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The Russians Are Coming

In the 1990s, when I still lived in Germany, the talk of the opera world was the new infusion of singers from Russia and Eastern Europe in the wake of the parting of the Iron Curtain. (Remember all those Philips recordings of Gergiev and the Mariinsky? I still really like that long-version Forza del Destino.) Well, the Russian hegemony seems to be continuing, at least at some of the world’s singing competitions.

This thought was provoked by the announcement of the winners of the Plácido Domingo-sponsored Operalia competition, the finals of which were held in Budapest last weekend : the soprano Yulia Novikova and the tenor Alexei Kudyra. This announcement has some bearing on Washington’s opera-goers, for although Operalia’s winners are generally no better or worse represented on the world’s opera stages than the winners of any other international competition, they do tend to show up on the stage of Domingo’s companies. (It’s to Domingo’s credit that he takes such an active role in supporting and backing young singers, giving them abundant chances to test their wings in performance – even if in my role as critic I sometimes carp at the results.)

A Russian soprano also took the palm at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition in June: Ekaterina Scherbachenko. This is, of course, partly luck of the draw, and there are plenty of recent international vocal competitions where Russians didn't win (take the 2009 iteration of the Belvedere Competition in Vienna, which was won by the euphoniously named South African soprano Pretty Yende). Still, as someone who remains partial to the precepts of Eastern European vocal training (those round full voices with a dark tone balancing out silvery top notes; think Netrebko at her best), I thought these victories were at least worth noting.

Here's Yulia Novikova in 2008. She's pretty adorable.

By Anne Midgette  |  August 7, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  international , opera  
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Thanks so much for pointing us to the video. I was amazed to see she could play the flute and sing at the same time! Also, no orthodontics. The video also led to other links worth seeing. There is one where she sings Koenigin der Nacht on a stage worthy of Zambrello (no decorations, a slide projection of stars in the back, stage tilts from stage right rear down to stage left front). She's about 100 lbs short of having the voice required for being a convincing Queen of the Night, but by the time she shows up at the WNO I'm sure she'll have gotten there. I'm just being mean -- sorry! Yulia is really, really cute and has a beautiful voice, and thanks so much for broadening the perspectives of the Washington audience and letting us see and hear what's going on elsewhere in music.

Posted by: gauthier310 | August 7, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

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