Dallas — The Dallas Opera Guild’s Vocal Competition held the final round on Saturday, April 30, at the Winspear Opera House. Six finalists sang two opera arias each, accompanied by the full Dallas Opera Orchestra under the direction of Musical Director Emmanuel Villaume.
The $10,00 First Prize went to French mezzo-soprano Virginie Verrez. She has a real mezzo sound and sang with great precision, although she aspirated all of the coloratura passages. The $5,000 Second Place Prize went to Australian-Chinese tenor Kang Wang. He has what it takes to be a super-star tenor—big honking Italianate high notes. The Third Place Prize of $2,500 was awarded to Korean baritone Sol Jin. He has a clear baritone voice with great projection. He may be artificially darkening his sound, but it is hard to argue with success. The $1,000 “People’s Choice Award,” of course, went to Kang Wang.
All six finalists performed on a very high level, with a polished technique, secure top and evenness in sound from the top of the voice to the bottom. Most of them already have a wall full of awards from other major competitions. It is a tribute to the Dallas Opera to attract such distinguished young singers.
On the downside, diction was universally questionable. Some of the finalists sang the wrong repertoire or sang the right repertoire, but in the wrong order. None of them sang any of the listed arias in English by modern composers. Most sang without enough attention to the marked dynamics. I realize that many operatic performers, mostly the men, sing everything, even phrases marked piano (softly), with a full-throated blast. However, more and more, the top stars are singing soft passages with beautifully placed high notes that float over the orchestra. Many of the performances did not take full advantage of their arias dramatic situation, perhaps out of a fear of overacting in a concert situation.
Those reservations aside, we heard some fine singing and some terrific highly trained voices. Emmanuel Villaume offered excellent support to all six finalists. He was always on top of the text and led the Dallas Opera Orchestra in a concert that leapt from the Baroque to the late romantic eras. In a performance of the opera, the conductor would have some input about how the arias would go, but in this situation, Villaume gave them the liberty of singing the arias the way they wanted.
The future of opera seems to be secure, at least as far as the supply of excellent and highly trained vocal talent goes.
The various awards were presented by presented by Dallas Opera Guild 2016 Co-Presidents Jana and Mac Irwin in memory of Bessylee Penland, the 2015 and 2016 Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition Chair Ketty Fitzgerald, Patsy and Bob Brooks, and the Chairs-Elect for the 2017 Vocal Competition presented by Katherine and Michael Phillips, underwriters of the popular award.