Bampton Classical Opera is delighted to announce that the winner of the 2021 Young Singers’ Competition is Australian soprano Cassandra Wright. The second prize has been awarded to soprano Jessica Cale. The winner of the accompanists’ prize, a new category since 2017, is Ilan Kurtser, who accompanied Cassandra Wright. The decision was reached after a superb final on Sunday 28 November at the Holywell Music Room, Oxford. The adjudicators were the renowned British tenor Bonaventura Bottone, Royal Academy of Music vocal teacher Professor Jennifer Dakin, and the esteemed accompanist and conductor Phillip Thomas.
Cassandra is awarded £2,000, Jessica receives £1,000. Ilan is awarded £600.
This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate Bampton Classical Opera’s 20th birthday, and 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 were chosen to compete at the public final in the Holywell Music Room. The finalists were Jessica Cale (soprano), Frances Gregory (mezzo-soprano), Sophie Sparrow (soprano), Shafali Jalota (soprano), Dan D’Souza (baritone) and Cassandra Wright (soprano).
Cassandra’s programme included Mozart’s ‘Se il padre perdei’ from Idomeneo, Richard Strauss’s ‘Das Rosenband’ Op 36 No 1, Igor Stravinsky’s ‘No word from Tom’ from The Rake’s Progress, and Sergei Rachmaninov’s ‘What happiness’.
The judges were impressed with Cassandra’s overall performance, and her partnership with Ilan Kurtser. Bonaventura Bottone said:
“In the highly resonant surroundings of Oxford’s Holywell Music Room last night, the finalists of the 2021 Bampton Opera’s Young Singers’ competition each presented widely varied challenging twenty-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 accompanists’ prize.”
Australian soprano Cassandra Wright studies at Royal Academy Opera with Kate Paterson and Jonathan Papp. Previous roles and scenes include Nella (Gianni Schicchi), Sandrina (La finta giardiniera), Lucia (Lucia di Lammermoor), Manon (Manon), Lisette (La rondine), Adina (L’elisir d’amore) and Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro). Cassandra has performed as a soloist with Academy Symphony Orchestra, is a Leeds Lieder Young Artist and a member of the Academy Song Circle. She was the 2020 winner of the Isabel Jay Memorial Prize and is a semi-finalist in the 2021 Kathleen Ferrier Awards. She is making her Wigmore Hall debut in January and her Royal Festival Hall debut under the baton of Edward Gardner in April. Cassandra is generously supported by the Countess of Munster Trust and the Knights of the Round Table Award.
Welsh Soprano, Jessica Cale, is the first prize winner of the 2020 Kathleen Ferrier Awards and joint audience prize winner at the London Handel Festival International Singing Competition. Jessica is a graduate of the Royal College of Music International Opera Studio where she performed the roles of Rodelinda (Rodelinda), Flaminia (Il mondo della luna) and Susan (A Dinner Engagement). In addition to her operatic endeavours, Jessica enjoys a successful career on the concert platform having performed at notable venues across the UK and Europe including Wigmore Hall, the Barbican Centre and the Royal Albert Hall.
Israeli pianist Ilan Kurtser is currently studying on the Advanced Diploma course at the Royal Academy of Music under the guidance of Michael Dussek, James Baillieu and Malcolm Martineau. He is one of a select few to receive the Academy’s Bicentenary Scholarship for his studies this year. 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 and most recently the 2021 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Help Musicians UK Accompanist’s Prize in memory of Arthur and Gwyneth Harrison. As part of his Bicentenary Scholarship, Ilan will be recording a double CD album of the complete Goethe-Lieder by Hugo Wolf.
ABOVE: Cassandra Wright and Ilan Kurtser (c) Robert Piwko