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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 15 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 33
Issachah Savage, a great new talent, walks away with the prizes at this year's International Wagner Competition
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Issachah Savage, a great new talent, walks away with the prizes at this year's International Wagner Competition

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

To give you an idea of how excellent all the contestants in this year's International Wagner Competition were, let me say that the weakest, in my opinion, was a tenor about whom I wrote nothing less than a rave review when he sang Fidelio at Seattle Opera in 2012. I remember that performance well: nuanced and beautiful and also passionately acted. I cannot explain why Ric Furman seemed underpowered and unfeeling this time around. (Was he ill?)

Every one of the nine singers was very well-schooled vocally, with good-to-excellent vocal technique, musicianship and attractive voices. Where they differed was in their ability to project feeling and in the size of their voices. Soprano Tamara Mancini, for instance, sang Isolde's Narrative and Curse impressively with great tops, but you couldn't hear any of her lower notes. Handsome bass Roman Ialcic was tonally outstanding as Wotan and Hagen, except that he lacked expression. Helena Dix's 'Liebestod' was lovely, but her Sieglinde lacked impact. Kevin Ray had all the notes for both his Siegmund arias, but lacked vocal beauty and stage presence. Almost all of these weaknesses may disappear as their careers develop. Big voices, especially, grow with maturity. (Contestants were limited to ages 25 to 40.)

What we didn't know beforehand was that all these singers were competing against a goliath! Based on what we witnessed in this competition, I have to say African-American Issachah Savage is a dream come true for any Wagner lover. He lacked absolutely nothing. His stage presence is immense and powerful. His musicianship and technique were perfection. His voice is huge, rich, and very beautiful throughout his range, and everything he did was expressive of the words. His Parsifal was thrilling, and his Lohengrin soared on lyrical waves of emotion. With unforgettable top notes, this is a voice I would travel far and wide to hear again! Like Ben Heppner, there was also something about the man that made you love him. Unless there is a flaw that we didn't see, this is a singer who is about to achieve great fame and success!

He won both the audience prize and the orchestra members' prize (each $5,000), as well as one of the two biggest prizes of $25,000.

There were three other singers that were clearly ready for the greatest operatic stages of the world. One of them, Danish tenor David Danholt, wowed us with his Parsifal and won the other $25,000 prize. His very attractive stage presence was matched by the beauty of his tone and lyrical line. (His second performance, the Prize Song from Die Meistersinger, was strangely less impressive. While beautifully sung, it lacked power to such a degree that I was surprised by the award.) Just as deserving were mezzo-soprano Suzanne Hendrix (Waltraute in last summer's Ring) and soprano Marcy Stonikas, familiar to Seattle audiences as Turandot and Fidelio. Both are finished artists in absolute control of their considerable assets. Hendrix sang Venus and Erda, while Stonikas opened the evening with 'Dich, teure Halle' and wowed us later with Senta's Ballad, which stood very well in my memory of hearing Leonie Rysanek sing that role six times, live at the old Met.

Conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing, making his Seattle debut, kept everything going smoothly and never swamped his singers. He drew many lovely sounds from the orchestra, especially the closing chords of the 'Liebestod.'

While people love opera for different reasons, it's the VOICE that thrills me most, even when the drama is just as important. Thus, for opera lovers like me, this orgy of big voices under superb control is a thrill I wouldn't miss, especially when it includes a rare talent the size of Issachah Savage. One hopes this competition continues under Seattle Opera's new director and Wagner lover, Aidan Lang.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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