Claire Jackson

Samantha Hankey wins inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup

11:40, 27th March 2018

The opera world has a dubious track record with televised competitions: Popstar to Opera star, for example, tracked singers such as Jimmy Osmond, Bernie Nolan and Vanessa White as they attempted to make the transition from pop music to arias – with limited success.

But now a bonafide opera company has taken on the format and, happily, reinvigorated the opera-loving public’s appetite for such a contest.

The Glyndebourne Opera Cup was conceived to support new talent, and, unlike recent television predecessors, showcases highly trained opera singers. ‘Glyndebourne takes pride in supporting new talent and the Glyndebourne Opera Cup is a great new way for us to showcase the stars of tomorrow, said Gus Christie, Glyndebourne’s executive chairman. ‘I’ve been incredibly impressed with the standard of the competitors throughout the competition’.

Each instalment of the competition will have a different composer focus. This year, singers were required to sing Mozart, supported by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. The ten finalists competed on 24 March, with American mezzo Samantha Hankey scooping the ultimate prize: the guarantee of a role within five years at one of the top international opera houses represented on the competition’s jury – and 15,000.

‘I plan on using the prize money to continue my studies with my voice teacher and coaches, as well as to craft a Sesto, Cherubino, and Dorabella!’ Hankey told Opera Now. ‘Winning a Mozart competition is extremely helpful because his operas have so many roles that I should and want to be singing at this stage of my career. Having the support of Glyndebourne and the promise of working with one of the houses represented on the jury within the next five years is very comforting.’

The Audience Prize went to 27-year-old Kosovan soprano Elbenita Kajtazi, who received a third of all votes cast by audience members. As a young girl, Kajtazi was forced to flee her home in war-torn Kosovo, living with her family as a refugee in Albania. ‘Every time there would be a dangerous situation – the soldiers would come into our house or something like that – I would find a corner and sing to myself,’ she recalls. ‘Singing was my way to be able to feel safe’. Commenting on her win she said: ‘The audience prize means that the audience loved me – what more could I ask for? It means the world to me.’ Kajtazi (pictured, below) also took third place.

Elbenita Kajtazi (Audience Prize and Third Place winner) and Dame Janet Baker at Glyndebourne Opera Cup final_photo Richard Hubert Smith-7317

Second place went to American soprano Jacquelyn Stucker, 28, currently a Jette Parker Young Artist at the Royal Opera House, where she recently performed the role of Frasquita in Barrie Kosky’s production of Carmen.

The Ginette Theano prize for promising talent was awarded to American soprano Emily Pogorelc, 21. Pogorelc was the youngest competitor to reach the final and is currently entering her final year at the Curtis Institute of Music.

The international jury for this year’s Glyndebourne Opera Cup included Barrie Kosky, artistic director of Komische Oper Berlin, Sophie de Lint, artistic director of Zurich Opera and director designate of Dutch National Opera, David B Devan, who runs Opera Philadelphia, Fortunato Ortombina, intendant and artistic director of Teatro La Fenice in Venice, and Joan Matabosch, artistic director of Teatro Real in Madrid. Glyndebourne stalwart Dame Janet Baker adjudicated the final.

The Cup was broadcast live on Sky Arts (available on demand at Medici TV), hosted by soprano Danielle de Niese and actor Chris Addison. Ahead of the final, Addison wrote a compelling call to newcomers to opera, published in the Guardian.

Throughout the event, there was an underlying emphasis on developing new and existing audiences – something that Hankey feels passionate about. ‘This was an incredibly powerful opportunity for the opera community to reach outside of our traditional audience and to provide a peek into the real life behind-the-scenes drama that happens in an operatic singing competition,’ she says, adding, ‘I found some aspects of the TV format more compelling than others, but I hope that Glyndebourne continues to use the platform to educate audiences and support young singers. The series highlights the vulnerability of our art in the competition setting.’

The biennial competition will focus on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held, in order to cater for the various specialisms within operatic training. Eligibility criteria, including age limit, will vary to reflect the chosen theme. There certainly seems to be a desire for this event among the artistic community: 183 singers from 44 countries applied for the 2018 edition of the Glyndebourne Cup – details for the next application process will be reported in Classical Music in due course.

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