Operalia 2000 Heads To Los Angeles

11-member jury includes diva soprano Marilyn Horne.

On your mark! Get set! Sing!

Operalia 2000, the world opera contest founded by superstar tenor Plácido Domingo, kicks off — for the first time in the United States — on Thursday (Aug. 31).

Los Angeles, where Domingo is artistic director of Los Angeles Opera, plays home to the competition at UCLA's Royce Hall.

"For the past two years, we have made the preliminaries available to the public," Domingo told the Los Angeles Times. "Now we can see the singers react in front of the public — not only in front of the judges.

"I also think it is going to be very important for the music students at UCLA, especially the singers, and students from other campuses, to come and enjoy [it]."

The competition began in 1993 and is open to candidates younger than 30 in all vocal categories who believe they are ready to take the main stages of the world.

"Just because you have a good voice doesn't mean you are going to have a good career," Gary Murphy, promoter of the contest told UCLA's Daily Bruin newspaper. "The people who come to Operalia, in addition to the general public, are major opera professionals from all over the world who are looking for their next stars."

Contestant Perks

Notwithstanding the promise of a possible career, Operalia awards more than $175,000 in prize money and the Alberto Vilar Award to six winners who are selected by the international jury chaired by Domingo. Vilar, a noted philanthropist, is the principal sponsor of the event.

"There is something extraordinary and unique about a trained opera voice," Vilar told CNN last year. "A beautiful sound comes into your mind, and it does something to you."

All the contestants' expenses — including travel, hotel and food — are paid by Operalia.

This year's 11-member jury includes soprano Marilyn Horne; Edward Purrington, artistic adviser for Washington Opera; Gerardo Kleinburg , Mexican National Opera director; and Peter Katona, artistic administrator of London's Royal Opera House.

"The early stage of the contest is rigorous," Domingo said in a statement. "It is not only a question of voice and vocal technique, but also of acting talent, intensity and theatrical presence. This is why the jury is not exclusively made up of great singers."

In the first two days of the competition each of the 40 contestants (from nearly 2000 applicants) sings two arias accompanied by piano. The jury then selects 20 semifinalists. The last day of the competition, Sunday, will determine the 10 finalists based on a performance of two additional arias.

Previous winners of the competition include Albanian soprano Inva Mula, Los Angeles countertenor Brian Asawa, Uruguayan bass Erwin Schrott and Venezuelan tenor Aquilles Machado.

"For me, it was a dream, to sing for Domingo," Mula (who has since recorded duets with Domingo) told the L.A. Times. "After this competition, my life changed. ... Other competitions, there was only the prize — I won, and that was it. Domingo's commitment to us, to our careers, was really different."

Importance Of 'Break'

Domingo has long been a champion of fledgling vocalists.

"Over the years I have come to appreciate the difficulties young opera singers encounter as they form careers," Domingo said. "There are beautiful voices to be found all over the world, but young singers frequently lack proper vocal and dramatic direction as well as effective career guidance. My joy is to contribute by offering to the opera world the great talents of years to come."

Domingo spends a lot of time with the contestants, advising them and steering them to the most appropriate arias for their own voice for the competition.

"He advises them on how to conduct their career, how to train not to ruin their voices too early," Operalia's executive director, Isabelle de Montaigu, told the Los Angeles Times. "In history, there have been many examples of people who have ruined their voices because they sang the wrong parts."

"That's the sad thing about trying to be a musician," Domingo said. "You study medicine, law, business, any of the sciences, and upon graduation you are almost guaranteed some sort of position.

"In many cases, the universities help in placing the graduates," he continued. "Not so with singing. You need that 'break,' the break of a limelight shining on your talent. The 'right' people need to become interested in your career."

For this year's contestants, that limelight is about to be cast and may the best voice win.

The "Final Concert" will take place with Domingo conducting the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra on Tuesday, and a "Gala Concert" with the winners will be held on Dec. 15.