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Young Voices Tested, Then Nurtured

At Operalia, the vocal contest doesn't end when the winners are named. Instead, entrants get career help as well as advice from founder Placido Domingo.

August 27, 2000|DIANE HAITHMAN | Diane Haithman is a Times staff writer

Young Albanian soprano Inva Mula was quite literally plucked from the chorus in 1993, when renowned tenor Placido Domingo heard her sing at the Paris Opera--and promptly invited her to compete in his first annual opera competition, Operalia.

"It was a really wonderful story," Domingo recalled in a telephone conversation from Wroclaw, Poland, where he was performing. "When I heard her singing in the chorus, I detected a star quality in her, and I said to her: 'You have to come to the competition.' And she was immediately a winner."

Seven years later, the critically acclaimed Mula, 37--whose sparkling array of engagements for the 2000-01 opera season includes appearing in Los Angeles Opera's production of "La Boheme" in November and December--credits her 1993 win at Domingo's Operalia for launching her career.

"For me, it was a dream, to sing for Domingo," said Mula, who followed her win at Operalia by singing with Domingo in a concert at the Bastille Opera House that was recorded by Sony Classical. The pair repeated their program of arias and duets in Brussels, Munich, Germany, and Oslo. "After this competition, my life changed," Mula continued. "I started to be offered many contracts, and to sing around the world.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 30, 2000 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Opera auditions--The preliminary auditions for Operalia 2000 are Thursday and Friday, from noon to 4 p.m. in Royce Hall at UCLA. Incorrect dates were given in a story in Sunday's Calendar. Admission is free, but tickets are required. UCLA box office: (310) 825-2101.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 3, 2000 Home Edition Calendar Page 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Opera auditions--The preliminary auditions for Operalia 2000 were Thursday and Friday at UCLA. Incorrect dates were given in a story in Sunday's Calendar.

"This is the difference between Domingo's competition and other competitions," added Mula, who previously had taken the grand prize at the 1992 "Butterfly" competition in Barcelona, Spain, among other prestigious awards. "Other competitions, there was only the prize--I won, and that was it. Domingo's commitment to us, to our careers, was really different."


Since the first contest in Paris, Operalia, which offers cash prizes and career support for opera singers under 30, has, like Mula, been around the world--holding its competitions in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Hamburg, Germany; Tokyo; Bordeaux, France; Madrid; and Mexico City. Operalia can count among its winners such promising young singers as countertenor Brian Asawa of Los Angeles, Uruguayan bass Erwin Schrott, Venezuelan tenor Aquiles Machado, Spanish soprano Ainhoa Arteta and American soprano Elizabeth Futral--all of whom will perform major roles with L.A. Opera this season.

And it's no accident that Domingo is bringing Operalia 2000 to Los Angeles, Thursday to Sept. 5 at UCLA's Royce Hall. This year, Domingo assumes the reins as artistic director of L.A. Opera, whose season opens Sept. 6 with Domingo conducting Verdi's "Aida."

Operalia 2000 will offer 40 promising singers--the cream of a pool of between 1,000 and 2,000 entrants--the chance at six cash prizes totaling $175,000. And, more important, the opportunity to add to their resumes the golden Domingo brand name.

The 11-member jury includes American singer Marilyn Horne; Edward Purrington, artistic administrator for Washington Opera; Jean-Pierre Brossman, general director of Paris' Thea^tre du Cha^telet; Peter Katona, artistic administrator of the Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden; and Gerardo Kleinburg, director of the Mexico National Opera.

"It is a fairly new competition," observed Marc Scorca, president of Opera America, a Washington, D.C.-based service organization, "and by virtue of its being new, it is less established than, say, the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions [established in 1954]. They are sort of the grandfather of opera competitions. On the other hand, in light of Placido's international fame, his imprimatur makes it an important and highly visible competition.

"The fact that Placido is so connected at opera companies around the world . . . and certainly for the past several years has been a champion of young talent--any singer whom Placido hears and Placido thinks has potential, benefits from the experience."

Scorca added that such competitions provide important financial support between the young singer's music education and a lucrative career. "There is a huge leap between the conservatory and the career," Scorca said. "It is a very, very troubled few years, a period of time during which activities such as voice lessons, coaching and role preparation are obligatory, and very expensive.

"I'm not going to suggest that a singer is hired or not hired because she has won 100 competitions as opposed to someone who has won two; what is important is that there is an economy to these competitions, so young people are able to support themselves during these difficult years."

Scorca also noted that Operalia is unusual because it is international. Mainly for financial reasons, he said, many competitions must limit themselves to one country or region--the Metropolitan Opera's competition, for example, is open only to contestants from the United States and Canada. "The winners truly reflect the global scope of our art form," Scorca said.

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