Monday, August 11, 2014

Issachah Savage sweeps up awards at SeattleOpera’s International Wagner Competition

Speight Jenkins, Issachah Savage, Marcy Stonikas | Photo by (c) Rozarii Lynch
Get the Viking helmet and sword ready for Issachah Savage! The Philadelphia-based tenor more-or-less made a clean sweep at the International Wagner Competition at McCaw Hall on Thursday evening (August 7). He won the $5,000 audience award, the $5,000 orchestra award, one of two top prizes worth $25,000 from a panel of judges, plus a featured slot in the Speight Celebration Concert on Saturday (August 9). The only prize that Savage didn’t win was the other top prize for $25,000 that he judges gave to Danish tenor David Danholt, who was a late addition to the competition, which seeks to find the next crop of Wagner singers.
Speight Jenkins and David Danholt | Photo by (c) Rozarii Lynch
Savage and Danholt came out on top against a formidable field of seven other finalists. They were sopranos Helena Dix, Tamara Mancini, and Marcy Stonikas, mezzo-soprano Suzanne Hendrix, tenors Rick Furman and Kevin Ray, and bass Roman Ialcic. Each singer performed one aria in the first half of the program and another in the second. They sang on a well-designed set by Robert Dahlstrom and were accompanied by the Seattle Opera orchestra under the direction of Sebastian Lang-Lessing, who made his Seattle Opera debut in this performance.

Top l to r: Kevin Ray, Issachah Savage, David Danholt, Ric Furman, Roman Ialcic; Bottom l to r: Suzanne Hendrix, Tamara Mancini, Helena Dix, Marcy Stonikas | Photo by (c) Rozarii Lynch
Stonikas kicked things off with “Dich, teure halle” from “Tannhäuser” and followed it with a Senta’s Ballad from “Der fliegende Holländer.” I thought that her vibrato was a bit too much in the first piece, but her Ballad was quite thrilling. Ray sang “Winterstürme” and “Siegmund heiss’ ich” from “Die Walküre.” His tone was just a bit too restrained in “Winterstürme” and he seemed to rush the second selection. Mancini struck a very engaging presence in her delivery of Isolde’s Marratove amd Curse from “Tristan und Isolde” and “Gerechter Gott” from “Rienzi, but she had problems taming a fairly wild vibrato. Furman sang extremely well in “Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater” from “Die Walküre” and “In fernem Land” from “Lohengrin,” but he didn’t get into the emotion of the piece. Helena Dix’s interpretation of “Der Männer Sippe” from “Die Walküre” and “Liebestod” from “Tristan und Isolde” needed more power and emotion as did Ialcic’s rendition of “Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge” from “Das Rheingold” and Hagen’s Watch from “Götterdämmerung.”

Hendrix showed plenty of volume in her singing of “Geliebter, komm” from “Tannhäuser” and “Weiche, Wotan” from “Das Rheingold,” and her stellar performance of these pieces caused me to cast my vote for her. But I was very impressed with the beauty of Danholt’s voice as he sang “Nur eine Waffe taugt” from “Parsifal” and the Prize Song from “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.” Savage wonderfully captured the emotional content of “Amfortas! Die Wunde” from “Parsifal” and “Mein lieber Schwan” from “Lohengrin.” He also had power to spare and could express a restful quality that none of the other singers had. An independent testament to his ability came from orchestra, which could not see him, yet voted him as the best.

Lang-Lessing led the orchestra expertly. He seemed to be in complete sync with the singers. Overall, that made the quality of each aria very high. The judges were soprano Stephanie Blythe, stage director and former singer Peter Kazaras, incoming Seattle Opera general director Aidan Lang, record producer Evans Mirageas, and stage director Stephen Wadsworth.

Before the competition started, Jenkins introduced the audience to four new Wagner tubas which were made for Seattle Opera by Andreas Jungwirth, a brass instrument craftsman based in Vienna, Austria. Four members of the opera orchestra performed a motif from “Das Rheingold” and this was followed by a surprise gift, a newly-written leitmotif by Daron Hagen, whose opera “Amelia” was premiered by Seattle Opera in 2010. The Jenkins leitmotif started in the lower register in unison and gradually worked its way to a higher and fairly glorious chord at the end. The sound was very Wagnerian and could probably fit in somewhere in one of the “Ring” operas. After the applause died down, Jenkins announced that Seattle Opera is releasing a live recording of its 2013 “Ring.” The recording should be a bright feather in the cap of Jenkins, who is retiring after leading the company for the past 31 years. I sure that he will be following what happens to Savage, Danholt, and the other young Wagnerian singers as their careers progress.

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