In March 2018, Glyndebourne held its first international singing competition, the Glyndebourne Opera Cup. Following a worldwide search that attracted nearly 200 entries, and preliminary rounds in Berlin, London and Philadelphia, 23 semi-finalists were whittled down to just ten singers who competed in the final on 24 March.
The standard was extremely high and the jury, made up of representatives from top international opera houses, faced a tough task choosing the winners. Dame Janet Baker, the competition’s president, was on hand to present the prizes, to the excitement of competitors and audience alike. Three months on, Kate Harvey, Glyndebourne’s Press Manager finds out what the prize winners have been up to since the competition.
Mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey, 25, from the US, was the overall winner of the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup and also took home the Media prize, chosen by a panel of opera critics and classical music journalists. A native of Massachusetts, she attended the Merola Opera Program in San Francisco and recently graduated from The Juilliard School.
‘The Glyndebourne Cup was probably the widest reaching competition or performance I have done to date due to the streaming on both Sky Arts and Medici, and because of that the response was incredible!’ Samantha said. ‘My friends and family were so supportive and it was also nice to hear from members of the industry who have been watching my development over the last few years.
‘It was a bit surreal getting to sing at Glyndebourne, especially on the set of one of my favorite operas (Così fan tutte),’ she continues. ‘I really appreciated how the days of rehearsing and competing were spread out during the week, allowing me to explore the local area, prepare my music, and get plenty of rest. But the moments that will stick with me are without a doubt performing with the stylistically sensitive Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Dame Janet Baker’s poignant and insightful words about what it means to be an opera singer and the challenges we will endure as we pursue this career.’
Samantha is currently preparing to debut the title role in the world premiere of a new opera called The Rose Elf by composer David Hertzber, which is being performed in the Catacombs of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. ‘The performance venue is so unusual and it actually really lends itself to this work; it deals with human tragedy and the supernatural,’ Samantha explains. ‘Although the space can be challenging for staging as it’s quite narrow, I’ve learned that catacombs are also acoustically fantastic for the voice.’
Since the Glyndebourne Opera Cup, Samantha has enjoyed further award success – it was recently announced that she is one of 40 finalists in the 2018 edition of Placido Domingo’s Operalia competition and in April she was awarded a Richard Tucker Career Grant.
Second place in the Glyndebourne Opera Cup went to American soprano Jacquelyn Stucker, 28, a Jette Parker Young Artist at the Royal Opera House. Jacquelyn is currently performing the role of Azema in Rossini’s Semiramide at Bayerische Staatsoper.
The winner of the Audience Prize, with a third of all votes cast by those in the auditorium who watched the final, was Kosovan soprano Elbenita Kajtazi, 27, who also took third place. As a young girl Elbenita was forced to flee her home in war-torn Kosovo with her family, and live as a refugee in Albania. Her story struck a chord and following the final she was interviewed by The Times, BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service.
‘The reaction after the competition was incredible,’ she said. ‘I received such good feedback from so many important people who know opera. I just debuted the role of Violetta and am preparing to go to Hamburg State Opera next season. After the Glyndebourne Opera Cup, I signed with Zemsky/Green artist agency and I am very happy to work with them on my journey.’ Like Samantha, Elbenita has been selected to compete in the finals of the 2018 Operalia competition in Lisbon this August.
The Ginette Theano prize for most promising talent was awarded to American soprano Emily Pogorelc, 21. Pogorelc was the youngest competitor to reach the final and is currently entering her final year at the Curtis Institute of Music.
‘The Glyndebourne Opera Cup was such a wonderful experience as it allowed me to reach a wider audience and show my colleagues in the opera industry what art I am capable of producing under pressure,’ she said. ‘Since the finals, I was asked to step into the role of Cunégonde in Leonard Bernstein’s Candide at Washington National Opera, making both my Kennedy Center and my major opera house debut. I have also begun my time at the Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, which I am enjoying immensely.’
The first of the ten competition finalists to return to Glyndebourne will be French mezzo-soprano Eléonore Pancrazi, who performs the role of Le Prince Charmant in a new production of Massenet’s Cendrillon, directed by Fiona Shaw for Glyndebourne Tour 2018.
Plans are afoot for the next Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which will take place in 2020.