The UK's Bampton Classical Opera has announced that the winner of its 2023 Young Singers' Competition is mezzo-soprano Melissa Gregory. The second prize was won by countertenor Kieron-Connor Valentine. The accompanists' prize was awarded to André Bertoncini, who accompanied Kieron-Connor. The decision was reached after a superb final on Saturday 25 November 2023 at the Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College, Oxford, UK.
The three adjudicators were British singers tenor Bonaventura Bottone and mezzo-soprano Jean Rigby, and the vocal coach, pianist and accompanist Ingrid Surgenor. By way of an introduction, Ingrid has worked at Glyndebourne, Welsh National Opera, Bayreuth (for nine years), and across the world, alongside conductors such as Charles Mackerras - an early supporter of Bampton - and Pierre Boulez. She is deeply involved with the Royal Opera House Young Artists Programme, and was official accompanist for nearly twenty years to the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
As winner, Melissa is awarded £2,000; runner-up Kieron-Connor receives £1,000 and accompanists' winner André Bertoncini is awarded £600.
Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers Competition' was launched in 2013 to celebrate the company's twentieth birthday. It aims to attract the finest emerging singers studying or working in the UK.
From an initial entry of sixty young singers aged 21-32, after two preliminary rounds, eight were chosen to compete at the public final in the Leonard Wolfson Auditorium. The eight 2023 finalists were Sarah Chae (soprano), Alexandra Dunaeva (soprano), Melissa Gregory (mezzo-soprano), Rhydian Jenkins (tenor), Georgie Malcolm (soprano), Dan D'Souza (baritone), Myrna Tennant (mezzo-soprano) and Kieron-Connor Valentine (countertenor).
Mezzo-soprano Melissa's programme included Richard Strauss, Rebecca Clarke ('The Seal Man') and Handel. The judges were greatly impressed with Melissa's overall performance. Bonaventura Bottone said:
The decision was unanimous to award the First Prize to Melissa Gregory. Her programme was well balanced, and performed with poise. She rounded off with 'Dopo Notte', from Handel's Ariodante, sung with great style and stunningly exact coloratura.
Kieron-Connor Valentine, countertenor, was awarded Second Prize:
... for his innovative programming. Starting with Britten's, 'I know a bank' sung flawlessly and a highlight of his programme. Kieron's vocal tone we judged to be exceptional.
André Bertoncini, the accompanist winner,
... brought an expertly deft touch in his partnership with Kieron-Connor Valentine.
Australian mezzo-soprano Melissa Gregory, a WNO Associate Artist for the 2023/24 season, is a recent graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music and Queensland Conservatorium. She was a finalist in the 2022 International Handel Singing Competition and award winner in the 2021 JSRB (Dame Joan Sutherland and her husband Richard Bonynge) Bel Canto Award. She has been covering roles with Welsh National Opera and has worked with accompanist Malcolm Martineau. Her earlier engagements include major parts with the Royal Northern College, perhaps notably the Fox in Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen, and since then in Germany (Weimar).
Welsh countertenor Kieron-Connor Valentine recently completed the opera course at the Guildhall, having studied at the Royal Welsh College and the Royal Northern. In 2023/23 Kieron made his company debut with English Touring Opera in Handel's Ottone and Tamerlano (cover) and then Nireno and Tolomeo (cover) in Giulio Cesare. This summer he covered Farnace in Mozart's Mitridate at Garsington, and earlier covered in Handel's Rinaldo for Glyndebourne Touring. In 2018 he joined the Britten-Pears Programme at Aldeburgh in the role of Didymus in Theodora, again by Handel.
André Bertoncini is a Brazilian pianist specialising in vocal repertoire. Before coming to the UK, he was assistant pianist at the University of Maringá (west of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo) and at the Santa Catarina Music Festival in southern Brazil. He also studied in the Embac Conservatoire nears Tours in France.
Many singers who have appeared in Bampton productions have gone on to work with national companies: The Royal Opera, ENO, Glyndebourne, Scottish Opera and Opera North.
Bampton Classical Opera stages productions in rural venues in Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, and in London at St John's Smith Square. Its appearances at the Buxton Festival have won special acclaim. Eschewing familiar repertoire, Bampton concentrates on rarities and forgotten operas of the late eighteenth century, sung in lively new English translations.
Posted 11 December 2023 by Roderic Dunnett