Seattle Opera Announces Finalists for 2014 International Wagner Competition

By: Jan. 06, 2014

General Director Speight Jenkins announced the singers selected for Seattle Opera's popular International Wagner Competition on August 7, 2014, where emerging artists will go head-to-head American Idol style.

The competition is part of a celebratory weekend which also includes a concert and dinner in honor of Speight Jenkins' three decades at the helm of Seattle Opera (and featuring 15 of the company's favorite singers) on August 9.

In an all-Wagner concert conducted by Sebastian Lang-Lessing, who has extensive experience with Deutsche Oper Berlin, eight finalists and two alternates will compete for two prizes of $25,000, to be awarded by a distinguished panel of judges. The audience and orchestra will also play an important role in the competition. Both groups will award a prize of $5,000 to their favorite artist.

Singers, all between the ages of 25-40, were nominated by general directors, managers, and other established opera professionals. Following auditions in Munich, London, New York, and Seattle in the fall of 2013, eight finalists were chosen to compete. This third International Wagner Competition is made possible by a generous contribution from the Nesholm Family Foundation.

The competitors are:

Ric Furman, tenor
Suzanne Hendrix, mezzo-soprano
Roman Ialcic, bass baritone
Kihun Yoon, baritone
Tamara Mancini, soprano
Kevin Ray, tenor
Issachah Savage, tenor
Marcy Stonikas, soprano

The alternates are:

David Danholt, tenor
Helena Dix, soprano

The judges for Seattle Opera's third International Wagner Competition are an international group of authorities in all aspects of opera production-mezzo soprano Stephanie Blythe, who has spent five summers in Seattle singing Wagner's Ring; Peter Kazaras stage director, tenor, and Director of Opera Studies at UCLA; Bernd Loebe, the Director of Opera Frankfurt; François Rochaix, director of Seattle Opera's Ring from 1985 to 1995; and Stephen Wadsworth, director of Seattle Opera's Ring from 2000 to 2013 and Director of Opera Studies for the Juilliard School.

"Our auditions turned up ten remarkable young Wagnerians," said Seattle Opera's General Director Speight Jenkins. "They will make our third International Wagner Competition a thrilling and rewarding event. We have in Sebastian Lang-Lessing an exciting new conductor for Seattle Opera. I look forward to hearing the competition and to the decisions made by our distinguished panel of judges."

The first International Wagner Competition was held in August 2006 and made possible by a grant from the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences. Mr. Jenkins created the competition to identify and recognize qualified, emerging opera singers who demonstrate clear promise of an important career in the Wagnerian repertoire. Irish soprano Miriam Murphy and English baritone James Rutherford won the competition in 2006. South African soprano Elza van den Heever and Swedish tenor Michael Weinius won the second International Wagner Competition in 2008. Since then, these four prize-winners, plus many of the other competitors, have gone on to significant artistic accomplishments at opera houses around the world.

Beginning with its first presentation of the Ring in 1975, Seattle Opera has built an international reputation as the leading presenter of the Wagner repertoire in the United States. This Wagner tradition began under the leadership of the company's founding general director, Glynn Ross, and has been expanded under Speight Jenkins. During Mr. Jenkins's tenure, Seattle Opera has completed the formidable artistic feat of producing all ten of Wagner's major operas-including two very different productions of Wagner's Ring-which have been accompanied by seminars and symposia featuring leading opera scholars from the world over. By taking a leading role in discovering and promoting outstanding young singers with a desire to carve out a career that includes the Wagner repertoire, Seattle Opera is extending its ongoing commitment to the music of Richard Wagner.

Lead Sponsor - Nesholm Family Foundation
Orchestra Choice Prize - Betty and Jack Schafer
Audience Choice Prize - Wagner and More

"Seattle Opera has brought our family its most satisfying artistic experiences," say John and Laurel Nesholm. "We are thrilled to fund its third International Wagner Competition, which we expect will provide a springboard for several important careers. We look forward to great things from these emerging artists, and are excited that this tradition will continue."

Tickets (ranging from $46 to $66) for the 2014 International Wagner Competition are available online, by phone or in person. For more information, call 800.426.1619 or 206.389.7676 or visit

2014 International Wagner Competition Finalists:

Ric Furman


Ric Furman made his Seattle Opera debut as Florestan in Fidelio in 2012. He has performed Tito in La clemenza di Tito at Opera Company of Brooklyn, Don José in Carmen at Springfield Regional Opera, Dancaïre in Carmen at Cincinnati Opera, and Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi at Pittsburgh Opera. For Cincinnati Opera he sang Augustin Moser in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. He has also appeared at Dayton Opera, Dicapo Opera, Indianapolis Opera, and Opera Omaha. Past roles include Rodolfo in La bohème, Alfredo in La traviata, the Duke in Rigoletto, both Roméo and Tybalt in Roméo et Juliette, Detlef in The Student Prince, Beppe in Pagliacci, and roles in Aida, Don Carlo, Ainadamar, Carmen, Salome, Samson et Dalila, Il viaggio a Reims, Le nozze di Figaro, Gianni Schicchi, Der Kaiser von Atlantis, Così fan tutte, The Tender Land, and Die Zauberflöte. He is a former Young Artist with Cincinnati Opera and Opera Omaha.

