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“A Celebration” The Wagner Society at RAM3 December 2006

To quote Michael Sinclair writing for The Opera Critic “ Seattle enjoys a worldwide reputation for the most respected Wagner festival outside Bayreuth ”, and thus the 2006 inaugural staging of its International Wagner Competition was an event of some significance. Of the eight young singers who made it through to the final, no less than five, including the joint winners Miriam Murphy and James Rutherford, had received their training in London – cause enough for a London celebration.

Appropriately the guest speaker for the occasion was no less than the distinguished bass baritone Sir Donald MacIntyre, who attended the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and he was proud to proclaim London as the world centre for Wagner for the future. He attributed this strong base to Sir Reginald Goodall whose tireless dedication helped to lay the foundations.

Learning a major Wagnerian role is an enormous undertaking – mastering the text alone is a big step and this must be followed by many hours of painstaking work with a singing teacher and pianist – adding up to a major investment for a young singer. The Wagner Society have helped countless young artists on their way, giving them the opportunity to try out excerpts from a role in preparation.

Miriam Murphy and James Rutherford described their excitement in taking part in the competition, of the joy of being able to sing with the Seattle Opera orchestra who know the repertoire so well, and of course their delight in winning. James Rutherford has been offered an immediate contract in Seattle and they have rescheduled their programme to include Tannhauser and allow him to sing the role of his choice. Cue for a song …. and he proceeded to demonstrate most impressively with Wolfram's famous Act III aria O du, mein holder Abendstern

Philip O'Brien who was also a finalist in Seattle took part in extracts from Das Liebesverbot accompanied by an introductory talk by David Edwards.

The afternoon had started with staged scenes from Gotterdammerung. The steps of the platform in the Duke's Hall were strewn with a real miscellany of props – flags, TV set, racks of clothing, a stuffed raven, a table covered in assorted crockery – as I overheard one audience member remark, it looked like a jumble sale was going on up there. Indeed, with a large chorus and cast who remained on stage most of the time in seemingly constant movement up and down the stairs, the direction seemed over-busy. Nevertheless the plot and characters emerged sharply and the music carried the day.

Miriam Murphy , in her first assay at Brunnhilde showed both the quality of her voice and a strong sense of the dramatic depths of this character. It is too early for her to take on this role against the power of a full orchestra, but the lighter weight of piano accompaniment was perfect – and a played quite superbly by Kelvin Lim . I was delighted to hear that he is the recipient of this year's Wagner Society Bayreuth Bursary with a chance to widen his experience at the Festival.

Another young British soprano who may well be heading for a career in Wagnerian roles is Katrina Broderick , heard recently in one of the Nicholas Boas Trust series of recitals. She has a well produced clear voice, and obvious reserves of strength which she holds intelligently in check. Wagner's charming and rarely heard song L'Attente was included in her programme giving more than a hint of the direction in which she is focussing. She also presented a fine sequence of Faure's songs and the clever juxtapositioning of Schubert's Gretchen am Spinnrade with Verdi's far less known version of the same poem Perduto la pace

Alongside her on the platform was the tenor Telman Guzhevsky another young singer with the potential to make a significant career. His voice has a true Italianate ring, which he is not afraid to show off in classic repertoire such as Bellini's Vaga Luna , Cardillo's Catari, Leoncavallo's Mattinata and good selection of Tosti favourites. As a contrast he included songs in his native Russian by Glinka and Balakirev, showing a facet worth developing.

Their fine pianist was Marc Verter , another name worth looking out for.

Serena Fenwick