Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Does Competition and Foundation Prize Money Help Singers?

Angela Meade (l) with 1986 Richard
Tucker Award winner Dolora Zajick
(Photo: Ruth Fremson/NY Times)
Anthony Tommasini wrote in the New York Times: "Since 1975 the Richard Tucker Music Foundation, named for the great American tenor, has fostered the careers of emerging singers." The annual gala concert was held on Sunday (November 7) evening. "The evening’s main business was to honor this year’s Tucker Award winner, the young soprano Angela Meade, who receives a $30,000 prize, the foundation’s largest grant. Ms. Meade recently sang three performances of the title role in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena in the Met’s new production, and she returns to the company in February for Verdi’s seldom-heard Ernani. Her first offering here was a fiery aria from Verdi’s Attila. Her sound was enormous, rich and unforced; her coloratura runs and passagework were dispatched with aplomb and precision. Vocally, Ms. Meade was even better in the Act I finale of Bellini’s Norma, for which she was joined by the mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick as Adalgisa and the sturdy tenor Frank Porretta (substituting for Mr. Giordani) as Pollione." But how much fostering does Ms. Meade's career need at this point? According to the Metropolitan Opera, a top-earner makes $16K/performance. Even a newcomer like Meade (who actually was a winner of the National Council Auditions in 2007 and made her debut at the MET in the 2008 production of Ernani) could easily pull in $9K/performance at the low-end estimate. So at this stage of the game, does a singer like Angela Meade need the help of the Richard Tucker Foundation? Looking back at past Tucker Award winners might show that most of these singers were well on their way and didn't need much "fostering." Check out examples, as well as video performances of these past winners at the Richard Tucker Gala, after the jump.

Susan Dunn (1983) - She had already won several prestigious vocal competitions and awards including the D'Angelo Young Artist Competition, the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and the Opera Company of Philadelphia's Luciano Pavarotti International Vocal Competition.

Aprile Millo (1985) - Previously sang the title role of Aida with San Diego Opera and Utah Opera; had been a member of the MET's Young Artist Program (as well as covering leading roles); Worked with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Herbert von Karajan, Renata Tebaldi, Zinka Milanov and Licia Albanese; Saw her La Scala (1983) and Metropolitan Opera (1984) debuts; Released her debut solo recording, Presenting Aprile Millo, of Verdi arias with the London Symphony conducted by Giuseppe Patanè one year later.

Renée Fleming (1990) - Won a Fulbright Scholarship that enabled her to work in Europe with Arleen Augér and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf; Sang lead roles while attending Juilliard Opera Center; Was a winner of the National Council Auditions; Debuted at Houston Grand Opera, Spoleto Festival, New York City Opera and Royal Opera House - Covent Garden; The same year of winning the award, she went on to make her debut at Seattle Opera and the Opera Orchestra of New York; One year later she made her debuts at the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall and the Tanglewood Music Festival as with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Deborah Voigt (1992) - She had already made her Carnegie Hall debut in 1988; Won the Adler Fellow and apprenticed at San Francisco Opera's Merola Program for two years where she studied seven major roles and she took a class from Leontyne Price; Made debuts singing with the Boston Lyric Opera (the title role in Ariadne auf Naxos) and the Metropolitan Opera (Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera and Chrysothemis in Elektra); Ironically, one year after winning the Tucker Award she substituted for an indisposed Aprile Millo at the MET for performances of Il Trovatore.

Ruth Ann Swenson (1993) - Had joined the Merola Program at the San Francisco Opera and toured the country as Gilda in Western Opera Theater's Rigoletto; made her San Francisco Opera debut in 1983 as Despina in Mozart's Così fan tutte and later Dorinda in Handel's Orlando opposite mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne; Made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1991 as Zerlina in Mozart's Don Giovanni; Her solo debut recording for EMI, Positively Golden, was released in 1994.

Patricia Racette (1995) - Joined the roster of New York City Opera as Musetta in La Bohème (1992) and Micaela in Carmen (1993); Made her debuts at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, San Francisco Opera, Vienna State Opera and Welsh National Opera; Won the Marian Anderson Award in 1994; Made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1995 as Mimì in La Bohème and has remained an annual performer with the company; Had a major critical success portraying the title role in the world premiere of Tobias Picker's Emmeline in 1996 for her debut at the Santa Fe Opera; In 1998, after the firing of Angela Gheorghiu and the cancellation of Renée Fleming, she took over the role of Violetta in La Traviata.

Joyce DiDonato (2002) - Was accepted into the Young Artist Programs of the Santa Fe Opera (1995) and Houston Grand Opera (1996); Participated in the San Francisco Opera's Merola program in 1997; Won the second prize in the Eleanor McCollum Competition, district winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, won a William Matheus Sullivan Award, won second prize in the Operalia Competition, took first place in the Stewart Awards, won the George London Competition and received a Richard F. Gold Career Grant from the Shoshana Foundation; Between 1999-2002 she made professional debuts at New Israeli Opera, La Scala, Washington National Opera, De Nederlandse Opera, Opéra National de Paris and the Bavarian State Opera; One season after winning the Richard Tucker Award, her season was filled with a debut with the New York City Opera as Sister Helen in Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking, her debut with Théâtre du Châtelet in the title role of Rossini's La Cenerentola, her debut at Covent Garden as Zlatohrbitek the fox in Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen under the baton of Sir John Eliot Gardiner, and her debut with the New National Theatre Tokyo as Rosina in Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia. She performed the title role in Rossini's Adina at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro and the role of Cherubino in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro with Opéra Bastille. In concert, DiDonato performed Mozart's Requiem with the Seattle Symphony, Berlioz's Les nuits d'été with the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, and made her Carnegie Hall debut in a production of Bach's Mass in B Minor with the Orchestra of St. Luke's under the baton of Peter Schreier. She toured Europe with Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre in performances of Les nuits d'été; In 2003 DiDonato was the recipient of New York City Opera's Richard Gold Debut Award.

Not to begrudge supremely talented singers from receiving accolades for their achievements, but the Richard Tucker Award should really be redefined as a "big monetary prize congratulating a singer on becoming a successful professional in the opera world." As the years have progressed, winners of the prize seem to be more and more accomplished by the time they are awarded the honor. Earlier this year, Riccardo Muti became the second recipient of the $1 million Birgit Nilsson Prize. Could 100 singers receiving a $10K grant to further their studies have been more productive than giving the money to a multi-millionaire? The maestro has kept hush thus far about what he will do with the money, so we may never know. [Source, Source]

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