Review by Edward Kliszus
Livestreamed Friday, February 25, 2022, from The Morgan Library and Museum
The 50th George London Foundation Competition for American and Canadian Opera Singers Final Round was hosted by renowned lyric soprano Susanna Phillips at the Morgan Library, at 4 pm, February 25, 2022.
This event is a gift from the legacy of renowned bass-baritone George London (1920-1985). The Competition introduces and welcomes luminaries of the operatic stage to the world. Past winners of this prestigious competition include Renée Fleming, Sondra Radvanovsky, and Dawn Upshaw.
Today finalists each performed one selection accompanied by superb pianist Michael Fennelly. This year’s judges include soprano Harolyn Blackwell, mezzo-soprano Susan Quittmeyer, bass James Morris, and George London Foundation Executive Director John Hauser. More than $2 million has been awarded since the naissance of this foundation.
Links to this performance are found at:
George London Foundation Facebook page
It is gratifying to hear and see young people who have dedicated their lives and talents to advancing the musical arts. More than a competition, this event reminds one of the power and value of artistic expression. It also shows that opera endures as the original non-digital multi-media art form that harnesses the expressive powers of music, drama, visual art, dance, and literature. We see these elements develop throughout opera’s evolution from Jacopo Peri‘s Dafne (1598) and Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (1607) to the quintessential bel canto of Donizetti, verismo of Puccini, neoclassicism of Stravinsky, and contemporary works like Missy Mazzoli’s: Song from the Uproar (2009).
While under arguably astonishing pressure, each performer arose not only to demonstrate their range and versatility but to effectively dramatize multifaceted roles associated with the music and libretti. Overall, their presence, comportment, poise, technique, facility, diction, enunciation, and mastery of their respective tessitura were astounding. It was delightful to hear the broad range of styles, themes, and languages proferred. The intimacy of the recital format used in this concert, a singer with piano accompaniment, inspires reflection on the artists who developed the form to its apotheosis. The achievements and brilliance of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, accompanied by Gerald Moore, certainly come to mind.
Here are descriptions of the performances of the five winning contestants:
Eric Ferring, tenor
“Una furtiva lagrima” from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. In this classic bel canto aria, Nemorino sings of his love for Adina in the romanza from act 2, scene 3. Nemorino is vulnerable, intimate, and vibrant, expressing hope that indeed “A single secret tear from her eye did spring” and realizing that “Yes, I could die! Yes, I could die of love.” Ferring marvelously conveyed the beauty of each subtle impassioned intone of the music in the bel canto style with mastery of messe di voce, phrasing, agility, and sangfroid. As listeners sat motionless, we hardly noticed Ferring breathing as he touched our hearts with his tender contemplations.
Erik Grendahl, baritone
“Pierrot’s Tanzlied” from Korngold’s Die tote Stadt (The Dead City). Erik Grendahl as Paul magnificently performed this aria of yearning and obsession, effectively articulating its tragic, agonizing sense of loss and hopelessness. This richly passionate work provided Grendahl with the means to display his dramatic talents, musical range, and versatility. The depths of his rich, beautiful sound ably conveyed the theatrical heights of 19th-century romanticism exemplified through the evocative passions of our hero Paul. Paul lives where his young wife, Marie, had died years earlier, and preserves a Kirche des Gewesenen (Temple of the Past) in remembrance, a shrine of sorts, a locked room with keepsakes like photographs, a lute, and a lock of her hair.
Timothy Murray, baritone
“Vi mnye pisali … Kogda bi zhizn” from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. This opera musically comports to portraying Eugene Onegin as a complex, stunningly selfish, indurate cynical character doomed to loneliness and ennui. Murray possesses the rich, brilliant tone, distinct facility, and confidence to depict Onegin. He marvelously displayed his control and ability to insightfully characterize Onegin as the tragic figure who reluctantly kills his only friend in a duel, and upon later seeing the lovely Tatyana whose pure innocent love he once spurned, is ultimately rejected by her.
Megan Moore, Mezzo-soprano
“Air des lettres” from Massenet’s Werther. Moore’s reverie of anguish reflects the complex, perplexing feelings of Charlotte, who is married to Albert. She cannot stop herself from reading letters from Werther, the amorous, hopelessly doomed, unrequited admirer from afar. Chanteuse Megan Moore’s impassioned singing captures and articulates the heart-breaking pathos of the emotional panorama penned by Édouard Blau and scored by Jules Massenet. Her dramatic métier and certainty support rich evocations of Charlotte’s displaced sentiments of poignant discord. Marvelous indeed!
Blake Denson, baritone
“Carlos, écoute” (Rodrigo’s Death Scene) from Verdi’s Don Carlos. Elisabeth and Don Carlos fall in love, but to maintain peace between Spain and France, Elisabeth marries Don Carlos’ father and is now his stepmother. We are in the time of the Inquisition at the peak of its evil powers. While the opera personifies revenge, sacrifice, honor, adultery, and insurrection, it provides a glimpse of the universality of love’s immortality. Denson expressed these passions and more with his dramatic mastery and richly intoned magnificent baritone voice.
