High Notes

Operalia Competition: Joyce DiDonato, Nina Stemme & the Great Winners of the 1990s

The Operalia Competition is just days away and in anticipation of the famed event, we will take a look back down memory lane at the opera singers who became stars after big performances at the competition.

For this week’s installment, we will look at the early years of the competition and the 90s. Here are the winners of that decade who have since risen to great operatic stardom.

Nina Stemme – 1993

While Inva Mula and Ainhoa Arteta have also gone on to solid careers, Stemme is an international superstar, performing some of the fiercest dramatic repertoire there is. Her recent successes include opening the Metropolitan Opera’s 2016-17 season in “Tristan und Isolde” as well as a lauded “Elektra” in 2015-16 in New York. She has performed all around the world, conquering the repertoire of Strauss, Wagner, and Puccini, among others.

José Cura – 1994

 The 1994 competition in Mexico City had a lot of winners, but the Argentine tenor has been the one to come away with the greatest repute. For the last few decades, he has been one of the few great interpreters of “Otello” and has recently stepped into the role of director, recently helming a production of “Peter Grimes,” which he also starred in.

Ana María Martinez – 1995

The soprano didn’t actually win the top prize, taking home the Zarzuela prize. But of all the singers to claim any award in that year’s competition, she is by far the one with greatest repute. One could make the argument for Dimitra Theodossiou, who has worked her way throughout Europe in a wide range of repertoire, but it is Martinez who has made her mark consistently since winning the award.

Eric Owens and John Osborn – 1996 

It is hard to pick just one singer from that year’s competition, but Owens, who won second place, and Osborn, the winner, are by far the best-known artists from that class. Osborn’s star has been consistent throughout the past decade as he has dominated the French repertoire and, particularly, the Bel Canto repertoire, while Owens, now a fully-mature artist is becoming more and more renowned over the past few years, becoming a fixture at the Metropolitan Opera.

Joyce DiDonato – 1998

With all due respect to Erwin Schrott and Ludovic Tezier, both of which have had exemplary careers and perform at all the major houses around the world, but Joyce DiDonato, who finished second in the competition is one of opera’s most prized stars. She has dominated the bel canto repertoire over the past decade and has increasingly moved into more challenging repertoire, such as “Semiramide” and “Werther” to great acclaim.

Joseph Calleja & Rolando Villazón – 1999

A few years ago, you might look at this class from Puerto Rico and say that Rolando Villazón was the runaway superstar of the class. And the Mexican tenor has had a respectable career, despite his vocal troubles. He has become somewhat of an expert in a more limited repertoire than many expected when he rose to stardom in 2005 and has also become a solid director.

Meanwhile, Calleja has turned into one of the great tenors of his generation, his vocal security and elegance often compared with that of the great tenors of the past (think Caruso). He is now moving into more dramatic territory and has yet to show any signs of difficulty with these bigger tasks, such is his technical security.


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