Neue Stimmen is one of the most prestigious international competitions for young opera singers. The qualifying rounds take place all over the world and involve thousands of hopeful young musicians. The competition final was this year reserved to eleven selected singers, seven women and four men, who sang two arias each (one in each part of the concert) in an exciting evening at the Stadthalle in Gütersloh, Germany.

Carles Pachón, Liz Mohn, Dominique Meyer, Francesca Pia Vitale
© Bertelsmann Stiftung | Besim Mazhiqi

The evening started with Lilit Davtyan, from Armenia, who sang “Je veux vivre from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette, showcasing her silvery, very brilliant soprano, with pointy high notes. In the second part she sang “Ach ich fühl’s”, Pamina’s aria from Die Zauberflöte, which I thought didn’t suit her voice as well: she seemed to run out of breath in one place and her lower register was not as convicting. Marvic Monreal, from Malta, gave a well-thought rendition of “Scherza infida” from Handel’s Ariodante; her deep mezzo managed to “sob” without overdoing it. In the second part she chose “Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix”, the seduction aria from Samson et Dalila, where her voice found the proper sensuality, perhaps pushing a bit, after discretely fighting a frog in her throat at the very beginning as a consummate pro. Tenor Seungwoo Simon Yang, from South Korea, choose Fenton’s aria “Dal labbro il canto” from Verdi’s Falstaff and “Where’er you walk” from Handel’s Semele. He displayed a very natural, unencumbered sound, very good phrasing and a tone which really gave the impression of a young man in love. One of the most elegant singers of the evening, he was unfortunately not rewarded by the jury.

Spaniard Carles Pachón gave a brilliant, slightly over the top rendition of “Largo al factotum” from Rossini’s Barbiere; his excitement got the better of him at the beginning, resulting in some sharp notes, but very soon he took control for a stylish interpretation which avoided many pitfalls (inappropriate high notes) while still being funny and engaging. A true crowd-pleaser. For his second aria he chose “O du, mein holder Abendstern” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser, where he treated us to a heart-melting interpretation. His mezza-voce was sweet, with no hint of falsetto, and the slight flutter in the high notes of his recitative really brought to mind the shimmering of the evening star’s light. A truly deserved first prize in the men’s competition. Soprano Yewon Han, from South Korea, sang Rosina's “Una voce poco fa” from Barbiere, her high silvery voice showed good roots in the centre, and her interpretation was based on the Callas variations. As her second aria, she fearlessly sang “Regnava nel silenzio” from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, treating us to the best coloratura of the evening and a spectacular super-high D. I was glad to see her rewarded with the third prize in the women’s section.

French mezzo Eugénie Joneau brought “Smanie implacabili”, from Mozart’s Così fan tutte. She proved to be the best singer-actress of the evening: truly funny as Dorabella, she completely owned the stage in Charlotte’s “aria of the letters” from Werther. Her interpretation was heartfelt and deep, very mature for such a young singer, her mezzo deep and bronzed, her high notes secure. She won the second prize in the women’s competition. Alma Neuhaus, from USA, sang “Dopo notte” from Handel’s Ariodante and “Parto, parto” from Mozart’s Clemenza. In my opinion neither aria was particularly suited to her voice, which sounded more like a “short soprano” than a true mezzo to my ears. Her coloratura was fast and precise, but she had a tendency to push into unnatural sounds in the low register, while her high notes were occasionally acidic. Perhaps not a lucky evening.

The singers in the 2022 Neue Stimmen
© Bertelsmann Stiftung | Besim Mazhiqi

Sakhiwe Mkosana, a young baritone from South Africa, sang “Ya vas lyublyu”, Yeletsky’s aria from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame, with an excellent legato and perhaps the best breath technique we heard all night. His phrasing was elegant, his high notes beautifully covered and smooth. His second aria was “Hai già vinta la causa!” from Mozart’s Figaro, which sat perhaps a tad low for his voice. Nevertheless, he showed an elegance and appropriate style that one wishes for from more experienced singers who tend to shout for effect in this aria. His second prize was more than deserved.

Next up was the winner of the women’s competition, Francesca Pia Vitale from Italy. She sang “Ah! mio cor” from Handel’s Alcina and “Qui la voce sua soave” from Bellini’s Puritani. The greatest diva of the evening (the only one who changed gowns from her first aria to the second), Vitale sang with a very high, silvery soprano, giving a committed performance, and was highly rewarded by the jury. Her voice starts with a sweet, not particularly strong centre and develops towards mid-high notes sometimes pushed and too metallic for my taste. At the next passaggio, however, they open up in truly beautiful, sweet silvery tones really suited to Elvira’s aria. Her coloratura was secure, and she nailed the super-high E flat at the end.

Brazilian mezzo Marcela Rahal was, for my taste, the most beautiful voice of the evening. Her luxurious mezzo was full of bronzed and chocolate tones, her high notes full and round. Her first aria was the Seguidilla from Bizet’s Carmen, sung with irony and the perfect amount of detachment. “O mio Fernando”, from Donizetti’s Favorita (in Italian), followed, where she gave us a good example of bel canto technique and interpretation, with the proper legato and a remarkable breath technique. Alas, her efforts were not rewarded by the jury.

The last singer of the evening was a generous tenor from Moldavia, Dumitru Mitu, who sang with a dark, almost baritonal timbre, but his high notes opened up beautifully, for a very “heart on sleeve” performance. He sang “Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert” from Lehar’s Giuditta and “E lucevan le stelle” from Tosca. Perhaps not the most sophisticated of the singers, his performance was nevertheless very engaging and the jury rewarded him with the third prize.

Besides all the details and all the personal preferences, the final of the 2022 Neue Stimmen competition demonstrated the abundance of talent in the operatic world today. These young singers showed extraordinary skills and commitment and their beautiful voices will allow us to continue enjoying thrilling and exciting opera evenings to come. It is important to remember this, in a world full of pearl-clutchers denouncing the lack of “proper” operatic singing nowadays: you are wrong. The world is full of beautiful young voices. 

Laura Servidei's travel and accommodation was funded by the Bertelsmann Stiftung