1st Day Semi-Finals – Belvedere Singing Competition 2016

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

35th International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition
Semi-Finals 1st Day
Baxter Concert Hall Cape Town, Wednesday 29 June 2016

“Since 2013 the International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition is spreading its wings. The final rounds, held for 31 years in Vienna, now take place in the most renowned opera houses around the world on an alternating basis. In 2013 the city of Amsterdam hosted the first event outside of Austria since its founding, followed by Düsseldorf in 2014, Amsterdam again in 2015 and Cape Town in 2016”.
From http://www.belvedere-competition.com/about/

What an acknowledgement for Cape Town to be placed third on the list of cities with the “most renowned opera houses around the world”!

The Belvedere is a very special kind of singing competition. Founded in 1982 by Hans Gabor, manager of the Wiener Kammeroper, the Belvedere Competition is not assessed by the academic idealism of vocal instructors, but by those who are actually responsible for the engagement of singers: opera and festival managers, music promoters and representatives of the media industry. This year the competition will be adjudicated by artistic and casting directors from the Metropolitan Opera New York, Teatro alla Scala Milano, Gran Teatre del Liceu Barcelona, and Cape Town Opera, to name a few.

The Belvedere Competition has been dubbed the “singers’ stock exchange” – where the value of the stock (talent and maturity) is determined by investors (industry professionals). There is also a highly coveted “Prize of the Audience”, awarded by the audience of the final concert. Always the optimist, I remind any competitors who may be reading that winning isn’t everything, especially in this competition – Angela Gheorghiu was placed third in 1990, and that certainly didn’t slow her down!

Earlier today, the Cape Town audience encountered twenty-eight talented, dedicated singers from seventy cities world wide, and it was clear during the first area that the standard could not be higher. Intonation, accuracy, tone, and projection were extremely good all round, so in this review I have selected the singers who I found most engaging as story-tellers. With such a high standard, the more subtle arts come to the fore, such as acting the character in body language and facial expression, as well as the understated art of vocal dynamics. I found the singers who stood out most for me were those who found a place to use pianissimo to draw the audience in to their performance.

Oksana Sekerina, Mandla Mndebele, Rachel Schutz,

Oksana Sekerina, Mandla Mndebele, Rachel Schutz

Opening soprano Oksana Sekerina showed her mature honey-smooth tone in “Dove sono”, Mozart Le Nozze di Figaro. She has mastered the professional use of dynamics to create an expressive and exciting delivery.

Mandla Mndebele has engaging emotional expression, presenting “Eri tu”, Verdi Un Ballo in Maschera. There is a wonderful roundness to his tone, like a smooth river pebble. He conserves his powerful baritone so that we can enjoy it’s rich depth, using it’s full power to devastating effect.

Of course it’s too early to say – there is still another day of semi-finals – but Rachel Schutz may well be flying home with a trophy in her luggage.
Her “Presentation of the Rose”, Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, was utterly captivating. Using the entire area of the white 3-foot square as her stage, she was like a caged Disney princess, full of wonder and animation, yearning to be free. She maintained her character through amazing dynamics that in places dropped down to a whisper. She chose an enchanting area and delivered it extremely well. She sang again after the short break, much to the delight of the audience: “Son anch ‘io la virtu”, Donizetti Don Pasquale. Playing a much naughtier character, with eyes like a classical Indian dancer, she revealed a real talent for acting. Complete with tantrums and pouting, she managed all of this in that tiny square that you can see in the picture. When the score required a musical laugh she gave a real one. She comes with a lot of extra features, but underneath is solid technique – her scales were scorching.


Where ever you are in the world, you can watch the
35th International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition FINALS


CATCH THE FREE VIDEO BROADCAST HERE: http://www.capetownconcerthall.com/

Paolo Ingrasciotta, Jomante Slezaite, Larissa Alice Wissel

Paolo Ingrasciotta, Jomante Slezaite, Larissa Alice Wissel

Smooth baritone Paolo Ingrasciotta is not afraid to use ppp, telling us the story of “Avant de quitter ces lieux”, Gounod Faust. There were plenty of opportunities for him to demonstrate his ample projection, and he did so in expansive emotional gestures.

