Merolini Shine at Plácido Domingo’s Operalia

Janos Gereben on September 4, 2018
Winners of Operalia 2018, with Domingo | Credit: Operalia

At the 26th-annual Operalia world opera competition Sunday in Portugal’s Teatro Nacional De São Carlos, mezzos ruled at an unusual final concert without a single soprano. The final competition was streamed free by Medici.TV to a large worldwide audience.

Plácido Domingo founded Operalia in 1993 to help launch the careers of promising young opera singers between the ages of 18 and 32. Out of some 1,000 applications annually, 40 are selected, who then participate in a week of activities with Domingo and others before competing in three rounds of performances.

Mezzo Emily D’Angelo won multiple prizes at the competition | Credit: Gaetz Photography

Domingo, 77, continues nonstop activities as performer around the world, while also serving as general director of the Los Angeles Opera. The tenor (now baritone), who made his first professional appearance 61 years ago, will be hosted by the San Francisco Opera for a recital in the War Memorial Opera House on Oct. 21.

Samantha Hankey with award

In Lisbon yesterday, Emily D’Angelo, 23, a tall Italian mezzo who lives in Canada, took most of the awards, including the top prize among women. American mezzo Samantha Hankey, 26, hailed for her Cinderella in last year’s Merola Opera Program and a winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions the same year, took second place, and shared the Birgit Nilsson Prize with D’Angelo.

D’Angelo sang “Dopo notte, atra e funesta” from Handel’s Ariodante, and Hankey’s final selection was the aria “Da, chas nastal!” from Tchaikovsky’s The Maid of Orleans.

The third prize among women went to another Merolina (Class of 2013), Canadian mezzo Rihab Chaieb, 31. She sang “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” from Saint-Saëns’s Samson and Delilah.

Men receiving the three top awards are all tenors who presented Russian repertory: Pavel Petrov, 27, from Belarus, first place; Migran Agadzhanyan, 26, from Russia, second place; and Arseny Yakovlev, 26, from Russia, third place.

Rolex (Operalia’s sponsor) Audience Prizes went to D’Angelo and Luis Gomes, 31, a Portuguese tenor. D’Angelo, Petrov, and Gomes received Zarzuela Prizes; Josy Santos, 29, a mezzo from Brazil, received the CulturArte Prize.

Also among the finalists were German baritone Johannes Kammler, 30; Chinese tenor Long Long, 27; American baritone Sean Michael Plumb, 26; South African bass-baritone Simon Shibambu, 31; Swiss-French mezzo Marina Viotti, 32; and Colombian-American soprano Vanessa Vasquez, 28.

A prominent Merolina was among Operalia’s four accompanists, who played in all the preliminary rounds before Domingo conducted the Lisbon Orchestra at the finals. Tamara Sanikidze was Merola apprentice coach in 2009; she and her sister, Nino Sanikidze, have been assisting Domingo for more than a decade. The other 2018 accompanists were Myra Huang and Israel Gursky.

Former Merolina Tamara Sanikidze, her sister Nino, Myra Huang and Israel Gursky, Operalia pianists, at Teatro Nacional De São Carlos | Credit: Leah Joanne

Correction: As originally published, this story included an incorrect photo for Samantha Hankey. The original photo was of Adrienne Finch.