I am now back from a most enjoyable week in Izmir. My fellow jurors from outside Turkey were Karen Stone, now Intendant of the Magdeburg Theater, previously in Dallas and Graz, and before that Opera Director in Cologne; and Eija Tolpo, a Finnish stage director who though based in Helsinki these days travels all over giving masterclasses for opera singers. She is closely involved with her birthplace Savonlinna, and seems to specialise in working in more exotic places - Turkey often, and her next trip is a return to Egypt.
We had a lot of fun together. The first three days, as reported before, were long 12 hour days, but we were able to take it a little easier this week though the tourism was exhausting!
The Turkish hospitality was exceptional. Nothing was too much trouble and they did everything one could possibly hope for to make the week in Turkey a pleasure. This was of course primarily down to Aytül Büyüksaraç, founder director and guiding spirit and energiser of the project. She has the knack of gathering around her generous sponsors and hard working volunteers - the competition is now in its ninth year and must be a constant struggle in the changing modern Turkey. But she is indomitable…….
Swissôtel is a sponsor so we we're most comfortably housed. The Rotary Club appeared to do all the other leg work with smiles all round and generously hosted dinners late into the night!
But back to the competition -
Last night we had the finals of the “Professional” section - this is for singers already on their way though there remains an age limit - I think of 33 but we had none over 27. The winners were:
1. Ezgi Karakaya (Mezzo Soprano)
2. Tolga Siner (Counter Tenor)
3. Burak Kul (Baritone)
These are three young Turkish singers of considerable talent, already on their way. The winner, Ezgi Karakaya, is a real quality mezzo and is already pretty busy in Ankara and Izmir. There is little doubt that she will go further and we will all be delighted if this win helps her along that way. Last night she was impressive as Charlotte and also went the extra mile to take on Azucena's Stride la vampa.
I am now back in London for a bit. I have trips to Lisbon, Paris, Chicago and Omaha coming up - watch this space!
Now in Istanbul in the international melting pot. Limited wifi so I am waiting until I get home this evening for the full story!
The library of Celsus, Ephesus
We had a great day in Ephesus in preparation for the final event this evening. Once again it was a perfect day, warm but not hot, and scarcely any crowds at all. So we had the place to ourselves, something those of you that have been here during the long holiday season will appreciate as something of a miracle.
I will be posting more pictures in due course but for now you have above a taste of a miraculous place.
We had the finals of the University section of the competition this evening - six finalists singing for the three major prizes. And at 9:15 the winners were announced.
Above you see left to right: Faik Mansuroglu (Baritone) - second prize, Selin Uzun (Soprano) - third prize, and the winner Ugur Yilmaz (Bass) - three very happy young people!
It was a very close run thing between the first three and any one of them could have come first and would have been no less worthy. All will do well, with the youngest of them, the 22 year old soprano, looking to be a particularly enticing prospect if she continues to develop well. Here is a real lyric voice in the making capable of singing the bel canto repertoire. She gave us lovely Donizetti and Bellini this evening. The baritone delivered Rossini's Figaro in grand style with great charm and for his second piece Mozart's count. And the winner was a force of nature in a Turkish song - Bozlak - and with a lighter touch an aria from Cimarosa's Matrimonio segreto. There you have a contrast!
Tomorrow we are off for a trip to Ephesus for the day - followed by the finals of the professional division tomorrow evening. For them we have the orchestra - and two arias from each of the five finalists. It should be quite a shoot out!
We had an exhausting day off today with a terrific day in Pergamon, glorious sunshine, 77 degrees F (25 C), just perfect conditions and hardly another tourist to be seen. I can only imagine what it is like there in the summer with 5,000 others in 95 degree (35 C) heat......
Pergamon's amphitheatre, the steepest in the ancient world
The competition organisers have been hugely generous in organising this side trip - complete with driver and top notch guide. After a good 90 minutes climbing all over the Pergamon site we returned down to Bergama, a delightful town of ancient origin, and an excellent lunch. Fortified by that we made our way to the Asclepeion for another hour of magical discovery.
The Asclepeion and its amphitheatre
We have earned a good dinner so we are gathering again at 7:45.
We spent the afternoon and evening in the completely charming small Izmir Opera House, around 440 seats maximum I would judge, and it has perfect sound for our auditions.
I can imagine that when we get to be with orchestra on Thursday it will be no less satisfying.
We sorted out the finalists for both sections of the competition. We have six for the undergraduate group and 5 for the young professionals. They have been through a gruelling process with three rounds here so far to reduce the candidates from 36 to 6 and the 24 professionals to 5. And it is as always painful to miss the cut......
I am really delighted at the level - particularly that of the young singers in their third and fourth years of undergraduate work. I really believe that we will have some exciting winners. I am already thinking that the strongest of them could do well in Neue Stimmen in 2017.
It is now late so I am not going into further detail tonight. Tomorrow we jury members are off on a trip to Pergamon. We leave the hotel at 8:15 am so enough for now!
Izmir is a delightful place on the western coast of Turkey and basks in the beauty of the Aegean Sea. But up to now we have had little chance to appreciate it, having spent three 12 hour days in auditions. After 200, and still counting, arias we have whittled the singers down to around twenty semifinalists in the two sections - undergraduate and professional. This afternoon and evening we will make the selections for the finals on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. But at last, this morning, there has been a chance to get out for a walk in the sun along the harbour front.
