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Opera News Awards winners announced

New York, NY, August 5, 2009 – On Thursday, November 19, the fifth annual Opera News Awards will be presented. The 2009 honorees are: soprano Martina Arroyo; mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato; bass-baritone Gerald Finley; composer Philip Glass; and mezzo-soprano Shirley Verrett.

The announcement is being made officially in the September issue of Opera News, published the second week of August. The gala awards dinner at New York’s Gotham Hall on November 19 will be co-hosted for the second year running by Susan Graham and Thomas Hampson together; celebrity presenters will speak about the awardees, video and audio clips will be broadcast, and tributes from colleagues will be delivered. The November issue of Opera News will feature tributes to the five awardees, all of them distinguished members of the international operatic community, and will provide more details about the event.

The Opera News Awards were created in 2005 to mark the 70th anniversary of the Metropolitan Opera Guild.  The awards recognize five individuals annually for distinguished achievement in the field of opera. Proceeds from the gala evening on November 19 will benefit the education programs of the Metropolitan Opera Guild. 


The editors of Opera News – published by the Metropolitan Opera Guild, which is now celebrating its 75th anniversary – have written brief pre-publication accolades to this year’s awardees.  Features editor Brian Kellow writes of Ms. Arroyo:

MARTINA ARROYO had one of the purest, most meltingly beautiful voices any Verdi soprano was ever blessed with; at her peak, she relegated most of her peers to falling in line behind her. Not only was she a thrilling artist: her commitment, curiosity, natural warmth and good humor have made her one of the most beloved people in her profession.


Managing editor Oussama Zahr, writing of this year’s youngest honoree, says:

JOYCE DiDONATO sets the standard for Rossini singing today. She pairs an earthy, brilliantly flexible voice with glamour, intelligence and generosity as a performer in a wide range of repertoire, including Handel, Mozart, bel canto and Spanish song.

Gerald Finley, the only Canadian in this year’s list, is described by Louise T. Guinther, senior editor of Opera News:

GERALD FINLEY’s eclectic, adventurous career has encompassed operas by Mozart, Purcell and Saariaho and songs by Schubert and Ives. His electrifying performance in the title role of John Adams’s Doctor Atomic exemplified his unique ability to create powerful drama through musical and vocal means. Finley is a rare anomaly – an artist whose lush, vibrant sound, intensity of expression and translucent clarity of diction can wring a tender, almost Romantic lyricism from the most modern and angular of idioms.


Adam Wasserman, the magazine’s online editor, says of one of today’s foremost composers:

PHILIP GLASS’s artistic voice – mesmeric yet lucid – remains striking and singular in an era when contemporary music often attempts to encompass all styles at once.  By composing operas that have celebrated the moral beacons of the 20th century, Glass has welcomed modernity’s heroes, as well as untold audiences, into the most ennobling of art forms.

Opera News Editor-in-Chief F. Paul Driscoll praises Ms. Verrett:

“SHIRLEY VERRETT is one of opera’s true legends – an artist whose beauty, elegance and charisma made her a favorite with audiences throughout the United States and Europe and a woman whose courage, tenacity and integrity have made her a role model for all artists.  She created a legion of unforgettable performances in the mezzo-soprano and soprano repertory, including Lady Macbeth at La Scala, Gluck’s Iphigénie at the Paris Opera and both Casssandre and Didon in the historic Metropolitan Opera premiere of Les Troyens.”

Commenting further about the winners of the fifth annual Opera News Awards, Driscoll states:

“The musical and spiritual generosity of these five superlative artists provides abiding inspiration to opera lovers everywhere; the celebration of their distinguished achievements will be a joyous occasion, especially with the return of our friends Susan Graham and Thomas Hampson as co-hosts.”  

Thomas Hampson and Susan Graham, co-hosts of the 2009 Opera News Awards for the second year in a row, each already has one of the awards in a trophy case at home.

Previous Opera News Awards honorees:

2005:  James Conlon, Régine Crespin, Plácido Domingo, Susan Graham, Dolora Zajick, 
2006:  Ben Heppner, James Levine, René Pape, Renata Scotto, Deborah Voigt
2007:  Olga Borodina, Stephanie Blythe, Thomas Hampson, Leontyne Price, Julius Rudel
2008:  John Adams, Natalie Dessay, Renée Fleming, Marilyn Horne, Sherrill Milnes  


