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Aria pays for singers full of promise
Surprise awards of $15,000 each are being given to the newly announced winners of this year’s Aria prizes, made to American opera singers of great promise.

Soprano Patricia Risley, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Welch-Babidge and tenor Norman Shankle will receive their awards from the Thomas Foundation, which administers the Aria awards. But until the announcement they did not even know they were being considered.

“I don't think I have ever had such a surprise before in my life - it was totally out of the blue!” said Norman Shankle. “I had come in the house so tired, but believe me I was up after the call. The next day I looked at the Aria website on the internet. I don't know if there is a single word to describe how I feel. I'm just thrilled to be thought of in such a way.”

Unlike other awards programs, the Aria scheme is not a competition – artists do not audition or even enter their names. They are selected from a list of candidates submitted by some of the opera world's most illustrious professionals who make up both the advisory board and the recommending panel.

The members nominate singers of proven ability based on past achievement and who they feel have unusual promise. Their criteria are simple: is the singer one they would engage, whose recordings they would buy, whom they have worked with and would wish to do so again?

Established in 1994 by Douglas and Wilmer Thomas of Salisbury, CT. and New York, and James S. Marcus of New York, Aria's mission is to identify, enrich, and encourage the promising careers of exceptionally talented native-born or naturalized American opera singers.

The Chairman of Aria's Advisory Board is Speight Jenkins, General Director of the Seattle Opera. Karen Kriendler Nelson of KKN Enterprises and formerly long-time Executive Director of the Richard Tucker Music Foundation is the Program Director. Mrs. Douglas Thomas, the Chairman of the Aria Board, served for10 years as Gulf Coast Regional Chairman of the Metropolitan Opera National Council's Auditions Program.

Miss Risley has appeared in major opera houses both in Europe and the United States. An alumna of Chicago Lyric Opera's Center for American Artists (LOCAA), she made her debut there in 1995 and has since been associated with the Company in such roles as Moglie in the U.S. premiere of Un re in ascolto, Siebel in Faust, Stephano in Roméo et Juliette, and Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby.

Miss Risley made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Tebaldo in Don Carlo, and has also appeared with them in Carmen and La Cenerentola. Her European debut took place at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Die sieben Todsüunden. Last summer she appeared as Meg Page in the Minnesota Orchestra's Falstaff under Jeffrey Tate.

She is presently making a role and debut at Opera Pacific in Der Rosenkavalier. Subsequently she will be heard in diverse roles at three important summer festivals: Estella in Miss Havisham's Fire with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, where she was previously heard in Cosi fan tutte; Meg in the Munich Festival's production of Falstaff, to be led by Zubin Mehta; and Ernesto in Haydn's rarely performed Il mondo della luna at the Innsbruck Festival of Early Music. She made her Deutsche Staatsoper debut as Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, and will return there next season in this role as well as Donna Elvira, Dorabella and additional Ernestos. The forthcoming season will also mark appearances wih the Omaha Symphony in Hänsel und Gretel and Wellgunde in the Dallas Opera's new production of Götterdämmerung.

Norman Shankle's formative years as a singer were connected with the San Francisco Opera. His first associations with the Company occurred in 1996 and 1997, when he was a member of the Merola Opera Program and additionaly participated in two national tours with Western Opera Theatre. During 1998 and 1999 he became an SFO Adler Fellow during which time he performed Pylade in Iphigenie en Tauride, Ferrando in Cosi fan tutte and gave a recital as part of the Schwabacher Debut series.

He officially made his Company debut as Valletto in L'incoronazione di Poppea in the summer of 1998 and subsequently appeared in Tristan und Isolde, Don Carlo, and Betrothal in a Monastery during the 1998/99 season, and Louise, Lucia di Lamermoor, Idomeneo and Don Giovanni in the 1999/2000 season.

Mr. Shankle made his European debut with the Welsh National Opera in 2000 as Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia. Among his concert appearances have been Messiah with the Paul Hill Chorale, the Britten War Requiem with the San Francisco Choral Society, Handel's Saul in Brussels, as well as engagements with the Essen Philharmonic, the Choral Arts Society of Washington and the New Century Chamber Orchestra.

Currently, Mr. Shankle is appearing in La Clemenza di Tito with the Staatstheatre Stuttgart. He officially becomes a member of that Company next season and will appear in Don Giovanni, Der Rosenkavalier, Il ritorno di Ulisse, and more Titos.

Soprano Jennifer Welch-Babidge was a 1997 winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and was immediately offered a position the the Company's Lindemann Young Artist Program. During the next three seasons she appeared in Met productios of Le Nozze di Figaro, Moses und Aron, Susannah, and sang Gilda in Rigoletto in the Company's Parks Concerts. During this time, she also appeared with James Levine and the Met Chamber Ensemble, as well as with the Met Orchestra in Carnegie Hall. Starting in 1997-98, Miss Welch-Babidge was a member of the Wolf Trap Opera for two summers during which time she performed a trio of leading Mozart roles in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Cosi fan tutte, Die Zauberflõte, as well as The Rake's Progress.

More recent appearance include Messiah with Boston Baroque, Giullaume Tell and Les pecheurs de perles with Washington Concert Opera, her European debut at the Schleswig-Holstein Festival, as well as her first appearance at the Salzburg Festival.

Miss Welch-Babidge rejoined the Met for Fidelio, The Merry Widow, and The Makropoulos Case, made her debut with the Opera Company of Philadelphia in Werther as Sophie, and appeared with the Winston-Salem Symphony in her native North Carolina.

Engagements for the singer in the 2001-2002 season include a pair of company and role debuts: Boston Lyric Opera as Norma in Don Pasquale and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis for the title role in Lucia di Lamermoor. Other future commitments include further Metropolitan Opera appearances and a debut at the San Francisco Opera.

Thu May 31 2001 (2:05:43 PM)


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