Seattle Opera's first Wagner Competition a resounding success

I was privileged to be among the enthusiastic audience at McCaw Hall on Saturday evening, Aug. 19, attending the inaugural International Wagner Competition. Eight finalists, consisting of three tenors, three sopranos, a baritone and a bass, competed for two awards of $15,000.

We met with critics and photographers from around the United States and Europe in the press room, visited with agents and friends from London, sympathized with their travel problems and delays at the airport, assuring them the program would be worth the trip. Eventually we found our seats and joined the international audience - longtime companions of the "Ring" and other Wagner enthusiasts.

The curtain was up on the Act II set of "Der Rosenkavalier" (currently at the Opera House through Saturday, Aug. 26). Speight Jenkins appeared to announce the indisposition of soprano Carolyn Betty, to be replaced by alternate tenor Philip O'Brien. This made the competition four tenors, two sopranos, one baritone and one bass. There was rousing applause for conductor Asher Fisch and the members of the Seattle Symphony, who opened the program with the "Lohengrin" Act III Prelude.

1) First contestant Jason Collins stepped onto the elegant set formally attired in white-tie and tails. As his rich tenor voice in the aria from "Die Walküre" filled the hall, perfectly accompanied by the orchestra, we knew we were in for an exceptional musical experience.

2) Collins was followed by Irish tenor Paul McNamara with a rendition from "Tannhäuser."

3) Next was Irish soprano Miriam Murphy with the beautifully sung and deeply moving aria "Ewig war ich" from "Siegfried."

4) German bass Carsten Witt-moser presented "Tatest du's wirk-lich" from "Tristan und Isolde."

5) New York soprano Dorothy Grandia sang "Dich, teure Halle" from "Tannhäuser."

6) English baritone James Rutherford's rendition from "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg" won loud applause.

7) Our alternative contender, Philip O'Brien, then stepped up to perform a rousing passage from "Lohengrin."

8) He was followed by tenor Andrew Lindsay Sritheran from Welling-ton, New Zealand, who presented a tenor aria from "Die Walküre."

This brought us to the intermission, with champagne served and more visiting.

The finalists had been auditioned in New York, London, Berlin, and Vienna. The London auditions yielded four of the eight final contestants. After the intermission, the wonderful orchestra heralded the second half of the program with the entry of the guests from "Tannhäuser." Each contestant presented a second Wagner aria, bringing rousing applause from the audience. Of special note was Miri-am Murphy's portrayal of Isolde's "Narrative and Curse" from "Tris-tan und Isolde," beautifully sung and acted. Dorothy Grandia's presentation of "Senta's Ballad" from "The Flying Dutchman" raised more bravos. James Rutherford's commanding presence standing astride on the stage delivering his aria from "The Flying Dutchman" brought bravos and cheers from the audience.

Audience members were then given a pause to vote for the contestant of their choice, a very difficult decision since the standard was so high. Speight Jenkins brought on the panel of judges, adding a special award from the orchestra for the singer of their choice, whom they could hear but could not see. There was great excitement and anticipation as we returned to our seats for the final verdict. The two joint winners were: Miriam Murphy and James Rutherford. The people's choice of the discerning audience was Rutherford - also the orchestra's choice.

Eight wonderful and talented young singers had presented a quality program of the highest standard, worthy of any great recital hall. The orchestra, under director Asher Fisch, covered practically the whole Wagner canon of operas, playing with such depth and precision and careful assistance to the singers that it was a joy to listen to.

Miriam Murphy was born in Tra-lee, Ireland, and studied music at the DIT Conservatory of Music and Dra-ma in Dublin, at the Royal Academy of Music and at the National Opera Studio in London. Already honored with many awards, she has begun her singing career in London opera houses.

James Rutherford was born in Dulwich, England, and graduated from the Royal College of music and the National Opera Studio of London. He has also received acclaim for his tal-ent in Britain and has played Wagner roles in two of the composer's operas.

We can be proud of our Seattle opera and its dedication to excellence. Special thanks to the Charles Simonyi Fund, which graciously underwrote the competition, and a special thanks to Speight Jen-kins, general director of the Seattle Opera, and all those who worked to create the competition and ensure a future generation of Wagner singers. We have a promise from Speight that there will be another competition in two years.

The International Wagner Competition is in keeping with the Seattle Opera's established ties to Wagner, and is committed to identify and recognize opera singers who demonstrate clear promise toward an important career in the Wagner repertoire. TTFN[[In-content Ad]]