Exciting opera arias, pins dropping

The thrilling gala concert which wound up the 11th DEBUT Classical Singing Competition in the concert hall of the TauberPhilharmonie in Weikersheim turned out to be a celebration of well-known and demanding arias.

This was due in no small part to Würzburg Philharmonic Orchestra, which had previously rehearsed all twelve arias together with the finalists. The orchestra meticulously followed the restrained – and at times intense and dramatic – directions given by conductor and GMD Enrico Calesso. The overture from “William Tell”, Rossini’s last opera, which was performed at the gala with a picture of the Swiss Alps – from a new day dawning with a rising a storm to the rapid march of Swiss soldiers – set the mood perfectly for the final round of this year’s singing competition.

Illustrious names on the judging panel

Six finalists had previously qualified for the gala during the preliminary round and the semifinals. Tenor Kudaibergen Abildin, born in 1994 in Karaganda (Kazakhstan), was delighted to be chosen as winner of the Golden Victoria 2022 by the illustrious judging panel, chaired by Anna Larsson and comprised of Professor Gerd Uecker, Bernd Loebe, Professor Stephan Mösch, Rebekah Rota, Susanne Schmidt, Shirley Thomson, Franco Vassallo and Evamaria Wieser. The award came with a cash prize of 10,000 euros. All in all, more than 37,000 euros in prize money was sponsored at the gala and the lieder recital which took place two days earlier. Professor Reinhold Würth and Kammersängerin Brigitte Fassbaender acted as patrons, and while the judging panel was deliberating Fassbaender was interviewed on her career by Felix Seibert-Daiker, the anchorman and television journalist, who presided over the gala in his entertaining style. An international star of opera and lieder singing, she confessed to never having personally taken part in a competition. Professor Stephan Mösch commented that the competition week in Weikersheim is much more than a mere trial of strength. Nowhere else on the circuit are competitors required to interpret a contemporary lieder. This daunting challenge represents a rare chance for singers to rediscover their inner balance. The encouragement given to contemporary compositions is a key differentiator that could be DEBUT’s big opportunity. When Lucia Ronchetti’s contemporary aria was sung by Inna Husieva, accompanied by cellist Florian Schmidt-Bartha – for which she had already won the Lieder Prize on Thursday – the concert hall fell utterly silent and you could have heard a pin drop. 

A singer on his way to the top

Even before the singing competition in the Tauber Valley, the winning tenor’s talents had not gone unnoticed. A graduate of the National University of the Arts in Astana, he will join the ensemble of Oper Frankfurt in the 2022/23 season, taking on roles such as Tamino (The Magic Flute), Lukasch (The Enchantress) and Lenski (Eugene Onegin).

Kudaibergen Abildin is only the second male singer, after Kartal Karagedik four years ago, to win this highly regarded international competition, which was initiated by Dr Manfred Wittenstein in 2002 and has been held every second year since. Before the awards were actually presented, the host for the evening welcomed soprano Karolina Bengtsson from Sweden, who in the DEBUT 2020 anniversary season became the last out of nine female singers so far to win first place.

Outstanding voices

Not every singer is happy to have to take the stage first in a competitive situation. Yet Wuppertal-born Sarah Yang shone with her mature performance of Sophie’s aria “Ich bin Euer Liebden sehr verbunden” (I am much indebted to Your Honor) from “Der Rosenkavalier” by Richard Strauss as well as Frau Fluth’s aria “Nun eilt herbei” (Now hurry here) from Otto Nicolai’s opera “The Merry Wives of Windsor”. Her vocal and acting abilities and her marked artistic maturity were rewarded with an engagement prize from the Würzburg-Lower Franconia Richard Wagner Association. At the DEBUT lieder recital two days previously, she had already won a special prize donated by Dr Wittenstein, which she shared with the German mezzo-soprano Marlen Bieber.

Rebecka Wallroth, the Swedish mezzo-soprano born in 1999, chose Sesto’s aria “Parto, parto” from Mozart’s opera “The Clemency of Titus” along with Octavian’s “Wie du warst” (How you were) from “Der Rosenkavalier” by Richard Strauss. She convinced with her fascinating, well-controlled and highly promising voice, even though it was not quite sufficient to win her a prize. Each performance was evaluated as a “complete package”, which according to the DEBUT judging panel’s criteria consisted of vocal quality, technique, musicality and artistic personality.

Inspirational experiences

Soprano Caterina Marchesini subsequently awakened emotional upward spirals in the audience with her passionate, intimate singing. She opted for Elettra’s aria “Oh, smanie! Oh, furie!” (Oh frenzy! Oh Furies!) from Mozart’s “Idomeneo” as well as Tatiana’s aria “Puskaj pogibnur ja” (The letter scene) from Tchaikovsky’s opera “Eugene Onegin”. An artist of multiple talents, she has also studied piano and violin and even appeared in a drama movie (“Diminuta”, directed by Bruno Saglia). 

