The three winners of Bampton Classical Opera’s Young Singers competition for 2021 have been announced.

Taking the first prize of £2,000 is Australian soprano Cassandra Wright, while the second prize of £1,000 has been awarded to Welsh soprano Jessica Cale. The winner of the accompanist’s prize of £600 is Israeli pianist Ilan Kurtser, who accompanied Wright.

The decision was made following a public final which took place in Oxford’s Holywell Music Room on 28 November. The judging panel consisted of renowned British tenor Bonaventura Bottone, Royal Academy of Music vocal teacher Professor Jennifer Dakin and esteemed accompanist and conductor Phillip Thomas.

Wright’s programme included Mozart’s ‘Se il padre perdei’ from Idomeneo, Strauss’s Das Rosenband, Op 36 No 1, Stravinsky’s ‘No word from Tom’ from The Rake’s Progress and Rachmaninov’s ‘What happiness’.

The judges were impressed with her overall performance, as well as her partnership with Kurtser. Bottone commented: “In the highly resonant surroundings of Oxford’s Holywell Music Room, the finalists of the 2021 Bampton Opera’s Young Singers competition each presented widely varied challenging 20-minute programmes.

“In a unanimous decision the judges awarded first prize to soprano Cassandra Wright. Her performance showed her beautiful use of vocal colours and musical phrasing. She effortlessly moved between the elements, portraying each character clearly and conveying the text with care. Cassandra was superbly supported throughout the programme by the attentive playing of her fine accompanist Ilan Kurtser, who also unanimously won the accompanist’s prize.”

Young Singers is a biennial competition first launched in 2013 to celebrate Bampton Classical Opera’s 20th birthday to reflect the company’s commitment to working with young artists. It is aimed at identifying the finest emerging singers currently studying or working in the UK.

From an initial entry of 59 young singers aged 21-32 and after two preliminary rounds, six performers were chosen to compete at the public final in the Holywell Music Room. The other four finalists were Frances Gregory (mezzo-soprano), Sophie Sparrow (soprano), Shafali Jalota (soprano) and Dan D’Souza (baritone).

The accompanist’s prize was introduced in 2017. In addition to this year’s winner, three further pianists eligible for this prize: Ella O’Neill, who accompanied Jessica Cale, Harry Rylance, who accompanied Sophie Sparrow, and Mark Rogers, who accompanied Shafali Jalota.

Cassandra Wright studies at Royal Academy Opera. Previous roles include Nella (Gianni Schicchi, Puccini, 1981), Sandrina (La finta giardiniera, The Pretend Garden-Girl, Mozart, 1775), Lucia (Lucia di Lammermoor, Donizetti, 1835), Manon (Manon, Massenet, 1884), Lisette (La rondine, The Swallow, Puccini, 1917), Adina (L’elisir d’amore, The Elixir of Love, Donizetti, 1832) and Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro, The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart, 1786). She was the 2020 winner of the Isabel Jay Memorial Prize and a semi-finalist in the 2021 Kathleen Ferrier Awards.

Jessica Cale is a graduate of the Royal College of Music International Opera Studio where she performed the roles of Rodelinda (Rodelinda, Handel, 1725), Flaminia (Il mondo della luna, The World on the Moon, Haydn, 1777) and Susan (A Dinner Engagement, Berkeley, 1954). She took first prize in the 2020 Kathleen Ferrier Awards and was the joint audience prize winner at the London Handel Festival International Singing Competition.

Ilan Kurtser is currently studying on the Advanced Diploma course at the Royal Academy of Music. He is a member of the prestigious Academy Song Circle, a Leeds Lieder Young Artist and the winner of the two major Academy piano accompaniment prizes, as well as the recipient of the 2021 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Help Musicians UK Accompanist’s Prize.

For more information about Bampton Classical Opera, see the company’s website.



Australian soprano Cassandra Wright has been awarded first prize in Bampton Classical Opera’s Young Singers competition 2021, with Israeli pianist Ilan Kurtser taking the accompanist’s prize.