Twenty-eight-year-old soprano Sonya Yoncheva and 23-year-old tenor Stefan Pop were the overall winners of the final of Operalia, the opera competition founded by Plácido Domingo, on Sunday evening at La Scala, Milan.
Rapturous applause from a packed house greeted Yoncheva's "Je marche sur tous les chemins" from Manon, a performance of vivid colour and effortless beauty, and Pop's "Che gelida manina" from La bohème, full of poise and character.
Second prizes went to Italian soprano Rosa Feola, Ukrainian bass Levgen Orlov and Italian tenor Giordano Lucà and third prizes to Russian soprano Dinara Alieva and South Korean bass Chae Jun Lim. This year saw the inauguration of the Birgit Nilsson prize for German operatic repertoire, won by American bass-baritone Ryan McKinny singing "Die Frist ist um" from Der Fliegende Holländer. The Wagner excerpt in particular showcased Domingo's considerable talents as a conductor, at the helm of the Filarmonica della Scala. The tenor, 69, who recovered from surgery to take the title role in Simon Boccanegra last month, has just celebrated 40 years of working at the Milan house.
The final had the flavour of a family celebration, with a section devoted to zarzuela arias (prizes to Rosa Feola and American tenor Nathaniel Peake) as well as a performance of the “Operalia anthem” composed by Plácido Domingo junior, featuring all the contestants.
Established in 1993, Operalia, along with the BBC Singer of the World, has become one of the most important vocal competitions and each year selects 40 singers from more than 1000 entrants worldwide. For the successful finalists, all aged between 18 and 30, the contest is often a passport to international success. Both Yoncheva and Pop receive awards of $30,000. Previous prizewinners include bass Erwin Schrott, mezzo-soprano Joyce Di Donato and soprano Maija Kovalevska. This, the 18th edition of Operalia, was being held in Italy for the first time.