Belvedere Competition makes South African debut10:52, 25th August 2016
For the first time in its history, the International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition travelled outside Europe to South Africa, holding a series of final rounds at the end of June, hosted by Cape Town Opera.
Following qualifying auditions involving more than 850 singers in 70 cities around the world, 120 singers went through the final rounds of the 35th instalment of the competition in Cape Town, which was whittled down to 16 finalists competing at the Artscape Theatre Centre, accompanied by the Cape Town Philharmonic conducted by Kamal Khan.
Notwithstanding the Competition’s move beyond opera’s traditional heartlands, there was a wide-ranging field of entrants from all over the world, including a healthy showing from Southeast Asia and Russia. The finalists featured a strong contingent of Americans and, unsurprisingly, South Africans.
This year’s overall winner was the American bass-baritone Nicholas Brownlee who received his €7,000 first prize awarded by Dr Vera Gregor in memory of her friend, the legendary soprano Teresa Stich-Randall. Brownlee proved to be a polished, highly professional performer who held the stage in a darkly intense, focused account of ‘Come dal ciel precipita’ from Verdi’s Macbeth in the final. Alabama-native Brownlee also received professional engagements from the Israeli Opera and Theater Erfurt in Germany as part of his prize.
The irrepressible audience at the Artscape Theatre gave an especially warm reception to the South African contestants. Second-prize winner soprano Noluvuyiso Mpofu brought the house down with a flamboyantly confident rendition of Violetta’s ‘È strano’ from Verdi’s La traviata. Mpofu received her €3,500 from Dutch philanthropists Jan Meulendijks and Bart Schuil, and also went on to win the Audience Prize of €2,000 awarded by Dr Madeleine Kim and a special prize of €500 for a promising young South African singer, donated by Margaretha Deysel.
The Belvedere’s Third Prize went to American Raehann Bryce-Davis, whose rich, smoky mezzo proved particularly irresistible in the semifinals when she gave a mesmerising account of ‘O ma lyre immortelle’ from Gounod’s Sapho.
An important aspect of the Competition (named in honour of the Hungarian conductor Hans Gabor, founder and manager of the Vienna Kammeroper) is its links to the wider world of the opera profession. Industry observers, including opera bosses, agents and media representatives, are invited to attend. Each year, the Competition awards a prize of €1,500 given by an international jury of editors, critics and arts correspondents who attend the final rounds. This year, the Media Prize went to the Italian soprano Selene Zanetti, whose creamy-toned, elegant account of Rusalka’s ‘Song to the Moon’ was one of the highlights of the final.