Operalia & advertising Photo: Sheila Rock.

Operalia & advertising

Jenna Simeonov

Congratulations to the winners of the 2016 Operalia competition!

  • Zarzuela prize: Juan Carlos Heredia, tenor (Mexico), and Nicholas Brownlee, bass-baritone (USA), Marina Costa-Jackson (Italy/USA)
  • Culurarte prize: Elena Stikhina, soprano (Russia)
  • Birgit Nilsson prize: Brenton Ryan, tenor (USA)
  • Third prize: Rame Lahaj, tenor (Kosovo), Olga Kulchynska, soprano (Ukraine)
  • Second prize: Bogdan Volkov, tenor (Russia), Marina Costa-Jackson, soprano (Italy/USA)
  • First prize: Keonwoo Kim, tenor (South Korea), Elsa Dreisig, soprano (France)
  • Audience prize: Keonwoo Kim, tenor (South Korea), Elena Stikhina, soprano (Russia)

Operalia was founded in 1993 by Plácido Domingo, whose mission was to find young talent, and to help launch the careers of these promising singers. To be a finalist or semi-finalist for Operalia is a major point on any singer’s résumé, and all these singers will see a ripple effect from the exposure and hype associated with Domingo’s vision.

Domingo himself remains a powerful figure in opera, and impressing him has no small effect on the career of a young artist. Yet, there was something slightly distasteful about what seemed like a heavy-handed advertisement for Domingo’s career.

Medici.tv streamed the final rounds of the competition, and it was hard to ignore the barrage of photos and video footage of Domingo, now and in his singing prime. While the jurors deliberated for the final prizes, people watching from their laptops were treated to snippets of his documentary, Plácido Domingo - My Greatest Roles, a collection of interviews and footage from his memorable performances (Don José, Otello, Cavardossi, etc.).

Promoting Domingo, in between the well-honed performances of the Operalia finalists, felt in opposition to the competition’s mission. The business of advertising seemed to take over the air time between competitors. Perhaps it was the perfect opportunity for Domingo to promote his work, since the Operalia audience is the right demographic to purchase a documentary like My Greatest Roles.

Yet, moments like the hour-long deliberation process could also have been a beautiful opportunity to feature, in greater context, the singers themselves. There was an interview with finalist Nicholas Brownlee, yet it was notable that he is a Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist as Los Angeles Opera, a program headed by - you guessed it - Plácido Domingo.

It’s slightly reminiscent of Domingo’s recent forays into lyric baritone repertoire; his taking on of roles like Rigoletto and Simon Boccanegra seems to lack self-awareness of the opera industry today. Domingo is one of the most successful and influential tenors in opera’s history; yet as his voice matured and he no longer found comfort in the tenor roles on which he built his fame, he didn’t retire. Perhaps to a professional singer, this point seems cold; but for artists working today, or trying to break into the highly competitive industry, it’s common knowledge that there are never enough roles (let alone leading roles) for all the incredibly talented singers hoping to win them.

Domingo has a powerful name, and it’s not hard to see why major companies hire him for even baritone roles; yet if the famed tenor is driven to support and promote the careers of young talent, it’s not a good first step to accept roles that may go to deserving singers of the right voice type.

So, the same feelings were evoked when we saw the extended advertisement for Domingo and his work. If anyone can get away with less promotion these days, it’s Domingo. The young finalists of Operalia are in a prime spot to get some extra exposure of their own. Operalia’s mission seems to point towards featuring these rising stars on and off the stage, yet the competition felt frustratingly about established-and-actually-famous-opera-star Plácido Domingo.

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