in the first verse) reading of Song to the Moon, from Dvorak's Rusalka, but she slowed down somewhat further on and let her voice bloom, to impressive effect. Her voice does not yet have the velvet power of this aria's most well-known current exponent, Renee Fleming, but Osborne sounds as though she would do well as a Puccini heroine.

Also enjoyable were the super-clear bel canto lines of Japanese soprano Rie Miyake, 28, who covered well for a too-early entrance and gave a sparkling reading of O luce di quest'anima, from Donizetti's neglected Linda di Chamounix. Junior division bel canto entrant Andrea Shockery, 23, of Columbus, Ohio, opened the concert Sunday with Ah non credea ... Ah, non giunge, from Bellini's La Sonnambula. She took fifth prize of six in the junior division, perhaps because her rendition of the cabaletta portion was none too forceful, but she demonstrated a decent command of the kind of high-flying vocal work needed to pull off this music convincingly.

The only real disappointment came from the sixth-place junior division prizewinner, 23-year-old soprano Mary-Jane Lee of Sandy, Utah. Lee's aria, Ah, fuggi il traditor, from Mozart's Don Giovanni, was far too short for the audience to get a good sense of her singing, which is unfortunate, because from her brief time on stage it sounded like a mature-sounding voice that could be good in this literature.

Here are the 14 singers, their arias, and their prizes.

Advanced division

1. Yannick-Muriel Noah, 30, Toronto, soprano. Verdi: Pace, pace mio Dio (La Forza del Destino). Hallock, Bryan, Cooper Memorial Award, $8,500.
2. Anthony Roth Costanzo, 26, Durham, N.C., countertenor. Handel: Stille amare (Tolomeo). Robert and Mary Montgomery Award, $7,500.
3. Jessica Julin, 28, Danville, Calif., soprano. Verdi: La luce langue (Macbeth). The Solomon Organization Award, $6,500.
4. Rie Miyake, 28, Tokyo, soprano. Donizetti: O luce di quest'anima (Linda di Chamounix). Isenberg Family Charitable Trust, $6,000.
5. Scott Quinn, 28, Marshall, Texas, tenor. Gounod: Ah! Leve-toi, soleil (Romeo et Juliette). M. Mac Schwebel Award, $5,000.
6. Joelle Harvey, 24, Bolivar, N.Y., soprano. Verdi: Sul fil d'un soffio etesio (Falstaff). David and Ingrid Kosowsky Award, $4,500.
7. Joshua Kohl, 29, Reading, Pa., tenor. Offenbach: Va, pour Kleinzach (Les Contes d'Hoffmann). Dorothy Lappin Award, $4,000.
8. Sung Eun Lee, 30, Seoul, tenor. Gounod: Ah! Leve-toi, soleil (Romeo et Juliette). Gladys and Edward Benenson Award, $3,000.

Junior division

1. Elliot Madore, 22, Toronto, baritone. Rossini: Largo al factotum (Il Barbiere di Siviglia). Arthur W. Silvester Memorial Award, $5,500.
2. Simone Osborne, 22, Vancouver, soprano. Dvorak: Song to the Moon [Mesiku na nebi hlubokem] (Rusalka). Alan Craig Rafel and Sam Bialek Memorial Award, $5,000.
3. Betsy Diaz, 20, Miami, soprano. Verdi: Pace, pace mio Dio (La Forza del Destino). Maestro Anton Guadagno Award, $4,500.
4. Michael Sumuel, 23, Odessa, Texas, baritone. Wagner: O du mein holder Abendstern (Tannhauser). Samuel C. Endicott Fund Award, $4,000.
5. Andrea Shockery, 23, Columbus, Ohio, soprano. Bellini: Ah, non credea ... Ah, non giunge (La Sonnambula). Muriel and Arnold Shapiro Award, $3,500.
6. Mary-Jane Lee, 23, Sandy, Utah, soprano. Mozart: Ah, fuggi il traditor (Don Giovanni). David M. Hauben Memorial Award, $3,000.

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