Local audiences can see the best rising young talents in the musical theater world when 16 singer-actors from the United States, Canada, and Germany compete in the finals of this year’s Lotte Lenya Competition on Saturday, April 17.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 230 contestants who auditioned earlier this year, will vie for top prizes of $15,000, $10,000, and $7,500 in front of a panel of judges composed of Broadway and opera stars Timothy Nolen and Lisa Vroman and Broadway music director Rob Berman.
For the first time in the 13-year history of the competition, dignitaries from the city of Dessau, the birthplace of Kurt Weill in Germany, will come to Rochester to attend the international theater singing competition that bears the name of the composer’s wife.
The finals round, which will be held in Kilbourn Hall at the Eastman School of Music, starts at 11 a.m. and continues until 3:30 p.m. Each singer will present an opera or operetta aria and a song from American musical theater as well as two contrasting numbers by Weill and will be judged on the acting of songs within a dramatic context. All 16 contestants will perform one number in the concert at 8 p.m., after which the prize winners will be announced. The events are free and open to the public.
Among the finalists are two Eastman School graduates, mezzo-soprano Margaret Gawrysiak, 31, and tenor Joey Wilgenbusch, 27, both of New York City. Gawrysiak received her master’s degree in music at Eastman in 2005 and has since appeared with the Seattle Opera and Opera Company of Philadelphia. Wilgenbusch, who received his master’s degree in 2008, performed roles in Eastman Opera Theatre productions of Bon Appetit/This is the Rill Speaking, which was released by Albany Records, and The Merry Widow. All of the performers have accumulated impressive resumes, ranging from national tours and Broadway to opera companies in Germany, the United States, and Canada.
The Lotte Lenya Competition is sponsored by the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music in Manhattan. It was founded in 1998 by Kim Kowalke, the Richard L. Turner Professor in Humanities at the University of Rochester, professor of musicology at the Eastman School, and president of the Kurt Weill Foundation. Kowalke established the competition to celebrate the centennial of Lenya’s birth and the receipt of Weill’s papers by the Sibley Music Library at the Eastman School.
Among the guests who will be attending this year’s competition are the mayor of Dessau, the artistic director of the Kurt Weill Festival, and the head of the Kurt Weill Gesellschaft, the association dedicated to preserving Weill’s legacy and sponsor of the Weill Festival.
Competition winners have gone on to play leading roles on Broadway, perform in regional theaters and national tours, appear in major opera houses, and win additional prestigious vocal competitions. They include another Eastman graduate, Nicole Cabell, who won the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition; Paul Corona, who was awarded the Grand Prize of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions; Eastman graduate Analisa Leaming, who appeared as Maria in an Asian tour of The Sound of Music; Erik Liberman, who appeared in Hal Prince’s original production of LoveMusik; and Rebecca Jo Loeb, who was cast by James Levine as Jenny in Mahagonny at Tanglewood. In August 2009 at the Ravinia Festival, six Lenya competition winners made up the entire cast of Weill and Brecht’s Mahagonny Songspiel.
This year’s judges have all been involved in productions of Weill’s work and have a wide range of credits. Nolen has starred in Phantom of the Opera and Cyrano on Broadway and appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Florida Grand Opera, and Lyric Opera of Chicago. Vroman has starred in Phantom and Les Miserables on Broadway, The Most Happy Fella with New York City Opera, and Kiss Me, Kate with Glimmerglass Opera. Berman’s music direction and conducting credits include Finian’s Rainbow, The Pajama Game, Wonderful Town, and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas on Broadway and Sunday in the Park with George at the Kennedy Center. He currently serves as the musical director of Encores! series of classic musicals at City Center.
In addition to Gawrysiak and Wilgenbusch, this year’s Lenya Competition finalists are: Betty Allison, 28, soprano, of Toronto; David Arnsperger, 28, baritone, from Berlin, Germany; Rebekah Camm, 31, soprano, Southbury, Conn.; Ginger Costa-Jackson, 23, mezzo-soprano, Palermo, Italy; Benjamin Eakeley, 31, baritone, New York City; Adam Fry, 27, bass, Langhorne, Penn.; Cooper Grodin, 32, bari-tenor, New York City; Elise LaBarge, 30, soprano, St. Louis, Mo.; Minda Larsen, 29, mezzo-soprano, Brooklyn; Andrew Love, 27, baritone, Toronto; Timothy J. McDevitt, 23, baritone, New York City; Sara Ann Mitchell, 26, soprano, Brookline, Mass.; Edward Mout, 29, tenor, Chicago; and Kyle Scatliffe, 23, baritone, Westwood, N.J.
Following the first round of auditions, the Weill Foundation presented awards to non-finalists who show exceptional promise. Mezzo-soprano Julia Teitel, a 2008 graduate of the Eastman School, received the Grace Keagy Award for Outstanding Vocal Promise.
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Saturday, April 17
Lotte Lenya Competition Final Round. Sixteen contestants from the U.S., Canada, and Germany compete for prizes in this international competition for musical theater singer-actors.
Kilbourn Hall, 26 Gibbs St.
Saturday, April 17
Lotte Lenya Competition Evening Concert. Contestants perform one number and competition winners are announced.
Kilbourn Hall, 26 Gibbs St.