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Martina Arroyo, one of her generation’s great sopranos, is now a distinguished teacher and advocate for the arts.  Born in New York City, Ms. Arroyo graduated from Hunter College and was a teacher and social worker before winning the Metropolitan Opera’s Auditions of the Air radio competition.  She made her professional debut at Carnegie Hall in 1958 as one of the coryphées in the US premiere of Pizzetti’s Murder in the Cathedral; her Met debut, as the Celestial Voice in Verdi’s Don Carlo, came the following year.  Throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, Ms. Arroyo was one of the Met’s most valuable and admired artists, winning special praise for her performances in the Verdi and Puccini repertoire, but also singing with distinction in Mozart, Wagner and verismo works.  Her international career took her to all of the world’s great stages, including Covent Garden, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Hamburg State Opera, Teatro Colón, Zurich Opera, Wiener Staatsoper, Opéra National de Paris, Lyric Opera of Chicago and San Francisco Opera. Since her retirement from singing, Ms. Arroyo has taught voice — her teaching credits include Louisiana State University, UCLA, The University of Delaware, Wilberforce University and Indiana University. In 2003, she started The Martina Arroyo Foundation, dedicated to the development of emerging opera singers; the Foundation’s “Prelude to Performance” programs present two full-staged operas in New York City each summer.  Her earthy sense of humor helped make her a favorite guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. 

Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, whom Opera News calls “elegant, unaffected, and enchanting”, has an enthusiastic worldwide following. Her acclaimed appearances at the Met, Opéra National de Paris, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, La Scala Milan, and other international opera houses, have drawn critical encomia, as have her numerous recordings.  She is also an active blogger and avid photographer.  Born in Kansas, DiDonato trained with the young artist programs of San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, and Santa Fe Opera after her undergraduate education at Wichita State University.  Over the course of four recent consecutive seasons, DiDonato gave seven career role debuts in La clemenza di Tito, Cendrillon, Ariadne auf Naxos, Der Rosenkavalier, Alcina, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, and Don Giovanni. She recently made headlines for soldiering through a Covent Garden performance of Il barbiere di Siviglia despite breaking her leg soon after singing “Una voce poco fà”.  She completed the series of performances in a wheelchair, participating in all the action.

Bass-baritone Gerald Finley began singing as a chorister in his native Canada and completed his musical studies in the UK at the Royal College of Music, King’s College, Cambridge, and the National Opera Studio. He has sung all of the major baritone roles of Mozart: his Don Giovanni has been seen in New York, London, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Prague, Tel Aviv and Budapest; his Count Almaviva at Covent Garden, the Salzburg Festival, Paris, Amsterdam and Glyndebourne.  His other standard repertory roles range from Golaud in Pelléas et Mélisande and Eugene Onegin to Britten’s Owen Wingrave and Captain Balstrode.  This season, he sings Iago in concert performances of Otello with Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra, returns to the Metropolitan Opera as Marcello in La Bohème and appears in recital at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall.  Mr. Finley has created leading roles in several contemporary operas, among them J. Robert Oppenheimer in John Adams’s Doctor Atomic, which he sang at San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago. Netherlands Opera, the Met and ENO; Harry Heegan in Mark Anthony Turnage’s The Silver Tassie; and the title role in Tobias Picker’s Fantastic Mr. Fox.  Also a distinguished recitalist and recording artist, Mr. Finley is a Visiting Professor and Fellow of the Royal College of Music.

American composer Philip Glass was born in Baltimore and studied at the Juilliard School, with Darius Milhaud at the Aspen Festival and with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. He is one of the most prolific and influential compositional voices of the modern era, creating distinguished works for orchestra, chamber groups and solo instruments, as well as operas and film scores (Koyaanisqatsi, Kundun, Notes on a Scandal, The Hours).  Glass’s works for the opera house include Einstein on the Beach, Akhnaten, The Voyage, The CIVIL WarSThe Making of The Representative For Planet 8Waiting for the Barbarians, Appomattox, and Satyagraha, his meditation on the life of Mahatma Gandhi, which had its Metropolitan Opera premiere in 2008.

New Orleans-born and trained in California and at Juilliard, Shirley Verrett established herself as an incomparable artist in mezzo-soprano as well as soprano roles throughout the 1960s and ‘70s. Her New York City Opera debut in Weill’s Lost in the Stars (1958) was followed by critical acclaim in Cologne (1959), Spoleto (1962), Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater (1963) and Covent Garden (1966); other theaters welcoming her to their rosters included La Scala, San Francisco Opera, Wiener Staatsoper, Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Met, where she made her debut as Carmen, in 1968.  She sang 126 performances with the Metropolitan Opera, including her triumphant assumption of both Cassandre and Didon in the company’s first production of Les Troyens (1973); Judith in the Met premiere of Bluebeard’s Castle (1974); Neocle in the US and Met premiere of Rossini’s Siege of Corinth (1975); Mme. Lidoine in the company premiere of Dialogues des Carmelites (1977) and the title role in the “Live from the Met” telecast of Tosca, opposite Luciano Pavarotti (1978).  In 1990, Ms. Verrett starred as Didon in the production of Les Troyens that inaugurated Paris’s Opéra Bastille.  She made her Broadway debut in 1994, as Nettie Fowler in Lincoln Center Theatre’s revival of Carousel.  Since 1996, she has been a Professor of Voice at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance.


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© 21C Media Group, August 2009

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