Sunday, May 23, 2010

Opera San Jose

Irene Dalis Vocal Competition
May 22, 2010
California Theater, San Jose, California

Soprano Danielle Talamantes won over both audience and judges in the 4th Annual Irene Dalis Vocal Competition, winning both the $15,000 Grand Prize and the $5,000 Audience Favorite Award with her performance of Meyerbeer's "Ombre legere" and "Ach, ich fuhls" from Mozart's Die Zauberflote.

For this critic - a slave of the soprano voice - handicapping the contest was a tricky chore, since Talamantes was the only soprano. The ten finalists - drawn from 90 participants in the West Coast regional opera auditions - included four mezzos, three baritones, one bass and one tenor. The job got trickier due to the showpiece nature of Meyerbeer's aria, in which Talamantes displayed masterful control and easy top-notes. But the soprano clinched my vote with her handling of the Mozart, Pamina's reaction to Tamino's shunning of her affections. Her handling of the final line, especially, was a jewel of legato phrasing. So I took my poker chip (each attendee gets one) and dropped it in the appropriate box.

The judges were James Caraher, artistic director of Indianapolis Opera; Lotfi Mansouri, former artistic director of San Francisco Opera; and Christina Scheppelmann, artistic director of Washington National Opera. Second Prize went to baritone Jonathan Beyer, who took on the difficult repetitions of John Adams' "News has a kind of mystery" from Nixon in China. Third went to baritone Jerett Gieseler, who endowed Ford's aria, "E sogno e realta" from Falstaff, with an edgy intensity. A special Wagner award went to bass Silas Elash, an Opera San Jose regular, who performed "Leb wohl, du kuhnes, herrliches Kind" from Die Walkure.

I must confess, I completely misguessed the second and third choices. My second went to mezzo Lisa van der Ploeg, who was utterly possessed by Azucena's confessional "Condotta ell'era in ceppi" from Trovatore. My third was tenor Nova Safo, who clowned his way through Beppe's Aria from Pagliacci and, in Mozart's "Il mio tesoro" produced gorgeous and amazingly breath-free lines. Two other arias of note were mezzo Kathryn Leemhuis's entertaining "What a movie!" from Bernstein's resurgent Trouble in Tahiti, and mezzo Betany Coffland's comically exasperated rendition of Dorabella's "Smanie implacabili" from Cosi fan tutte.

The competition followed the standard format of five or six arias for each singer, from which the singer picks one to perform, and the judges pick the second. Daniel Lockert did a fantastic job of handling the difficult accompaniment duties. The entire $50,000 in prize money was provided by an anonymous donor.

See for more info and offerings for the '10-'11 season. 408/437-4450.

Image: Danielle Talamantes

Michael J. Vaughn's eleventh novel, Operaville, will be out this fall, with a companion CD of arias by soprano Barbara Divis. See for audio excerpts.