At 5:15 pm, the last performers left the stage, prompting the beginning of the judges’ deliberations. While waiting, we were treated to recordings of George London, accompanied by a photo collage of his characters and roles.
At 6:08 pm, host Susanna Phillips arrived at the dais. She thanked and recognized the pianist accompanist Michael Fennelly, each of the judges, and Nora London, who “keeps George’s spirit alive” through the wonderful Foundation. Finally, amid palpable tensions, she announced the winners, cited below with a collection of impressive vitae.
Winners of the 2022 George London Awards ($10,000 each)
Blake Denson, baritone (25, Paducah, KY), sang “Carlos, écoute” from Verdi’s Don Carlos – George London Award in honor of Nora London, sponsored by Ene Riisna. Blake Denson is praised for his “captivating dramatic interpretations” with “a striking upper register “and “a sound that boomed to the back of the house” (Opera Wire). Recently, Mr. Denson was named a winner in the International Concurs Tenor Viñas Competition and the winner in The Dallas Opera National Vocal Competition, winning multiple awards in both. Mr. Denson was also a Grand Finalist winner of the 2020 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. In his first years in Houston Grand Opera, his roles and appearances included Peter in Hansel und Gretel, Soloist in Giving Voice, Soloist in Suite Español, and Daddy/Tim in the world premiere of The Snowy Day. In the 2021-22 season, he will make his company debut with Des Moines Metro Opera, singing the role of Jake in a new production of Porgy and Bess. In the upcoming season, Mr. Denson will perform with Sante Fe Opera, Bayerische Staatsoper, English National Opera, Staatsoper Hamburg, Washington National Opera, Houston Symphony, and Paducah Symphony. Denson is an alumnus of Wolf Trap Opera, the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, and the University of Kentucky. His awards include Winner of the Concurs Tenor Viñas Competition, First Prize/Legacy Award in National Opera Association, the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Houston, the Orpheus Vocal Competition, the Perfect Day competition, the Pasadena Vocal Competition, Partners in Arts Vocal Competition, Annapolis Vocal Competition, Opera Ithaca Vocal Competition, and Opera Mississippi Opera Competition. www.blakeadenson.com
Eric Ferring, tenor (29, Dubuque, IA), sang “Una furtiva lagrima” from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore – George London Award in memory of Leonie Rysanek, sponsored by Thurmond Smithgall. Mr. Ferring graduated from Drake University with his Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and Boston Conservatory with his Master of Music in Opera Performance. He is a graduate of the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center and the Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist Program. Eric Ferring makes his Metropolitan Opera debut during the 2021-22 season, singing Pong in Turandot. Additionally, he performs the role of Tamino for holiday performances of The Magic Flute, Arturo in Lucia di Lammermoor, and a Royal Herald in Don Carlos. In the summer, he debuts at Santa Fe Opera, singing Fenton in Sir David McVicar’s new production of Falstaff. Future seasons include returns to Opéra de Rouen and Santa Fe Opera, and debuts with the Opéra de Paris and Opéra national du Rhin. Mr. Ferring has received prizes at many competitions, including the Glyndebourne Opera Cup, Gerda Lissner Foundation International Voice Competition, American Opera Society of Chicago, Dorothy Lincoln-Smith Classical Voice Competition through the National Society of Arts and Letters, the Metropolitan Opera Laffont Competition, as well as receiving grants/awards from the Richard Tucker Foundation, Sullivan Foundation, Santa Fe Opera, and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Mr. Ferring is the Project Curator for the new independent classical music label Lexicon Classics. He will release his solo debut album, No Choice but Love, under the Delos Records label in the winter of 2022 and a chamber music album, We have tomorrow, also with Delos in the winter of 2023, featuring his longtime duo partner, Madeline Slettedahl. www.ericferring.com
Erik Grendahl, baritone (28, Boydton, VA), sang “Pierrot’s Tanzlied” from Korngold’s Die tote Stadt – George London Award in memory of Mary Palumbo, sponsored by Donald Palumbo. Praised by Opera News for his “smooth, copper-hued baritone,” Erik Grendahl is a second-year Master of Music student at the Juilliard School, where he studies with Darrell Babidge. He recently appeared as Endimione/Caronte and Torquato Tasso in the Juilliard Opera productions of Rossi’s L’Orfeo and Flowers and Tears. Erik’s other roles include Escamillo in IN Series Opera’s adaptation of Carmen, the Count in Bel Cantanti Opera’s production of Le nozze di Figaro and Joseph De Rocher in James Madison University (JMU) Opera’s production of Dead Man Walking. Later this season, Erik will join the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice program, singing Steuermann in Tristan und Isolde and covering René Gallimard in the world premiere of M. Butterfly. He is a New York District Winner in the 2021 Metropolitan Opera Laffont Competition. He is also a winner of the 2022 Juilliard Vocal Arts Honors Recital. He will perform his program at Alice Tully Hall Erik graduated from James Madison University with degrees in music and statistics. www.erikgrendahl.com
