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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 20, No. 6 April 2015

How to stand out in a singing competition

by Marc-Olivier Laramée / April 1, 2015

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Wolfgang Holz

This year, the Montreal International Music Competition is devoted to singing. In a competition, a singer must pour his or her heart into a performance of less than half an hour. Twenty-four contestants from 9 countries will compete from May 25 to June 5.

Preparations for such an event are tedious. Nothing should be overlooked, from the choice of repertoire to the final performance, not to mention a rigorous vocal work-out. Here are some valuable tips from two members of the jury.

Internationally renowned Austrian baritone Wolfgang Holzmair, who has been on several international juries, says the essence of a singer is a strong voice coupled with a strong personality.

“A voice can be beautiful, but it can also be boring if not supported by a solid foundation, emotion, and above all, a story behind each musical note. Singing, especially for great operas arias, must always go beyond the melodic lines. As they say, it’s the thought that counts. A singer must transmit his message by singing the emotions and the story; this is how he can communicate well. He can have the most beautiful voice in the world, but it means nothing if it is impossible to appreciate and to create a link between the singer and the audience.”

Preparation for the competition is crucial. The most important thing is to make the arias your own. “The worst thing is when one singer imitates another. All the work he’s done becomes useless, because the performance is merely counterfeit singing”.

The selection of pieces is a reflection of the singer. This choice is not made lightly. “Since the time given to the singers is limited, participants must keep in mind that they do not have time to sing a piece as a warm-up. It’s not like in opera; they must give it their all” says Holzmair. The arias should be sufficiently varied to showcase the singer’s versatility.

Holzmair concludes: “When I listen to a singer, I look for authenticity.”

Australian conductor Richard Bonynge, who originally studied piano, also has an intimate knowledge of the voice, having conducted numerous opera productions.

“I must admit that I am a little difficult when it comes evaluating singers, because I’ve heard so many. I want a voice and musicality, and technique comes in third place.” He emphasizes that the voice is the most important thing. Without a voice, a singer is not really a singer.

The definition of musicality is very subjective. To maestro Bonynge, musicality lies in understanding melodic lines and the direction of the aria as intended by the composer. He, too, brings up communication as a decisive factor in a performance: “It is the heart of the relationship that develops between the artist, the music and the audience.” Music can be learned, he says, but not musical instinct, and without it, singing has no value.

The repertoire must contain great arias, from Italian and French operas for example. “The main thing is to show that you have a voice.” One should listen to old recordings by the greatest singers, not just the most recent. “The point of this is not imitation, but to find some inspiration.”

“I find it increasingly difficult to find good singers; young people are too impatient.” The conductor explains that this seems to be due to insufficient preparation. You must take the time to practice your scales every day, and “only through hard work can you reach great heights.”

The MIMC will give away more than $70,000 in awards, in addition to numerous contract offers for the finalists. 

Translation: Eric Legault

Montreal International Music Competiton 2015: Voice (May 25-June 5)
The Montreal International Music Competition will present 24 candidates in the Voice edition, which will take place from May 25 to June 5.  A prize for lieder and French art song has been added this year.  The first round will take place May 25-27 in Bourgie Hall. The final round will take place on June 2 and 3, and the gala concert featuring the winners will take place on June 5 at the Maison Symphonique. concoursmontreal.ca 
- Renée Banville

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