Written by: John T. Hughes
Handel Singing Competition
London Handel Festival 2007
Anna Devin, Gillian Ramm & Joana Seara (sopranos)
Julia Riley (mezzo-soprano)
Christopher Ainslie (countertenor)
Derek Welton (baritone)
Members of the London Handel Orchestra
Laurence Cummings (harpsichord)
23 April 2007
St George’s Church, Hanover Square, London
Ian Partridge (Chairman)
Nowhere in the programme could I find the qualifications for entry to this Competition, so I cannot say what the upper age limit is. The programme was equally unhelpful in giving us the age of five of the finalists. It is rather important to know whether a singer has been performing for ten or two years.
First to sing was Australian soprano Gilliam Ramm, who offered three operatic arias. The voice is a good one, but she seemed to be applying more pressure than was necessary, so the tone spread in loud passages and words were not clear. In the quick aria ‘Se giune un dispetto’ from “Agrippina” her bottom notes did not project well. Divisions and ornamentation were sung cleanly, despite a lack of a trill. Her strong sound should serve her well if she does not push.
Next was another singer from the southern hemisphere, the South African countertenor Christopher Ainslie, whose voice lies quite high, with a brightness in the tone. Possessing agility in the runs of ‘A dispetto’ (“Tamerlano”), he also produced a smooth line in ‘Ombra mai fu’ (“Serse”), which he sang elegantly. Between these arias he essayed Orlando’s mad-scene ‘Ah! Stigie larve’. I thought the voice too soft-grained for this piece, lacking the bite that would have suggested madness more convincingly.
The Lisbon-born soprano Joana Seara brought focused tone and a lighter and purer voice than Gillian Rama’s. She began with a little aria from Handel’s Spanish cantata “No se emenderá jamás (HWV140): a charming piece appealingly sung. In ‘With plaintive notes’ (“Samson”) her sweet tone was beautifully poised, and in the contrasting ‘Da tempeste’ from “Giulio Cesare” she sang the divisions cleanly.
The second Australian was Derek Welton, a 24-year-old baritone. How good it was to hear him steering his strong voice through ‘See the raging flames arise’ (“Joshua”) without having to sink to the use of aspirates. (In fact, I did not notice anyone aspirating.) One other welcome attribute was a clarity of enunciation with no hint of prissiness or distortion of over-stressed consonants. His virile approach to ‘Arm, arm, ye brave’ from “Judas Maccabaeus” provided a fine example.
Anna Devin from Ireland is, apparently, still in her final year of her BA in Music Performance. Her fresh soprano had an attractive peal, rather bright but not thin or shrill, and served her well in ‘Qui tollis’ from the recently discovered “Gloria”. Far more ornate was ‘Tornami a vagheggiar’ (“Alcina”), through which she moved easily despite one or two moments of suspect intonation. It was good to hear her decorating the da capo.
Finally, we heard an English mezzo. Julia Riley, currently at the National Opera Studio, possesses a soft-grained voice. It suggested a touch of blandness in ‘As with rosy steps’, a slow aria from “Theodora’. Her second offering was a strange choice: a recitative from the cantata “Lucrezia”, which told us little about her. With the fast, intricate ‘Dopo Notte’ (“Ariodante”), the voice opened out more, to do her greater justice and to provide the audience with a better idea of what she could do, and she did it well enough.
Three prizes were to be won. The Adair Prize, worth £2000.00, would go to the winner, with the second-placed contestant receiving the £1000.00 Michael Oliver Prize. An Audience Prize of £250.00 was also available and was won by Anna Devin. Christopher Ainslie went away £1000.00 better off, but the winner of the 2007 Handel Singing Competition was Derek Welton.
Fourteen instrumentalists from the London Handel Orchestra gave attractive support, with Laurence Cumming directing from the harpsichord.