2019 Queen Sonja International Music Competition Finalists Announced

By Xenia Hanusiak

Last night at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo the six finalists for the 2019 Queen Sonja International Music Competition were announced.

They are: soprano Meigui Zhang (China, 26), mezzo-soprano Natalia Tanasaii (Moldova, 28), baritones Sergey Kaydalov (Russia, 27), Adam Kutny (Poland, 27), Stefan Astakhov (Germany, 21), and tenor Theodore Browne (Germany, 28).

The finalists will compete on Friday, August 23, 2019 at the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet when they will sing operatic arias from their repertoire list together with staged operatic duets selected by members of the jury. In the seven hours of semifinals, 11 singers, representing 10 countries, offered a mixed own choice program of selections from lieder, art song, oratorio, and opera.

In a competition that is both an open call and allows direct admittance to the preliminary rounds via nominations by established partnerships: International Opera studio (Opera Zurich), The International Opera Studio (Staastoper Unter den Linden, Berlin), the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme (Royal Opera House Convent Garden), the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program (Metropolitan Opera), The Opera Studio (Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich), the Teatro all Scala Academy Young Artists Program (Teatro alla Scala) and the Young Artists Opera Program (Bolshoi Theater, Moscow), half the finalists hail from one of these programs allowing these contestants to be prepared by their house coaches.

This was a field of seasoned singers. Some occupy ensemble positions, others are engaged on the soloist’s roster and many are signed. Luminous 30-year old Brazilian mezzo-soprano, Josy Santos, a surprising exclusion from the finals, is a former ensemble member of Staatsoper Hannover, while finalist Sergey Kaydalov is already a soloist at the Mariinsky Theater. It is evident from the ultimate choices that voice quality stood out as a distinguishing decider.

In each finalist, the value and technical dependability of the voices is indefatigable.

Of the semifinalists who did not proceed–and most surely by the slimmest of margins, American soprano Emily Pogorelc shimmered with musicality in Debussy’s “Apparition” and was pinpoint accurate in coloratura and charm in “Myself I Shall Adore” from Handel’s “Semele.” Josy Santos’s gracious and poetically nuanced phrasing in “Thy Hand, Belinda” from Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” reveals a beguiling artist who will sustain an absolute career.

In the spirit of Hollywood award show commentary, I venture the following for Friday’s final.

Germany’s tenor, Theodore Browne who raised his value with his effortless, shiny high C’s in Donizetti’s “Ah Mes ami, quel jour de fête!” will win and should win – that is, if he has not peaked too early.

For sheer beauty of tone Natalia’s Tanasii’s mezzo and Adam Kutny’s unassailable baritone will compete for the prize but Russian baritone Sergey Kaydalov is the attention seeking all-rounder with theatrical and voice matching invincibility. The remaining two finalists Meigui Zhang and Stefan Astakhov, with less stage experience may surprise but their upset is unlikely.