Jomante Slezaite made good use of the beginning of her area to express the narrative in dramatic dynamics. She delivered “Celui dont la parole”, Massenet Herodiace, in full character with excellent intonation and sweetness of tone.

Larissa Alice Wissel is an enamouring performer, holding her character well in “O Dieu! Que de bijoux!” Gounod Faust. She has good fundamentals and beautiful tone, but more than this, she uses her space well. Her actions and gestures carry meaning and seem natural. One of her secrets is an exquisite control over her powerful soprano – a mesmerizing ability to change her dynamics in the middle of a line. Breathtaking.


Caroline Nkwe, Miriam Gadjieva, Sophia Theodorides Belvedere Competition 2016

Caroline Nkwe, Miriam Gadjieva, Sophia Theodorides

The inclusion of the recitative is a great way to demonstrate dynamic ability. Caroline Nkwe used this to full effect in “Come scoglio” Mozart Cosi fan tutte. She extended this subtle skill throughout her performance, building to a crescendo quite late in the area so as not to reveal her power too early. She gave a stunning, studied performance that showed a clear structure – beginning, middle, end.

Miriam Gadjieva has a lovely mature tone which brings richness and depth in her coloratura passages. She has good agility and expressive sensitivity, singing “Quando m’en vo” Puccini La Boheme.

Sophia Theodorides has a light sweet voice, amazing range, and astonishing accuracy. Her tasteful, slightly Baroque use of vibrato makes her an absolute treat. She lets the vibrato build in her voice over long notes – like a rising column of incense smoke that picks up turbulence as it accelerates. Leopold Mozart would approve, and fittingly, she sang “Durch Zartlichkeit”, WA Mozart Die Entfuhrung.


Ayse Senogul, Jure Pockaj, Valentina Teresa Mastrang

Ayse Senogul, Jure Pockaj, Valentina Teresa Mastrang

Ayse Senogul has the range and accuracy of a coloratura – amazing arpeggios with a stunning warm tone. She has a good sense of drama and natural acting skills. Delivering “Regnava nel silenzio” Donizetti Lucia di Lammermoor, she conserved her power well, which made revealing it all the more exciting.

Perhaps more noticeable with baritones is the necessity to control vibrato, lest it interfere with pitch. Jure Pockaj mastered the application of tasteful vibrato, giving us “Bella siccome un angelo” Donizetti Don Pasquale in a lovely gentle timbre and superb intonation. His bass register has ample projection, and his physical drama makes him an entertaining performer to watch.

In character from the piano introduction, Valentina Teresa Mastrang was clearly hearing voices in her head – “Sento un’interna voce” Rossini Elisabetta Regina D’inghilterra. She used the tiny square well, creating drama in every corner of her stage. Her dynamics were hypnotic, taking us down to ppp conserving her power for when she wanted to get our attention in other ways. Her well developed coloratura skill made for a fantastic finale.


Ya-Chung Huang, Rosina Fabius, Yang Liu

Ya-Chung Huang, Rosina Fabius, Yang Liu

Ya-Chung Huang is assured of a career as a tenor. There is warmth about him, and a pleasant vibrato that carries intelligent and dynamic phrasing. He sang “Che gelida manina” Puccini La Boheme, realising where he can use pianissimo for more dramatic effect, and effortlessly soaring into his top register. He’s a great performer.

Rosina Fabius is a confident mezzo-soprano, singing the only baroque work on the program. She used it to demonstrate her coloratura skill and dynamic phrasing in a style that highlights her accuracy and strong mezzo range: “Dopo notto” Handel Ariodante.

Yang Liu delivered dramatic dynamics in recitative and good phrasing in the area. It was heavenly, she made a good choice: “Dove sono” Mozart Le Nozze di Figaro, that compliments the sweetness of her tone.

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