Eastman School of Music master’s degree student Matthew Grills, who was a winner in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions last month, was awarded First Prize in the finals of the Lotte Lenya Competition on Saturday, April 21. The top prize in the competition, which is sponsored by the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music in New York City, carried a cash award of $15,000.
The judges for the final round of the competition, which was held in Eastman’s Kilbourn Hall, were three-time Tony Award nominee Rebecca Luker, Broadway and Encores! music director Rob Berman, and Theodore S. Chapin, president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization and chairman of the board of the American Theater Wing.
Grills, 25, a tenor, sang four selections during the final round: “She Loves Me” from She Loves Me (Bock/Harnick); “Where is the One Who Will Mourn Me When I’m Gone?”, from Down in the Valley (Weill/Sundgaard); “If I Didn’t Believe in You,” from The Last Five Years (Brown); and, from Donizetti’s opera La Fille du regiment, the aria “Ah, mes Amis,” which he performed in the Metropolitan Opera competition and which, with nine high Cs, has been called “the Mount Everest for tenors.”
After graduating from the Eastman School of Music this May, Grills will spend the summer in the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program and begins a year-long long residency with the Portland Opera in the fall.
The judges awarded two Second Prizes of $10,000 each, which went to Jacob Keith Watson, 23, tenor (Wynne, Ark.) and to Justin Hopkins, 28, bass-baritone (Philadelphia). The third prize of $7,500 was awarded to Megan Marino, 30, mezzo-soprano (Malvern, Penn.).
In addition to the top prizes, the judges presented two Lys Symonette Awards, named in honor of Weill’s musical assistant on Broadway and Lenya’s longtime accompanist and advisor. Soprano Natalie Ballenger, 22, (Santa Cruz, Calif.), who received her Bachelor of Music degree at the Eastman School in 2011, and soprano Maria Failla, 23, (Scarsdale, N.Y.), each received a $3,000 prize.
The Lotte Lenya Competition is an international theater singing contest that recognizes talented young singer-actors, ages 19 to 30, who are dramatically and musically convincing in a wide range of repertoire, and emphasizes the acting of songs within a dramatic context. It was founded in 1998 by foundation President Kim H. Kowalke, who is the Richard L. Turner Professor in Humanities at the University of Rochester and professor of musicology at the Eastman School.
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