Posted by: operatheaterink | July 30, 2019

Opera Review and Opinion: Operalia 2019, Prague, July 30, 2019

Operalia 2019: My Point of View

SEEN JULY 26, 2019

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I tend to not always agree with the judges regarding the designated winners of various competitions. In the case of Operalia 2019, which took place at the National Theatre in Prague, culminating with the final round on July 26 — I am not sure about what I think. There was so much talent in the room, so many singers with incredible voices, that I feel they should have been colleagues, not competitors.

Although I was not in the hall to hear the singers live –therefore could not decipher the size of their voices or if the voices carried into the hall — I know that my choice of winners would have been slightly different than the outcome. I specifically focused on the male voices since it seemed easier for me to delineate one from the other, and since, point blank, I love the sound of rich baritones and basses, and an occasional tenor with a unique timbre.

I would have made Gihoon Kim the first-place winner. He placed second. He has a baritone (almost bass-baritone) voice that resembles a chocolate truffle, and he has a dynamic emotional stage presence onstage.

I do not know if the jury was looking for diamonds in the rough or already fine-tuned emeralds. With Kim, they had the latter. Since members of the jury were general managers and others interested in casting, it is possible that they were not looking for raw talent but for singers ready to be cast.

But there was a diamond in the semi-rough that I believe should have placed: Mario Bahg, the tenor from South Korea. Although Xabier Anduaga received first place and displayed a fine tenor sound, Bahg has a unique lyric sound coupled with fine musicianship. He needs coaching to expand upon his demeanor as an actor. But the timbre of his voice is reminiscent of Gigli, Björling and now, Calleja. His tone has a rare beauty. He is not a diva (or divo) onstage, maybe not as secure as some of the others, but his musicianship allowed him to float high pianissimos which rendered me speechless. The winner was clearly king of the high C’s, but it is even rarer to find a tenor with the tonal beauty of Mario Bahg. I must add, however, that his “Faust” aria for the semifinals evoked my fervent commentary, not his performance for the finals. I have learned that repertoire and choice of arias is significant. It is possible that judges only focus on what they hear on the final day and do not hark back to prior performances. It is most possible that the jury changes between rounds. I am writing about Bahg because although he did not place, I believe that he deserves recognition and will one day shine if he expands upon his gift and remains persistent.

I also liked baritone Bongani Justice Kubheka from South Africa. Since Plácido Domingo nurtures the contestants in his competition, I hope to one day hear Kubheka as the elder Germont in “La Traviata” at LA Opera, and Kim as Posa in “Don Carlo.” Kim will also make a fine Boris one day.

The jury did an excellent job by making soprano Adriana Gonzalez the top all-round female opera winner. Mezzo-soprano Maria Kataeva deserved second place. Although not Latin, Mexican or Spanish, her Zarzuela performance showed energy, style and grace.

An overlapping of the first-place opera and Zarzuela winners occurred. Other worthy contestants might have been better served had there been less overlap.

The various Fach categories helped delineate the contestants so that, for example, the big-voiced Wagnerians could be separated for the Birgit Nilsson Prize, which was awarded to sopranos Felicia Moore and Christina Nilsson, who also placed third in the opera category.

Thank you Plácido Domingo for enabling young singers to be seen and heard by general managers and casting directors. You are giving back to the arts and enabling opera to remain at the forefront of the artistic world at a time when arts education is lacking in our public schools and must be restored.

Tenor Mario Bahg