My six day trip to Canada this past week was a delightful interlude with time to see so many old friends and colleagues, a good few going back to friendships begun almost fifty years ago. I was on the jury of the competition three years ago but this year was just an invited guest - that was extraordinarily generous of them but completely typical of that most hospitable of nations, Canada. I have huge affection for this country where I spent five happy years in charge of the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto. During that time I visited Montréal many times. And my elder daughter who was studying French at University College, London chose the Université de Montréal for her third year away at a French university. So Montréal has a special place in my heart!
The Aria section, opera and oratorio, had two winners (of the 2nd and 3rd prizes) who had also scored wins in Neue Stimmen. Second prize went to the amazing 23 year old Canadian mezzo Emily D"Angelo who took the same position in Neue Stimmen last October. The third prize went to Konstantin Lee from South Korea who was first prize winner in Neue Stimmen in 2013 when he was just 23 as well! The first prize went to another Korean, Mario Bahg, who competed in Neue Stimmen last year as well but did not make it to the finals! He scored well in our preliminary auditions in London and was on the waiting list........as incidentally was Konstantin Lee in Montréal, only taking up his place a few days before when another singer cancelled. Such are the unpredictable ways of competitions!
It was disappointing to me that there was an imbalance of women to men reaching the final stages with nine out of the 12 semi finalists being men, four from South Korea a country which so often dominates in competitions. But they are good and they win! Mario Bahg was indeed a worthy winner with some glorious singing on Thursday evening - Don Ottavio, Alfredo, and Faust - excelling in each with gorgeous honeyed tone and impeccable style.
The result in the Song section of the competition was almost a replica of the Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation competition in London last year with the top prizes going to Julien van Melaerts, John Brancy and Clara Osowski but in a different order - so alas nothing new there! It was a bit of a shame not to have strong competitors in this section from France, Germany and Austria. However this was the first year of song being included. The prize money is huge and when the news gets out that the winner received Cdn$ 80,000 (£46,000) then there could be a gold rush next time round!