Annapolis Opera's 15th annual Vocal Competition on Sunday at Maryland Hall showcased eight talented finalists selected the week before from a pool of 75 singers from the mid-Atlantic region.
At least half of the finalists displayed remarkable talent, providing an entertaining afternoon for the audience and a difficult task for the judges.
One soprano struck me as a prima donna assoluta, captivating the audience with her gorgeous voice, vocal expressiveness and agility, acting ability, technical expertise and majestic bearing.
Silver Spring resident Lorraine Hinds offered an "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia that elicited audience bravos. That was followed by a sublime "Monica's Waltz" from Menotti's The Medium that made my skin tingle.
A perceptive audience voted Hinds their favorite, but the judges awarded her sixth place. Winning the grand prize of $1,600 was 29-year-old South Korean-born tenor Dongwon Shin, who studies at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia.
After a wobbly start, Shin's opening aria "Vesti la giubba" from Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci developed into a fine performance that revealed a powerful tenor voice reminiscent of the legendary Franco Corelli.
The judges chose "Donna non vidi mai" from Puccini's Manon Lescaut for Shin to sing next and, although still inclined to over-sing, the tenor delivered a heartfelt, more nuanced rendition of this melodious aria revealing enough vocal beauty to wow the audience. With little apparent reserve remaining, Shin was less successful when singing a partial third selection also requested by the judges.
The second prize of $1,200 went to 28-year-old soprano Rayanne Gonzales, who sang a gorgeous, gut-wrenching "My Man's Gone Now" from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.
Exhibiting enormous versatility and vocal dexterity, Gonzales delivered an equally moving "Jewel Song" from Gounod's Faust, a selection requested by the judges. She has a warm stage presence and is so skilled at acting that she made me see Marguerite's jewels sparkle.
Third prize was awarded to Peabody-trained Marylander Timothy Scott Mix, 24. A previous winner of the Rosa Ponselle All Marylanders Competition and a finalist in the Regional Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, baritone Mix chose "Lo vedremo" from Verdi's Ernani as his first offering, an aria that showed his warm baritone to fine advantage.
When they requested "Vision fugitive" from Massenet's Herodiade, the judges made a melodic choice that gave Mix a marvelous opportunity to display the impressive vocal coloration and agility of his sonorous baritone. The judges also requested a third selection, "Hear Me, O Lord" from Floyd's Susannah, that demonstrated Mix's remarkable versatility.
Fourth prize was awarded to 27-year-old tenor Jason Ferrante, a Juilliard graduate living in Baltimore. Ferrante chose "Del piu sublime suglio" from Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, an aria that displayed his pleasing tenor and vocal flexibility.
The judges requested the melodic "Quanto e bella" from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore, which revealed Ferrante's ability to express fully Nemorino's rapturous joy at his beloved Adina's beauty. Part of a judges' third selection - the melodic "Dies Bildniss" from Mozart's Die Zauberflote - was offered to display the tenor's facility with the German language, and according to my German-born companion, Ferrante was not found wanting.
Fifth prize went to Peabody Conservatory graduate and current Baltimore resident Lori Lind, who sang "Donde lieta" from Puccini's La Boheme - one of the great Italian composer's most touching arias. Although Lind has a lovely voice, her rendition of this heart-rending aria could have been more expressive. Her "Casta diva" from Bellini's Norma was considerably more successful.
All eight singers were winners. Soprano Toni Stefano sang a heartfelt rendition of Tosca's "Vissi d'arte," and mezzo-soprano Margaret-Anne Helmick beautifully sang Mozart's "Voi che sapete."
The audience got to enjoy an afternoon of beautiful singing as a gift of the Helena Foundation that allowed them to discover wonderful young singers, with the bonus of disagreeing with the esteemed judges.