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Subject: Seattle Opera's 2nd International Wagner Competition
From: Dale Abersold <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:[log in to unmask]
Date:Sun, 17 Aug 2008 09:30:33 -0700

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The finals of Seattle Opera's 2nd International Wagner Competition took place last night in Marion Oliver McCaw Hall.

The evening began with Asher Fisch leading the orchestra in the prelude to "Die Meistersinger".  After that, each of the eight finalists sang an excerpt from Wagner.  After an intermission, each of the singers performed another excerpt.

The singers:

Elza van den Heever (South Africa)
"Dich, teure Halle" - Tannhauser
"Einsam in truben Tagen" - Lohengrin

A lovely young lady, Miss van den Heever seemed to be the most engaged with the music and text of all of the competitors.  Her voice rode over the orchestra easily, and she had ravishing high notes.

Erin Caves (United States)
"Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater" - Walkure
"Wintersturme" - Walkure

A very dramatic looking appearance with his close-cropped hair and van dyke.  He had plenty of volume, but his high notes sounded tonally insecure to me.

Peter Lobert (Germany)
Hagen's Watch - Gotterdammerung
"Mogst du, mein Kind" - Fliegende Hollander

A huge, imposing figure: 196 cm tall and 135 kg, according to his website.  A powerful, very dark bass voice.  He sounded very evil indeed in the Gotterdammerung selection, while he conveyed the humor of Daland's excerpt quite well.

Deborah Humble (Australia)
Waltraute's Narration - Gotterdammerung
"Weiche, Wotan, weiche" - Rheingold

Another lovely lady.  She had the disadvantage of singing the exact same selections as Nadine Weissmann (the only excerpts to be performed more than once the entire evening).  She did a fine job in conveying Waltraute's narrative, but on the high notes, her voice sounded rather sadly plain.

Michael Weinius (Sweden)
"Morgenlich leuchtend im rosigen Schein" - Meistersinger
"Amfortas! Die Wunde" - Parsifal

A handsome man, he looked as if he could be the younger brother of Kenneth Branagh.  Plenty of volume, a nice "jugendlich-Heldentenor" sound, and fearless high notes, although the way he pronounced some of the consanants (especially the "ch" sound) seemed a little fierce-sounding to me.

Nadine Weissmann (Germany)
"Weiche, Wotan, weiche" - Rheingold
Waltraute's Narration - Gotterdammerung

A striking figure with her dark brown curls and burgundy velvet dress.  She was, in my opinion, the vocal star of the evening: she sounded very much the earth mother in her Rheingold selection, and was vivid in her description of Wotan in the Gotterdammerung.  After the latter she received what sounded to me like the biggest ovation of the evening.

Darren Jeffery (United Kingdom)
"Wahn, wahn" - Meistersinger
"Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge" - Rheingold

With his short hair with bangs going up, he looked just a little bit like Tintin.  Of all the singers, I think he suffered the most from poorly-chosen selections.  He sounded swamped by the orchestra at times, and his renditions of both excerpts sounded rather anonymous.  He might have done better with one of Wolfram's songs.

Jason Collins (United States)
"Siegmund heiss ich" - Walkure
"Nur eine Waffe taugt" - Parsifal

Mr. Collins, the only singer of the evening to have performed previously in Seattle (he was last summer's Steuermann as well as a participant in 2006's competition) seemed very much at home on the stage (not to mention quite suntanned), although the excerpts he sang sounded a bit heavy for his bright voice.

After a pause, Speight Jenkins (with a cast on his left leg) came out on stage to introduce the judges.  First, however, he did a surprise tribute to the evening's stage manager, Clare Burovac, who is leaving Seattle Opera after 15 years to become artistic administrator at Portland Opera.

The judges were Hans-Joachim Frey (intendant of Theater Bremen), Ben Heppner, Peter Kazaras, Pamela Rosenberg, Stephen Wadsworth, and Eva Wagner-Pasquier.  Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Fischer participated in the deliberations, but did not get a vote.

There were four awards total.  First, the audience award went to Elza van den Heever, who was shocked and ecstatic at the announcement.

The orchestra also voted on an award--this went to Nadine Weissmann.

Finally, Mr. Jenkins announced the judge's choices, who each receive a $15,000 prize: Elza van den Heever (once again, she was flabbergasted), and Michael Weinius.

Although I was a bit disappointed that Miss Weissmann did not win one of the judge's awards, at least she didn't walk away empty-handed.  Both Miss van den Heever and Mr. Weinius were among my top four favorite performances of the evening (along with Mr. Lobert), so I can't say that I am unhappy with who were chosen as the winners.

I do hope for a chance to hear many of these singers in the future--it was a privilege to hear so many fine voices.


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