Rachel Duckett and Thando Mjandana win the Voice of Black Opera Awards

The soprano and tenor were chosen as winners at the Grand Final concert of the competition, chosen by a panel of judges chaired by internationally renowned tenor and composer Tom Randle

On 5 December 2022, British singer Rachel Duckett was announced as the winner of the Voice of Black Opera (VOBO) competition at the Final concert which took place at Birmingham Town Hall. The soprano won The Sir Willard White Trophy and was awarded a £10,000 prize, repertoire coaching with music staff of Welsh National Opera, and a forthcoming concert appearance with the WNO Orchestra.

South African Thando Mjandana was awarded the The Samuel Coleridge Taylor Award. His prize included £5,000 and three forthcoming performances of a specifically commissioned new work by Daniel Kidane for voice and ensemble with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. The Coleridge award was presented to the singer who, in the judges’ opinion, gave the best performance of a contemporary song by a Black or South Asian Composer.

Thando Mjandana

Vincent Osborne, Founder and Artistic Director of Black British Classical Foundation, said: The award-winning interpretations we saw from Rachel Duckett and Thando Mjandana were truly riveting. Through their passionate and committed performances at the Voice of Black Opera Final and throughout the whole competition process, all of our finalists and semifinalists have eloquently espoused the cause of greater diversity and inclusion on our stages. I have no doubt that each of them will continue to inspire us for many years to come.”

Tom Randle, Chair of the judges said: “It was a spectacular evening and a very hard decision, like choosing between oranges and apples. Every one of the singers was a worthy and deserving winner. In the end it came down to those special, indefinable qualities, listening out for something new, something different – the voice that astonishes and surprises.”

At the Final concert, five finalists were accompanied by the Welsh National Opera Orchestra, conducted by Matthew Kofi Waldren.

Alongside Randle, the judges were Aidan Lang – General Director of Welsh National Opera, Stephan Meier – Artistic Director of Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Jean Ronald La Fond – tenor and vocal coach, Philip Herbert – composer, Rupert Christiansen – writer and critic, and Odaline de la Martinez – composer and conductor.

For the Final, each of the five finalists were fitted with bespoke fashion items, designed by students of Birmingham City University (BCU) School of Fashion & Textiles. Bespoke jewellery was also made for the singers by students of the BCU Birmingham School of Jewellery.

The Final concert was the culmination of the VOBOs. Competing for coveted prizes, 12 singers were chosen via video auditions open to Black and South Asian singers from Commonwealth countries, to come to Birmingham in November to take part in Semifinals and participate in two weeks of intensive professional development workshops, rehearsals and a masterclass, leading to the Grand Final Concert featuring five finalists.

·       The Voice of Black Opera Competition is organised by Black British Classical Foundation in collaboration with Welsh National Opera, to showcase the finest Black and South Asian singers as they launch international operatic careers. BBCF exists to address classical music’s under-representation of people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

ABOVE: Rachel Duckett