Opera San José’s vocal competition is named for the late acclaimed mezzo-soprano Irene Dalis, who founded the company. Greeting the revival of the competition after the pandemic hiatus, OSJ General Director Shawna Lucey said, “The phenomenal talent on display all week wowed judges and audience members alike, and I can’t wait to see where each competitor ends up next.
“Bringing these rising stars to perform for two panels of the great leaders of opera in front of our cherished OSJ audiences led to a thrilling week of music. The future of opera is bright.”
The six finalists were bass-baritone Ben Brady (Denver, Colorado); soprano Susanne Burgess (Atlanta, Georgia); baritone Andres Cascante (San José, Costa Rica); mezzo-soprano Shanley Horvitz (Voorhees, New Jersey); soprano Nina Mutalifu (Ürümqi, China); and tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven (Lockport, New York).
On the second day of the competition in the California Theatre, the top three winners were selected: van Schoonhoven winning first place, Horvitz securing second, and Cascante — who is in this season’s Merola Program — third.
Recently and even through the pandemic, van Schoonhoven has been circling the globe, engaged by a number of opera companies, including the Chicago Lyric and the New York Repertory Orchestra.
But earlier, he spent a great deal of time in San Francisco, first in the Merola Program and later as an Adler Fellow, including the program’s outstanding 2017 class. He is now managed by UIA Talent Agency.
Dalis started the competition in 2006; the last time it was held, in 2014, was also the year of Dalis’s retirement, and in December, of her death. This year’s competition is a revival of the contest, underwritten by Dr. H. Andreas Neves. For the first time, the event has the participation of the company’s orchestra, conducted by OSJ Music Director Joseph Marcheso.
Semifinal judges were two-time Grammy Award winner mezzo soprano J’Nai Bridges, Houston Grand Opera General Director Khori Dastoor (who formerly headed Opera San José), Marcheso, and Lyric Opera of Chicago’s newly appointed Chief Artistic Administration Officer Matthew Ozawa.
The jury for the finals consisted of mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, Lucey, bass Soloman Howard, and SF Opera’s Head of Music John Churchwell.