For its 22nd year, the self-proclaimed “most prestigious opera competition in the world”, the Operalia competition returns to Los Angeles for the third time. The competition moves from city to city each year (17 so far, in 12 different countries), and only two locales have hosted the event this many times — the other is Paris, where it all began in 1993. Co-hosted with LA Opera, the rather audacious claim to fame has teeth: this competition has proven itself over and over again, jump-starting the careers of too many genuine opera stars to count, but including Joyce DiDonato, Eric Owens, Nina Stemme, Rolando Villazón, Elizabeth Futral and more to come. The competition has also recognized several of our own Listers, including Brian Asawa (one of just two countertenor winners) and last year’s winners Tracy Cox and Ben Bliss.
The center of the Operalia universe, of course, is the inimitable Plácido Domingo, whose stellar and still ongoing career has influenced so many, and continues to build a legacy far into the future. Domingo has had a busy week, after fighting off infections but canceling performances in Salzburg, taking the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (you’re next, Netrebko) and diving into the week’s Operalia festivities. At Tuesday’s press conference, he was chipper and gracious, speaking of the dreams behind the project and a passionate desire to build a real future for the arts. “This is one of my greatest satisfactions”, he beams about the project, and it’s obviously quite true. One former judge is quoted (in translation) in a mini-documentary about Operalia, speaking of Domingo, “his brilliance is the ability to bring people together, and this is something that is very rare.” This project is proof positive.
Designed as a different sort of competition, where contestants an “have a great relaxing time and really prepare for a life of singing”, there does seem to be a more congenial atmosphere here, as participants talk and joke together, and sing the “Operalia Hymn” for us in ensemble, led by LAO staff pianist Tamara Sanikidze. They will participate in a variety of activities throughout the competition period, and finally be judged by an unusual panel of 14 opera professionals — not just singers (although there are a few, including Domingo’s wife, Marta), but a bevy of directors and presenters from around the world, as a sort of secret weapon that makes this competition very special.
This is a star-making machine, not just because of the press Operalia attracts, but because the judges are in a position to offer the singers work immediately, and they do: we’re told “you can into any major opera house in the world and find an Operalia singer”, and it’s quite easy to believe, considering the reach this event has developed over the years. The Rolex sponsorship helps, too, and Domingo obtained this backing by approaching the already active company with perspective related to what they were already involved in — tennis. By presenting the opera tournie as a sport, “the Olympics of opera”, he gained valuable funding, visibility and an ongoing relationship that has served all those involved for more than two decades.
This year’s contestants, as usual, hail from all over the world — whittled down to a roster of 40, the finals take place this Saturday, August 30, at 7pm, at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. (Allow extra time on that day — a big fest at Grand Park will have traffic in a knot.)
Tickets are within reach, starting at $9. But the evening also boasts a first, in that it will be simulcast live by medici.tv — the first such live broadcast from DCP’s stage. Medici’s cross-platform accessibility–including streaming, iOS, Android, and Chromecast–make it one of the most universal tools of its kind, and as part of this collaboration, they’ll keep the broadcast available for 90 days after the live event.