Megan Moore, mezzo-soprano (31, Cincinnati, OH), who sang “Air des lettres” from Massenet’s Werther – George London Award in memory of Lloyd E. Rigler and Lawrence E. Deutsch, sponsored by The Lloyd E. Rigler and Lawrence E. Deutsch Foundation, James D. Rigler, President. Ms. Moore is an award-winning opera and concert singer. In the 2021-22 season, Megan creates the role of Ino in the world premiere of Corigliano & Adamo’s Lord of Cries at Santa Fe Opera. She looks forward to her Metropolitan Opera debut in Brett Dean’s Hamlet. She also appears as Claire in On the Town at Opera Naples with Ramon Tebar at the podium. Concert highlights this season include film projects with The English Concert under the direction of Harry Bicket and a world premiere by Jessica Meyer at the Shriver Hall Concert Series in Baltimore, Maryland, in partnership with violist Jordan Bak. Megan appears in recital at both the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C, and Merkin Hall in New York City with her duo partner, pianist Francesco Barfoed. Megan has taken home top honors from Young Concert Artist International Auditions and the Jensen Foundation Vocal Competition, among others, and recently completed an Artist Diploma at The Juilliard School. In 2015 she co-founded LYNX, an art song initiative whose Amplify Series has commissioned over four hours of new art songs with texts by young people with non-verbal autism. www.meganmooremezzo.com
Timothy Murray, baritone (29, Whitefish Bay, WI), sang “Vi mnye pisali … Kogda bi zhizn” from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin – George London Award in memory of Kirsten Flagstad, sponsored by the New York Community Trust. Heralded for his “firm, flexible baritone” (New York Times) and “swaggering, rakish” stage presence (Opera News), baritone Timothy Murray has won recognition in competitions from the Sullivan Foundation, the Loren. L. Zachary Society, the Glyndebourne Opera Cup, the Mario Lanza Competition, and a Grand Finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. He is currently a member of the Adler Fellowship Program with San Francisco Opera with past and present assignments in Tosca, The Barber of Seville, Così fan tutte, Don Giovanni, Eugene Onegin, Dialogue des Carmélites, Dream of Red Chamber, and La Traviata. As a participant in the 2019 Merola Opera Program, he performed the role of Paul in the world premiere of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s opera If I Were You and finished out the summer on the War Memorial Opera House stage singing the title role in a scene from Thomas’ Hamlet as part of the Merola Grand Finale. Recent highlights include Schaunard (La bohème) with North Carolina Opera and Il Conte (Le nozze di Figaro) and Mercutio (Roméo et Juliette) with The Academy of Vocal Arts. He debuts with the San Francisco Symphony in Carmina Burana this spring. www.timmurraybaritone.com
George London Encouragement Awards ($2,000 each):
Erika Baikoff, soprano (28, Brooklyn, NY) – Award in memory of Jaclyn Rendall Elyn, sponsored by Mark Elyn.
Cody Bowers, countertenor (29, Newnan, GA) – Award in memory of Louis D’Angelo, sponsored by Robert Lombardo.
Thomas Cilluffo, tenor (29, Traverse City, MI) – Award sponsored by Irwin S. Scherzer Foundation and Meche Kroop.
Edwin Jhamal Davis, bass (29, Utica, MS) – Award in memory of Dr. Herbert N. Appel, sponsored by Susan Appel.
Sophie Naubert, soprano (23, Gaitneau, Quebec, Canada) – Award in memory of Herbert J. Frank, sponsored by David Shustak.
Christopher Oglesby, tenor (33, Woodstock, GA) – Award sponsored by Barbara Brookes and the Miriam and Arthur Diamond Charitable Trust.
Joseph Parrish, bass-baritone (24, Baltimore, MD) –Award in memory of Howard Solomon, sponsored by Sarah Billinghurst Solomon.
See the complete list of George London Award winners: www.georgelondon.org/competition
The exquisite quality of this event is indicative of the beautiful artistic happenings at the Morgan. Information on upcoming events at the Morgan can be seen here or go to https://www.themorgan.org/programs/list.
Tickets for the George London Foundation recital at the Morgan featuring Aaron Blake, tenor, with Ken Noda, piano, can be found here or go to https://www.themorgan.org/programs/george-london-foundation-recital-7.
Call (212) 685-0008 ext. 560 or e-mail email@example.com for more information.
Event tickets here.
The Morgan Library & Museum, 225 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016 (225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street)