A Vocal Constellation Affirms Star Power Of Competition Winners

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A new crop of ascendant singers, winners of Gerda Lissner Foundation Vocal Competitions, performed at Carnegie Hall on May 2: Clockwise from top left, soprano Karoline Podolak; baritone Yeongtaek Yang; tenor Matthew Cairns; soprano Shelén Hughes; countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen; soprano Gemma Nha; mezzo-soprano Marie Therese Carmack; soprano Tatev Baroyan; mezzo-soprano Anna Kelly; mezzo-soprano Rosario Armas. (Competition photos below by Howard Heyman)

NEW YORK — How does a classical singer who is interested in a performing career move from lessons and school to the opera or recital stage? Obviously, it is not easy, and it takes money to support the talent, often garnered in competition. A recent concert featuring the international winners of the Gerda Lissner Foundation Vocal Competitions in 2023 and 2024 showed that the classical vocal world need not worry about the future: the upcoming talent is ready and able.

A former foundation winner, Metropolitan Opera star and Grammy winner, countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, made a special appearance to receive the foundation’s Achievement Award. He has recently taken over as general director and president of Opera Philadelphia and was introduced by Emmy Award winner and radio host to the Metropolitan Opera, Mary Jo Heath.

The festive occasion included a special appearance by countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, a former foundation winner. (Performance photos courtesy Lissner Foundation)

Ten rising vocal stars presented their impressive talents in the Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall in Carnegie Hall on May 2 at “An Evening of Lieder/Song, Opera, Operetta and Zarzuela.” The artists were award recipients of the foundation’s Lieder/Song Vocal Competition of 2023, and the International Vocal Competition for Opera, Operetta and Zarzuela of 2024. All of these singers had already won a number of other competitions.

Top prize winner of the International Vocal Competition was American countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen. He sang “Inumano fratel . . . Stille amare” from Tolomeo, re d’Egitto and “Empio, dirò, tu sei!” from Giulio Cesare in Egitto, both operas by Handel. His sensitive presentation in the first aria was matched by his dramatic flair in the second. This is a singer who is already on his way to a bright career. Cohen’s upcoming performances include the title role of Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto in Glyndebourne (beginning June 23), an appearance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra singing Handel arias (Oct. 17-19), and a Carnegie Hall recital in 2025 (Feb. 13, 2025).

The competition’s top prize was awarded to countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, whose upcoming performance dates include Glyndebourne and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. (Jiyang Chen photo)

South Korean baritone Yeongtaek Yang won First Prize (the Stephen De Maio Memorial Award) and wowed the audience by heartily singing “Si può? Si può?” from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. He also passionately sang the stentorian and stirring “Nemico della Patria?” from Giordano’s Andrea Chenier. Yang is an understudy for the title roles in upcoming performances of Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Verdi’s La traviata at the Santa Fe Opera this summer.

Baritone Yeongtaek Yang, the first prize winner, is already on the radar of the Santa Fe Opera.
Maire Therese Carmack, mezzo-soprano

Winner of First Prize in the 2023 Lieder/Song Vocal Competition was American mezzo-soprano Maire Therese Carmack, currently in rehearsal as the Third Lady in the San Francisco Opera’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. “Love, Let the Wind Cry . . . How I Adore Thee” by Undine Smith Moore revealed a rich and powerful voice. She also sang the soulful and moving “Lyubasha’s Aria” from Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tsar’s Bride and a heartfelt “Du bist der Lenz” from Wagner’s Die Walküre. In 2024, Carmack will be in recital at the Opera Theatre of the Rockies, soloist in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the Oregon Bach Festival, and singing as Dodo McNeill in Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves with the Houston Grand Opera in 2025.

Karoline Podolak, soprano

Third-prize winner of the International Vocal Competition was Polish-Canadian soprano Karoline Podolak. Starting with “Je suis Titania” from Thomas’ Mignon, she demonstrated amazing flexibility and a wealth of high notes. To prove her case, she also sang “Glitter and Be Gay” from Bernstein’s Candide. Her upcoming performances include a recital at the National Opera of Bordeaux, Adele in Die Fledermaus at the Edmonton Opera, Kate Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly at the Canadian Opera Company, and Mozart’s Requiem with at the Sing the North festival in Victoria, B.C.

Gemma Nha, soprano

Second place in the Lieder/Song Vocal Competition went to soprano Korean-Australian soprano Gemma Nha, who sang songs by Schubert and Joowon Kim. Nha’s clear and pure voice was well-used. As a member of the Ryan Opera Center of the Lyric Opera of Chicago fresh out of Juilliard, Ms. Nha will make her Chicago stage debut as a member of the Ryan Opera Center elite training program for young artists, with supporting roles in Rigoletto, Le Nozze di Figaro, and the 2021 opera The Listeners, by Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek, in its Lyric premiere. Third place winner in the Lieder/Song Vocal Competition, Anna Kelly, sang songs by Edvard Grieg and Joseph Marx that displayed her warm voice. Her upcoming engagements include her debut as Dorabella in Mozart’s Così fan tutte with Saratoga Opera in June and July.

Shelén Hughes, soprano

The first prize winner in the operetta-zarzuela division category was Bolivian soprano Shelén Hughes, who sang a song from Victor Herbert’s Mlle. Modiste with great flair for the dramatic elements of the piece. She is currently performing in Huang Ruo’s An American Soldier at the Perelman Performing Arts Center in NYC through May 19.

One of the most exciting audience responses erupted when mezzo-soprano Rosario Armas, the second-prize winner of in the operetta-zarzuela division, performed a rapid-fire “Al pensar en el dueño de mis amores” from the zarzuela Las Hijas del Zebedo by Ruperto Chapi.

Mezzo-soprano Rosario Armas, second-prize winner in the operetta-zarzuela division, performed a rapid-fire zarzuela number that delighted the audience.

A winner of one of the Judges’ Special Prizes was soprano Tatev Baroyan who displayed a lovely legato in “Tu, che di gel sei cinta” from Puccini’s Turandot. She was also a prize winner in the 2024 Vero Beach Rising Stars Competition. The second winner was tenor Matthew Cairns whose large sound was especially effective in “E lucevan le stelle” from Tosca. Cairns is in his second year in the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program at the Met and will make his Paris Opera debut singing Froh in Das Rheingold.

All artists were introduced by TV and radio celeb Midge Woolsey, co-artistic director of the foundation. Her witty comments and presentation provided a fluid segue between the winners. The singing was accompanied by the amazingly versatile, solid playing of Arlene Shrut, who was able to provide orchestral colors on the piano. She is not only a top-notch pianist, but also the foundation’s other co-artistic director. Shrut also accompanied each singer for the auditions if they did not bring their own pianist.

The Gerda Lissner Foundation was created by Mrs. Lissner, a Metropolitan Opera subscriber for 77 years, to provide young opera singers with the financial support they need to pursue their craft and excel in the world of opera. In this most recent Competition, more than 300 applications were received from the U.S. and Europe (150 for the opera division), and $95,000 was awarded. The maximum age for a contestant is 32; this year the youngest winner was 23.