With consummate generosity, the George London Foundation provides sizable grants for young singers who win their competition. Over 250 applicants from the United States and Canada are winnowed down to 90 auditions (all without application or audition fee) from which 24 are selected to sing in the finals. Seven of these gifted young artists walk away with a $10,000 grant; seven more receive a $1000 award; the remaining ten receive $500 as an honorable mention.
Competitions are stressful for the applicants and also for the witnesses. We hear someone who connects with the material and with us; we want so badly for that singer to win a top prize. Should the distinguished judges agree with us, we feel vindicated in our superb taste; if they overlook our favorites we ache for that person whose excellence was only minimally rewarded.
No one could have overlooked baritone Nicholas Pallesen whose "È sogno? O realtà?" from Verdi's Falstaff was as superb vocally as it was dramatically. Mr. Pallesen won an Encouragement Award last year and we were happy to see him "promoted". Likewise, tenor Dominic Armstrong, who won an Encouragement Award in 2008, blew us away with his mad scene from Britten's Peter Grimes. His tenorial vibrato and his acting chops were highly affecting. Baritone Jamez McCorkle, only 24 years old, evinced a fine French and admirable phrasing in "Avant de quitter ces lieux" from Gounod's Faust. Tenor Noah Baetge had a lovely quality in "Walter's Preislied" from Wagner's Die Meistersinger, and is well-remembered from his appearance last year when he was an Encouragement Winner.
In the category of the $1000 awards, a curious event occurred. Two singers won for the same song! Soprano Shirin Eskandani and mezzo Rihab Chiaeb, both Canadians, sang "Parto, parto ma tu ben mio" from Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, giving the audience a golden opportunity to hear the same aria sung by a different voice type. Marina Costa-Jackson won with her "Stridono Lassù" from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci; there was some thrilling resonance and brilliant tone that made us want to fly with her.
We were thrilled for all the winners but a bit disappointed that some fine performances received only Honorable Mention. We particularly enjoyed soprano Deanna Breiwick's charming "En proie a la tristesse" from Rossini's frivolous Le Comte Ory and soprano Miriam Khalil's "Si mi chiamano Mimi" from Puccini's La Bohème. And bass Ben Wager's delivery of "Aleko's Cavatina" from Rachmaninoff's Aleko made us yearn to hear the entire opera.
In sum, it was a thrilling afternoon and we hope to hear more from these gifted young artists. Major props to The George London Foundation for helping advance their careers, a goal we share and support. And much gratitude to Linda Hall for her fine consistent accompaniment.
(c) meche kroop