Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition – winners announced

Bampton Classical Opera is delighted to announce that the winner of the 2023 Young Singers’ Competition is mezzo-soprano Melissa Gregory.  The second prize has been awarded to countertenor Kieron-Connor Valentine.  The winner of the accompanists’ prize, a new category since 2017, was awarded to André Bertoncini, who accompanied Kieron-Connor Valentine. The decision was reached after a superb final on Saturday 25 November at the Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College, Oxford.  The adjudicators were the internationally renowned British singers Bonaventura Bottone and mezzo-soprano Jean Rigby, and the esteemed vocal coach, pianist and accompanist Ingrid Surgenor.

Melissa is awarded £2,000, Kieron-Connor receives £1,000 and André 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 60 young singers aged 21-32 and after two preliminary rounds, eight were chosen to compete at the public final in the Leonard Wolfson Auditorium.  The finalists were Sarah Chae (soprano), Alexandra Dunaeva (soprano), Melissa Gregory (mezzo-soprano), Rhydian Jenkins (tenor), Georgie Malcolm (soprano), Dan D’Souza (baritone), Myrna Tennant (mezzo-soprano), Kieron-Connor Valentine (countertenor).

Melissa Gregory (c) Sisi Burn

Melissa’s programme included Richard Strauss ‘Heimliche Aufforderung’, Rebecca Clarke ‘The Seal Man’, George Frideric Handel ‘Dopo note’, from Ariodante.

The judges were impressed with Melissa’s overall performance.  Bonaventura Bottone said:

The decision was unanimous to award the First Prize to mezzo-soprano Melissa Gregory. Her programme was well balanced and was performed with poise. Melissa rounded off with Dopo Notte, from Ariodante. This was sung with great style and stunningly exact coloratura.

Kieron-Connor Valentine, countertenor, was awarded Second Prize for his innovative programming. Starting with Britten’s, ‘I know a bank’ which was sung flawlessly with text and music in perfect balance, a highlight of the programme. Kieron-Connor’s vocal tone is exceptional.

The accompanist prize was awarded to André Bertoncini who brought an expertly deft touch to his partnership with Kieron-Connor.  Bonaventura Bottone FRAM

Kieron-Connor Valentine and accompanist Andre Bertoncini (c) Sisi Burn

Australian mezzo-soprano Melissa Gregory, a WNO Associate Artist for the 2023/24 season, is a recent graduate of RNCM and Queensland Conservatorium. She was a finalist in the 2022 International Handel Singing Competition and award winner in the 2021 JSRB Bel Canto Award. Melissa is also a Samling Artist. For the 2023/24 WNO season Melissa will be performing the roles of Margarita Xirgu Ainadamar (Cover), Dorabella Così fan tutte (Cover) and La Sorella Infermiera Il Trittico. Melissa will also be a soloist in Opera Play Live!, Opera Favourites and perform in an Associate Artist recital with Scottish pianist Malcom Martineau. Other operatic engagements include Soer St. Charles in Dialogues des Carmélites (Glyndebourne), Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro (RNCM), Der Komponist and Dryade in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos (RNCM and LGNOS), Fox Goldenmane in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen (RNCM), Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus (Lyric Opera Studio Weimar), Hansel in Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel, and Dido in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (Musica Antiqua Collegii). Melissa has performed solos in Verdi Requiem, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, JS Bach’s Magnificat, Schubert Magnificat in C, Beethoven Mass in C and Mozart’s Requiem.

Welsh countertenor Kieron-Connor Valentine recently completed the opera course at the GSMD. He had previously completed his Master’s in Vocal Performance at the RWCMD and Bachelor’s in Vocal Studies at RNCM. In the 2023/23 season, Kieron made his company debut with English Touring Opera as Adalberto in Handel’s Ottone and cover Andronico in Handel’s Tamerlano. He joined them again this spring to perform Nireno and cover Tolomeo in Giulio Cesare. In the summer, he covered the role of Farnace in Mozart’s Mitridate for Garsington Opera. He has also covered the role of Mago Cristiano in Handel’s Rinaldo for Glyndebourne Touring Opera. In 2018 Kieron-Connor joined the Britten-Pears Programme at Aldeburgh Festival in the role of Didymus in Theodora.

André Bertoncini is a Brazilian collaborative pianist specialising in vocal repertoire. He recently graduated with distinction from a Master’s in Piano Accompaniment at the Royal Academy of Music under Professor Michael Dussek and James Baillieu. Before coming to the UK, he was Assistant Collaborative Pianist at the State University of Maringá and at FEMUSC, coached singers and instrumentalists, and acted as a répétiteur. André holds a Bachelors degree from EMBAP, under the tutelage of Russian Professor, Olga Kiun, with a scholarship from the Dieuwertje Meijer Project.

ABOVE: Melissa Gregory and accompanist Emily Hoh (c) Sisi Burn