Tenor Kudaibergen Abildin occupied first place in the official program, which is packed with details about this year’s competition and includes profiles of all 37 talented newcomers in alphabetical order. It was a position he kept right up until the end. His profound interpretation of Lenski’s aria “Kuda, kuda” (Where have you gone?) from Tchaikovsky’s opera “Eugene Onegin” and Faust’s aria “Salut, demeure chaste et pure” (Hail, chaste and pure dwelling) from Charles Gounod’s “Faust” impressed not only with beautiful vocalization and precise contours. Using very sparing gestures, he filled his expression with fervor and laid bare the character’s psychology.

Inna Husieva’s performance was without question an inspirational experience. She interpreted Juliet’s aria “Dieu! Quel frisson” (God, what shiver!) from Gounod’s opera “Romeo and Juliet” and also took on the role of Lucia with the aria “Regnava nel silenzio” (Reigned in the silence) from Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”. This somber tale addressed to the maid about the ghost of a dead man and her joy as she awaits the appearance of Edgardo (“Quando rapito in estasi” (When carried away in ecstasy)) are punctuated with a good measure of tragedy. Husieva’s delightful flourishes, her trills and her wide, ambitious vocal leaps were seemingly effortless. The Silver Victoria with 7500 euros in prize money plus an engagement prize from Würzburg Philharmonic Orchestra were her reward.

The last finalist – Beomjin Angelo Kim, born in Seoul in 1990 – successfully held his own with the freshness of a youthful tenor and the brilliance in his voice, which made a big impact on the audience. The Korean singer is no stranger to the opera scene, having already convinced the audience at the Badisches Staatstheater in Karlsruhe earlier this year, where he made a powerful impression as the amorous Ernesto, the second male lead in Donizetti’s opera “Don Pasquale”. In Weikersheim, thanks to his perfectly formed performances of Tamino’s aria from Mozart’s “Magic Flute” (“Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön” (This image is enchantingly beautiful)) and Alfredo’s aria “Lunge da lei ...” (There's no pleasure in life when she's away!) from Verdi’s “La Traviata”, he came away with the Bronze Victoria and 5000 euros in prize money in addition to the 3000 euro Audience Prize donated by Dr Cornelia Müller-Reiter, Edelgard and Max Bieniussa Leuser and Dr Andreas Marb. 

The Young Musicians’ Prize, donated by Sparkasse Tauberfranken and worth 1500 euros, was presented at the gala to the young Icelandic singer Marta Kristín Fridriksdòttir. Last but not least, a scholarship from Jeunesses Musicales Deutschland was awarded to Lieder Prize winner Geng Lee from China in connection with the “Young Opera Schloss Weikersheim 2023” festival.

A recording of the gala concert will be broadcast on SWR2 radio at 8 pm on October 9.


01-debut-husieva-calesso (© DEBUT Concerts GmbH / Michael Pogoda): The orchestra held a secret ballot during the gala regarding an engagement for one of the finalists. Enrico Calesso is shown here congratulating Inna Husieva, winner of the award.

02-debut-finalisten (© DEBUT Concerts GmbH / Michael Pogoda): The very experienced judging panel were spoilt for choice among six exceptional singers born between 1989 and 1999 (from left to right): Rebecka Wallroth (Sweden), Caterina Marchesini (Italy), Beomjin Angelo Kim (South Korea; winner of the Bronze Victoria and the Audience Prize), Sarah Yang (Germany; Engagement Prize from the Würzburg-Lower Franconia Richard Wagner Association), Inna Husieva (Ukraine; winner of the Silver Victoria and the Engagement Prize from Würzburg Philharmonic Orchestra) and Kudaibergen Abildin (Kazakhstan; winner of the Golden Victoria).

03-debut-gewinner (© DEBUT Concerts GmbH / Michael Pogoda): With the Ukrainian flag draped over shoulders and holding the Silver Victoria in her hands, Inna Husieva was able to express heartfelt rejoice for one brief evening, in spite of her fears for her home country, as she took the stage again for photographs with Beomjin Angelo Kim (left) and Kudaibergen Abildin, winner of the Golden Victoria. The three Victoria sculptures were exclusively designed for the DEBUT competition by Viennese artist Ernst Fuchs.                                          

04-debut-jury (© DEBUT Concerts GmbH / Michael Pogoda): Snapshot taken of the voting process: the distinguished judging panel was chaired by Anna Larsson (center, wearing a red blazer).       

05-debut-yang (© DEBUT Concerts GmbH / Michael Pogoda): Anchorman and television journalist Felix Seibert-Daiker congratulates Sarah Yang on her performance, which won her the Würzburg-Lower Franconia Richard Wagner Association’s Engagement Prize.     

06-debut-kim (© Felix Röttger): Beomjin Angelo Kim not only thrilled the audience but, according to the clapometer, also received the biggest applause. He was rewarded with the Audience Prize, donated by Dr Cornelia Müller-Reiter, Edelgard and Max Bieniussa Leuser and Dr Andreas Marb.        

Recent posts