The Sydney Eisteddfod Opera Scholarship Final
Finalists- Shikara Ringdahl-Soprano, Christopher Curcuruto – Bass, Chelsea Dolman-Soprano, Joshua Oxley-Tenor, Morgan England-Jones-Soprano, Olivia Cranwell-Soprano, Jarvis Dams-Baritone and Celeste Haworth- Mezzo soprano and featuring the North Sydney Symphony Orchestra conducted by Stephen Hillinger
15 July, 2018
The Concourse Concert Hall, Chatswood
Review by Victoria Watson
The list of previous winners of the The Sydney Eisteddfod Opera Scholarship glistens with many wonderful singers who have graced the opera stages of the world since the Sydney Sun Aria began 85 years ago: 1949-Joan Sutherland, 1950-June Bronhill, 1973-Jonathon Summers, 1989-Daniel Sumegi, 1993-Stuart Skelton, 1994-Amelia Farrugia.
It was fitting then that Amelia Farrugia joined John Bolton-Wood AM and Dr Nicholas Milton AM, to adjudicate this year’s Opera Scholarship. (Sydney Eisteddfod are in search of a principal sponsor who shall inherit naming rights). Master of Ceremonies, international bass Damian Whitely brought both humour and gravitas to the proceedings that were delightfully refreshing.
New Zealand was well represented with two finalists among the eight chosen from a strong semi-final of sixteen. A surprise omission perhaps was New Zealand soprano Isabella Moore who has featured in many major competitions of the last few years. But that’s the frustrating nature of the game – never a certainty, but worth the risk. It’s a gamble that many fine young singers are willing to take in the hope of boosting their funds and the kudos to travel overseas, study and launch their careers. The finalists are already performing professionally or are on the cusp of a professional career, here in the Antipodes. But Europe and the USA beckon to study in a rich artistic environment and develop as rounded performers ready for the rigors of an operatic career.
The third place award this year went to mezzo-soprano Celeste Haworth, who has recently returned to Sydney after a number of years studying and performing in Germany. Her stage experience was evident with assured dramatic storytelling in both the Letter Aria from Werther by Massenet and Rossini’s popular Una Voce poco fa from The Barber of Seville. The arias were well contrasted and showed her warm lower range to advantage.
“I think opera …tells us a lot about what it means to be human. It runs the full gamut of human experience, from first love to the death of our nearest and dearest, from the depths of human hatred to the heights of its noblest acts, and I feel like we can learn a lot about ourselves from these narratives. I think most of all it just touches something very vulnerable and raw within us, in a beautiful way…..”
This quote is from second place awardee and winner of the Audience Prize, vivacious soprano Morgan England-Jones, originally from Mackay, Queensland. Hers is a soprano voice of real size and presence, natural ease and facility. Her first offering was a lyrical aria from the 20th century where her legato, tone, and clear English diction impressed – but it was with orchestra that she won many hearts and minds in the audience. Her exuberant and cleverly crafted performance of Nicolai’s Nun eilt herbei from The Merry Wives of Windsor was pure delight. At times her golden tones and energy recalled the singing of Helena Dix in Roberto Devereux for Melbourne Opera in 2017- an unforgettable tour de force. Morgan, like Helena who regularly covers at the Metropolitan Opera, has a voice that could sing almost any repertoire, and a larger than life personality to match. I look forward to hearing her sing again – hopefully in a fully staged role.
Another Queensland soprano, Shikara Ringdahl, performed two ambitious arias that showed she is already developing as a rare Lyric-Spinto soprano, despite being known until very recently as a mezzo-soprano. I was fortunate to hear her sing recently for a master class with great Australian Bel Canto diva Jessica Pratt. Shikara’s rendition of Verdi’s Leonora from Il Trovatore was both beautiful and moving.
The first place honours went to New Zealand lyric baritone Jarvis Dams.
In the first round with piano he sang the meltingly beautiful Pierrot Aria by Korngold from Die tote Stadt .This was an excellent choice for his sweet warmly resonant tone and command of legato line and German diction. There could be more variety of emotional expression and communication of character and story in his performances, but this will no doubt develop to match his fine voice and musicality.
For all these young artists, funds from a scholarship such as this are absolutely imperative to allow them to follow their dreams and fulfil their potential as singers on a wider stage. These are the great artists of tomorrow and deserve every support and assistance along their way.
Victoria Watson for SoundsLikeSydney©
A graduate of Melbourne university and VCA, Victoria appeared regularly as a soprano with the Victoria State Opera and has toured and served as artistic director of many chamber ensembles. She has performed with Sydney Symphony Orchestra and for ten years, was artistic director of a major opera education project with Opera Australia. Since 2015 she has moved into directing opera including Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte at the Independent theatre.
Victoria has lectured in voice at the major universities in Melbourne, and is currently a tutor at UNSW. Having taught at major Sydney secondary colleges, she now runs a busy private singing studio. She is a published author on opera and a popular freelance music and theatre lecturer and advocate for Australian artists around the world.