There are plenty of competitions for young opera singers, and plenty of awards for the very, very established — the Birgit Nilsson Prize and the NEA Opera Honors come to mind. But the group that needs it most are mid-career singers: those who are established enough to be performing regularly, but not enough to be household names or, perhaps, even to be paying all the bills.
(I will never forget trying to explain to a copy editor at another newspaper many years ago the realities of an opera singer’s life. Yes, she had landed a prestigious job, but that job was only going to last for a couple of months. Yes, she had to keep auditioning for other jobs. No, there were no guarantees she would get any. “But how does she get benefits?” the editor asked in bewilderment. “It’s just like being a freelance writer,” I said, my words heavy with personal experience.)
Above: Issachah Savage, a graduate of Catholic University, won the Marcello Giordani Foundation Competition last month (see below).
So the Marian Anderson Award is welcome news: one of those lovely awards, like the Richard Tucker Award or the MacArthur Foundation’s fellowships, that you don’t even apply for, but simply learn, one day, that you have received. It’s been given since 1989, first annually, then every three years, and finally settled down to a biennial rhythm. And this year’s recipient, the Kennedy Center has announced, is the mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges. Her prize: $15,000, and a recital in the Terrace Theater on September 10th, which, as part of the Millennium Stages series, will be streamed live and archived on the Web.
“Mid-career” is a term subject to interpretation: Ms. Bridges is at a career phase some competitions would still see as “starting out.” She’s about to graduate from Curtis, and will go on in the fall to join the young-artist program at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. In short, she won’t be thrown on the mercies of the professional world for a couple of years yet. But the award is certainly an encouragement — and puts her in good company; past Anderson Award winners include Denyce Graves (1991), Patricia Racette (1994), Eric Owens (2003), and Lawrence Brownlee (2006).
Another competition last month was won by a resident of Washington. Issachah Savage, a tenor and graduate of the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music at Catholic University, took the $10,000 grand prize in the Marcello Giordani Foundation International Vocal Competition in New York.