I'm a little embarrassed," say's soprano Linda Mabbs, who this month won the Oratorio Society of New York's Solo Competition at Carnegie Hall, her first win. "Isn't that silly? I've worked so long and hard, and now that I've actually won a competition I don't quite know how to handle it. n

"Of course, I'm delighted and I've been trying to call my mother to say 'Hey, Ma, I've won!'" said the Chicago-born Mabbs, who moved to Washington in 1977. "But I guess I don't take much credit -- the gift is just there, and I've developed it, that's all."

Mabbs says that while she has entered numerous competitions before, including the Met opera auditions, she has never won. She entered this year because the competition focused on the repertoire she knew best -- oratorios. Mabbs is particularly known as a Handel specialist and two of her competition arias were by that composer.

"Before, in competitions, I thought about what the judges would like," she explained. "This time I said I'm just going out there and pretend this is a performance and do it my way."

In addition to receiving the $1,000 prize, Mabbs will sing Handel's "Messiah" with the Oratorio Society of New York next Christmas at Carnegie Hall, where the performances have been an annual rite since 1874.