2020 saw a great many changes for everyone at Flat Pack Music. Foremost was the change in their status from a partnership with charitable aims to a fully-fledged Charity. The goal has always been to make opera and classical music more accessible to the public. They also try to provide opportunities to young professional musicians just starting in their career.
Throughout the national lockdowns and the trials and tribulations of the past 12 months, Flat Pack Music have been trying to keep music alive. Like so many others they had to adapt to working and performing almost exclusively online.
They began with weekly singalong sessions on Facebook Live aimed at the over 70’s, called ‘Isolation Vocalisation’ and also set up a weekly recital series called ‘Flat Pack Fridays’ where they invited artists to perform from their homes for an audience live on Facebook. Also they live streamed concerts and pre-recorded a Christmas concert called ‘Ding Dong Merrily Online’. Then at the end of 2020 their inaugural Opera Competition was announced.
Flat Pack Music had always intended to create a singing competition that was open to people of all ages, as competitions are often closed to singers over the age of 29. It had been their goal to host a public final at one of their much loved venues. Due to the unique state of events in 2020/21 it became more practical to host an online competition.
They asked the competitors to submit recordings of one aria in a foreign language and one aria in English. Recordings did not need to be made in a studio or hall, or even with a pianist, a backing track was also acceptable.
Over 100 entries were received from all over the world, including Malaysia, Hong Kong, The United States of America, Wales, Ireland, Canada, Scotland, England and Spain.
From these entries, 16 finalists were chosen and 3 prizes were awarded, with 1 highly commended singer.
Judging was International Tenor and Teacher at the Royal Academy of Music Richard Berkeley-Steele. Of the entries he wrote;
This competition was really difficult to adjudicate as the standards were overall very high. I tried to ignore the different standards and circumstances of the recordings. Everybody made a huge effort to sing well and be entertaining. But I felt the most accomplished all-round performances were’
1st Prize: Stephanie Hershaw
2nd Prize: Armand Rabot
3rd Prize: Charles Cunliffe
Highly Commended Finalist: Sarah Richmond
‘Stephanie Hershaw, who showed real commitment to detail in her singing and characterisation. This was very accomplished, with a wide range of colours and expression and vocal tone and a huge difference between the two arias. Padre, germani, addio, was alive with thinking and colours. The Britten, whether the sun shines, had a totally different range of vocal colours and emotional range. Avery sophisticated performance, showing a fine lyric soprano with huge imagination and ability.’
‘Armond Rabot, who gave a superb performance of Bottom’s Dream, with a natural flair and ability to use Britten’s writing, with much character, yet accuracy. He had the ability to make the music sound free, at the same time as being correct, not an easy task. Madamina was well sung and characterised, with graceful phrasing and good use of Italian. He had the character perfectly.’
‘Charles Cunliffe, who sang and acted superbly. His Nick Shadow was so alive with thinking and plotting. Very well sung with superb use of the new-classical style and managing to make sense of the text and rhythms. The Handel, Sorge infausta una procella, was performed with extraordinary freedom of thought and excellent emotional use of the coloratura. A sophisticated singer who manages to embody the drama and be very musical.’
‘Sarah Richmond is very highly commended for two very contrasting arias which were wonderfully portrayed and sung.’
‘Lockdown has been a particularly bad time for many artists and particularly singers. Most singers have been studying and coaching online and have had no real live response in a studio. So all the films submitted were of a very high standard, most made in difficult circumstances. All are applauded. I looked for performances which really captured something live and immediate, with vocal colours and exciting acting, all in response to the music and text. I wish everyone good luck! We’re nearly through this!’
Congratulations to all the 2021 finalists:
Anna Elizabeth Cooper
Nikita Silagi Labdon
Thank you to all who entered