Seattle Opera, a center for Wagner performance ever since its first Ring cycle in 1975, has completed its inaugural International Wagner Competition for young singers, the first such event of its kind in the world.
Eight contestants sang two arias each at the finals on Saturday night (August 19) in the company's McCaw Hall, with the accompaniment of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and conductor Asher Fisch.
At the end of the evening, the five-member jury — mezzo Stephanie Blythe, outgoing Bavarian State Opera head Peter Jonas, former Bayreuth Festival executive Dorothea Glatt, Seattle Opera Young Artists' program director Peter Kazaras and stage director Stephen Wadsworth — selected two singers as prizewinners: Irish soprano Miriam Murphy and English baritone James Rutherford.
Each won a $15,000 award. In addition, Rutherford won both the Audience Choice award and a special prize voted on by the members of the orchestra.
Murphy has won numerous awards in her native Ireland and elsewhere, including the Joan Sutherland Trophy, the Gervase Elwes Cup, the Yamaha International Foundation Bursary and the Bayreuth Bursary, as well as the first Rita Hunter Bursary to be given. She has sung with Opera Ireland and English Touring Opera; her roles include Verdi's Lady Macbeth, Mozart's Donna Elvira, Donizetti's Anna Bolena, Verdi's Elisabeth (in Don Carlos) and solos in Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde and Verdi's Requiem.
Rutherford has already developed an extensive career with repertoire ranging from Handel (Argante in the René Jacobs recording of Rinaldo for Harmonia Mundi) and Mozart (Figaro in Paris, Cardiff and Leeds) to Verdi's Falstaff (with British Youth Opera) to Strauss (Jokanaan in Salome in Montpellier) and Stravinsky (Nick Shadow in The Rake's Progress). He has appeared as a soloist with nearly every major symphony orchestra in the UK and, as a BBC New Generation Artist (2000), has given recitals throughout Great Britain.
Contestants in Seattle Opera's International Wagner Competition must be between 25 and 40 and must not have sung more than one major Wagner role in an opera house. The eight finalists were selected by Seattle Opera general director Speight Jenkins during a round of auditions last autumn in Seattle, New York City and four European capitals.
The complete finals of this year's competition will be broadcast, and webcast in streaming audio, by Seattle's radio station KING-FM (98.1 FM in Seattle; www.king.org) next Saturday evening, August 26, at 7 pm US Pacific Time/10 pm US Eastern Time/2 am GMT/3 am British Summer Time.