The much-anticipated winners of the 2021 International Opera Awards were announced in an online ceremony that took place on 10 May.
The awards celebrate achievements in opera around the globe over the last calendar year in a wide range of categories. After 2020’s live ceremony was forced off stage by the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s online event celebrated work done in 2019 while also paying tribute to the resilience of the opera world during the coronavirus health crisis in 2020.
Spain’s Teatro Real Madrid won Opera Company of the Year, in recognition for a superlative 2019 season and as one of the world’s first opera companies to return to live performance under lockdown conditions. The company’s acclaimed production of Verdi’s La traviata (The Fallen Woman, 1853) took place in July 2020.
The award for Female Singer of the Year was presented to Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen, while Mexican tenor Javier Camarena took the title of Male Singer of the Year. He dedicated the award to “the entire artistic community” for its commitment despite the challenges of 2020.
American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton was voted by the public as the Opera Magazine Readers’ Award winner; she said she was “absolutely gobsmacked” by the win. Mezzo-soprano Vasilisa Berzhanskaya and tenor Xabier Anduaga shared the Mazars Young Singer award.
The Salzburg Festival – another company to lead the way in performing under Covid restrictions – was named Festival of the Year for the second time, having first won the title at the inaugural awards in 2013.
The UK was well represented. The Birmingham Opera Company took the award for Education & Outreach, while its Music Director Alpesh Chauhan was named Newcomer of the Year. Sir David Pountney was honoured as winner of the Good Governance Award for Leadership in Opera for his significant contributions as head of the Bregenz Festival and more recently Welsh National Opera.
The 2021 Lifetime Achievement was presented to Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink, who retired in 2019 aged 90. Reflecting on his career in a touching acceptance speech, he commented: “I can honestly say that some of the deepest and most moving experiences of my musical life have been in the opera house … It has been a gift.”
The award for Philanthropy went to the Martina Arroyo Foundation for its work with young artists and outreach initiatives, with the legendary diva herself accepting the award from New York. A new award, presented in association with the organisation Opera For Peace was presented to Denyce Graves, recognising the American mezzo’s deep commitment to social causes.
The ceremony was presented by BBC Radio 3’s Petroc Trelawny and included performances from winners Lise Davidsen, Jamie Barton, Javier Camarena, Xabier Anduaga, Vasilisa Berzhanskaya and countertenor Jakub Jozef Orlinski, winner of the Recording (Solo Recital) award. There was also singing from tenor Stuart Skelton and soprano Ermonela Jaho, as well an exclusive performance recorded on stage at the Royal Opera House featuring soprano Alexandra Lowe, a member of the Jette Parker Young Artist Programme.
Uniquely, the event also included a ‘Celebration of Resilience’, paying tribute to some of the many organisations and individuals who staged live or digital performances during the pandemic and found innovative ways to support the industry and wider community. Two video montages included clips from English National Opera’s Breathe programme for Covid survivors, The Atlanta Opera’s outdoor Big Tent Concert Series, Pinchgut Opera’s film A Delicate Fire and soprano Lisette Oropesa’s hugely popular online masterclass series.
Harry Hyman, founder of the International Opera Awards, commented: “Much has changed since we originally announced the shortlists for these awards in early 2020, but the opera world has risen to recent challenges with passion, determination and a spirit of resilience and innovation which has been inspiring to witness.
“Our long-awaited winners – and indeed all of our finalists – remind us why this wonderful artform is so important, and so worth fighting for. We look forward to seeing them return to live performance in the months to come and can’t wait to celebrate together in person again soon.”
The event also raised funds for the Opera Awards Foundation Artist Hardship Fund, set up in 2020 to provide emergency grants to young artists severely affected by the pandemic. The International Opera Awards was set up in 2012 to raise the profile of opera around the world and to generate funds to provide bursaries for aspiring operatic talent. Since its inauguration more than £360,000 has been raised by the Opera Awards Foundation.
Alpesh Chauhan, music director of the Birmingham Opera Company, took the Newcomer of the Year award; the company also won the award for Education & Outreach.