Enjoying the morning sun 10:00 am Monday 15 February 2016
There is clearly an enterprising attitude amongst young Turkish singers. It is very rare indeed these days to have completely unfamiliar arias offered at auditions. But in more than fifty years of listening to singers, here for the first time were rarities such as Felice Blangini's Il est parti, and arias from Adelaide di Borgogna (Rossini), Bianca e Fernando (Bellini) and Il giuramento (Mercadante) appeared on the menu over the weekend! There is always something new!
We have also had a good deal of Schumann, Schubert and Hugo Wolf - as well as some Turkish songs. But there have also been the old favourites from Puccini, Verdi, and the unavoidable Olympia from Tales of Hoffmann......! But on the whole there has been a most refreshing mix of repertoire which is very much to the credit of the faculties of the conservatories here in Turkey.
I will report in late this evening after the semi-finals.
Izmir harbour front 10:15 Monday February 15
Magnificent Packard parked outside the Swissôtel, Izmir, Turkey
We have been non stop here in Izmir since Friday morning. Yesterday (Friday) we heard 36 singers (all in undergraduate programmes in Turkish universities) and "eliminated" 14 of them.....sounds cruel and yes it was as some were more than deserving to proceed to the next stage. And the next stage is tomorrow (Sunday) when a further dozen or so will take their leave. And on Monday more bite the dust........oh dear!
Today there were 24 in the professional category and we sent a dozen of them away as well. They are tested again tomorrow but it still means that we have a full day of 30 plus singers (so 60 songs or arias) - and I guess that half or more of these will depart leaving manageable numbers for the semi-finals on Monday afternoon.
The thing is this - there is little time for anything other than scrambling from stage to stage. But the organising committee have been wonderful in keeping us well entertained in great company in this beautiful country.
We are looking forward to a little time free on Tuesday and Thursday to visit Ephesus and Pergamon, as well as time off Monday and Wednesday mornings.........maybe in my case to write some more informative stuff about the process! But for now it is 11:15 pm and time for sleep.
Over the river to the Royal Festival Hall 7:00 pm February 11 2016
I was at an odd concert yesterday evening at the Festival Hall - Dvorak and Sibelius though nothing odd about that……no, it was the two works - Dvorak’s Piano concerto (never heard it before after all these years!) and the Sibelius incidental music to The Tempest, in homage to the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death - something which itself is being done to death around the world this year.
Stephen Hough has long been a passionate advocate for Dvorak’s underwhelming concerto, as apparently had also been Sviatoslav Richter. Well I don’t really get it, finely executed though it was by Mr Hough with the splendid London Philharmonic under Osmo Vänskä, a magnificent conductor of the Sibelius symphonies amongst much else.
He devotion to Sibelius made the choice of The Tempest music rather odd - not surely music the the great Finn will be remembered for.........the episodes were helpfully linked together by Simon Callow. But somehow it did not quite add up for me. But nevertheless there are those more qualified than me that consider it a masterpiece, so there you are!
The LPO remains the outstanding orchestra on the South Bank - under Vladimir Jurowski it has gone from strength to strength. And its longstanding relationship with Glyndebourne, over 50 years now, has ensured that it remains financially stable. A jewel in London's musical crown........
I am now in Izmir for the next seven days - so there will be lots to report!
Garnier from the "Gods" 7:15 pm February 6 2016
I was once again high up in the opera on Saturday evening, this time in Paris for Robert Carsen's production of Capriccio, now running until February 14. Here was a bird's eye view again, with the usual advantage of wonderful sound and perfect balance between pit and stage, orchestra and voices. And what a grand old house it is - and so good to see it full and at prices more modest that we have alas been forced to become accustomed to in London.
Richard Strauss's last opera has long been a favourite of mine, partly sentimental of course since it was first produced at Glyndebourne during my second year of employment there, in 1963 with the peerless Elisabeth Söderström as the Countess. But it is very satisfying provided you can follow the argument - and in Paris they kindly do the supertitles in both French and English! And the never ending ability of Strauss to spin out a melody at such length remains unique and, in my case, gut wrenchingly pleasing! So one way or another there is never a dull moment!
And it was good to do it without interval as intended. At Glyndebourne (as elsewhere these days) the hiatus came with the serving of the Countess's chocolate - and so the audience went off for the long dinner interval. But here the catering department was not troubled, and we saw the piece through seamlessly to the end in 150 minutes.
Whilst the cast was hardly a vintage one there were fine performances from Benjamin Bernheim as Flamand and Lars Woldt (Glyndebourne's most recent Baron Ochs) as La Roche. And Emily Magee's Countess did well the dim the memory of Söderström and Felicity Lott who were both magnificent in the role. And by no means least was veteran (he is my age!) Graham Clark as M. Taupe - really excellent. Ryland Davies had taken the role here in Paris last time round - that must have also have been a treat! Of course it was beloved Hugues Cuénod in the old days......
Ingo Metzmacher got the best out of the Paris Opera Orchestra - and that can be very good indeed. As as mentioned above the sound from the amphithéâtre is splendid.
Finally a comparison of the upper reaches of Covent Garden and the Palais Garner? It is a tie - anyone should be happy with either and they provide excellent value for money!
I am back in London tomorrow and off to Izmir in Turkey on Thursday for jury service. I am greatly looking forward to that!
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