On Saturday, October 15, opera aficionados, enthusiasts and first-time concert-goers gathered in the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater for the annual favorite, Academy of Vocal Arts’ Giargiari Bel Canto Competition.
The Competition, which is generously sponsored by Walter and Alice Strine, Esqs., featured award-winning Resident Artists EACH performing a single aria in competition with their colleagues for First, Second and Audience Favorite prizes. A third prize, the WRTI Broadcast prize, will be determined on the WRTI Broadcast this Saturday, October 22 at 4PM.
An esteemed panel of judges awarded The James Parkinson Opera Foundation First Prize and The Cecile K. Dalton Second Place Prizes while concert-goers determined the Walter and Alice Strine, Esqs., Audience Prize winner via ballots distributed before the performance. The judges included Michael Heaston, Executive Director of the prestigious Lindemann Young Artist Development Program at the Metropolitan Opera; Scott Guzielek, Director of Artistic Operations at the Palm Beach Opera; and Evans Mirageas, The Harry T. Wilks Artistic Director of Cincinnati Opera and Vice-President for Artistic Planning for The Atlanta Symphony.
AVA’s Giargiari Bel Canto Competition is a concert experience unlike any other in Philadelphia in that it requires all vocalists to perform an aria in the bel canto vocal technique. Bel canto, which is translated as “beautiful singing” in Italian, is an operatic vocal style most popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. The highly artistic technique emphasizes the evenness and richness of tone and smooth phrasing.
There have been several AVAlumni winners in the past who have won all three prizes.
Jeffrey Halili '04
Stephen Costello '05
Angela Meade won the Audience Prize in '06 and then again in '07
Current Resident Vanessa Vasquez '18
For fourth-year tenor Alasdair Kent, The James Parkinson Opera Foundation First Prize winner and Audience Prize winner - the Competition’s bel canto aspect means several different things: “It signifies a certain kind of repertoire and a certain way of singing, but to me, it's a mode of expression. When we talk about bel canto repertoire, that really runs from as early as Caccini through even as late as Ponchielli. Once you start getting into real verismo music, Puccini for instance, that's a different animal. Verismo is a little closer to an imitation of reality, where bel canto is like looking at reality through an especially beautiful window. With bel canto, purely vocal beauty is more important, expression of text is done in a different way, and the music is written and orchestrated with different priorities, so the melody is a more primary method of characterization. It's great for a singer because we're even more in the limelight, but you do have to build your technique in a very particular way.”
Danielle Orlando, AVA Master Vocal Coach as well as Music Director and pianist, is responsible for coaching and advising the Resident Artists who perform during the Competition. Alasdair discussed working with Ms. Orlando: “Truthfully, she is the real star. Where each singer only has one aria to master, she plays all twenty of the arias, from all different composers, styles and historical periods. That's a huge feat, even more so considering the skill, power and ease that Danielle brings to each of these arias.”
Fourth-year bass Anthony Schneider agreed: “Ms. Orlando carefully tailors this exciting program and finds arias for each person that best represent their voice. For me, the aria I sang represented everything I have learnt in my four years at AVA.”
Anthony Schneider is one of two Cecile K. Dalton Second Place Prize winners during the Competition. Fellow fourth-year tenor Jonas Hacker was also chosen as a Second Place Prize winner. Jonas described the experience of performing in a competition with his fellow AVA Resident Artists: “It's so hard to compete against your colleagues and friends, and to judge a competition with this level of talent. I am so honored to have won a prize and would not have sung as well on Saturday if not for my four years of training at this institution.”
If you missed AVA's Giargiari Bel Canto Competition, it was broadcast on Saturday, October 22 at 4pm on WRTI. Listeners were able to vote for their favorite performers to win additional prizes! The full program and performer list for the broadcast is found here.
First prize winner, baritone Ethan Simpson, discussed the experience of winning: "Winning the WRTI broadcast prize is such an unexpected and encouraging honor. I am extremely grateful to be surrounded by such an amazingly supportive group of talented and fearless artists that I can humbly call my friends and colleagues. It is they who help to motivate me to become the best that I can be. I am privileged to have been guided by my teacher Bill Stone and Danielle Orlando in my preparation for the competition and am thankful to all of the coaches at AVA who have dedicated their lives to the growth of each and every resident artist."
Second Prize winner, soprano Alexandra Nowakowski commented: "The performance is always a joy for our home audience at AVA. The minute you walk out, you know they are there to support you and all of a sudden any fears you may have had seem to disappear. It was a great opportunity to communicate music."
Samantha van Adelsberg is a Los Angeles native working in AVA's marketing department and managing the AVA Young Professionals group. Samantha holds two degrees from Binghamton University in English and Vocal Performance and is an active rock vocalist in the Philadelphia music scene.