Suzanne Hendrix


Suzanne Hendrix made her Seattle Opera debut as Waltraute in Die Walküre in 2013. Other Wagner roles include Schwertleite in Die Walküre at San Francisco Opera and Mary in Der Fliegende Holländer at Lyric Opera of Kansas City. She recently performed the Fortune Teller in Arabella at Santa Fe Opera, Bianca in The Rape of Lucretia at Opera Memphis, and Azucena in Il trovatore at Wichita Grand Opera. Other roles include Suzuki in Madama Butterfly, Ma in The Tender Land, Zita in Gianni Schicchi, the Princess in Suor Angelica, and Florence Pike in Albert Herring. She is a former apprentice artist with Des Moines Metro Opera, Merola Opera Program, and the Santa Fe Opera. She won first prize in the 2012 George London Competition.

Roman Ialcic


German bass Roman Ialcic covered the roles of Fafner and Hunding for Seattle Opera's 2013 Der Ring des Nibelungen. His roles include Konchak in Prince Igor, Boris in Boris Godunov, Gremin in Eugene Onegin, and Fiesco in Simon Boccanegra. He also performed Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte at the Open Air Opera Festival in Isny. In 2006, he reached the final round of Plácido Domingo's Operalia, and since September 2007 has been engaged as a soloist at the St. Gallen Theater, Switzerland, where his roles have included Escamillo in Carmen, Cascada in The Merry Widow, Lamoral in Arabella, Tomski in The Queen of Spades, Talbot in Giovanna d'Arco, Marchese d'Obigny in La traviata, and Kaspar in Der Freischütz.

Tamara Mancini


Tamara Mancini made her Seattle Opera debut as Ortlinde in Die Walküre in 2013. A former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow, she performed in their mainstage productions as Freia in Das Rheingold and Helmwige in Die Walküre. She recently performed the title role in Turandot at Royal Opera Stockholm; Palácio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City; and Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Other roles include Amelia in Un ballo in maschera, Leonora in La forza del destino, Maddalena di Coigny in Andrea Chénier, Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana, and the title role in Tosca, which she performed in her Vancouver Opera debut earlier this season. She has won the Giulio Gari Competition, the Licia Albanese Puccini Competition, and the Opera Index Competition.

Kevin Ray


As a second year member in the Houston Grand Opera Studio, Kevin Ray's roles have included Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, the Third SS Officer in Weinberg's The Passenger, scenes of Captain Ahab in Heggie's Moby-Dick, Froh and Loge in Das Rheingold, and Don José in Carmen. Last season, he sang his first performances of the title role of Peter Grimes with Chautauqua Opera as well as Don José at the Lyrique-en-Mer/Festival de Belle-Île. His previous roles at Houston Grand Opera include Melot in Tristan und Isolde, the Messenger in Il trovatore, and Parpignol in La bohème. At Santa Fe Opera, he created the role of the Second Clubman in the world premiere of Moravec's The Letter and has performed the role of the Poet in Menotti's The Last Savage. He is a former member of the Santa Fe Apprentice Singer Program and the Merola Opera Program of San Francisco Opera.

Issachah Savage


Grand prize winner of the 2012 Marcello Giordani International Competition, Issacha Savage has received awards and career grants from the Wagner Societies of New York, Washington, D.C., and Northern California, and two first place prizes in the Liederkranz Foundation competition. Savage has performed in the world premiere of Wynton Marsalis's All Rise and Mark Antony in the world premiere of Leslie Savoy Burrs' Egypt's Nights at Philadelphia's Opera North, and he has performed Radames in Aida at Opera North Carolina and Houston Grand Opera. He has also participated in the Merola Opera Program at San Francisco Opera, the Evelyn Lear and Thomas Steward Emerging Singers Program, Dolora Zajick's Institute for Young Dramatic Voices, and ACMA's Wagner Theater program, where he performed scenes from Die Walküre, Parsifal, and Samson et Delilah.

Marcy Stonikas


During Seattle Opera's 2012/13 season, Marcy Stonikas debuted the title roles in productions of Turandot and Fidelio, and she returns to Seattle Opera in 2014 to sing Magda Sorel in The Consul. Upcoming engagements include the title role of Turandot at the Cincinnati Opera, Leonora at Volksoper Vienna, and title role in Salome at Utah Opera. Additionally, she will perform in concert with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. A graduate of the Young Artists Program at Seattle Opera, she performed the roles of Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte, and the title role in Ariadne auf Naxos while a member of the program. She is a winner of the 2013 George London Foundation Vocal Competition and First Prize winner in the Wagner Division of the 2013 Gerda Lissner Foundational Vocal Competition.

Kihun Yoon


Kihun Yoon is a native of Seoul, South Korea. He received both undergraduate and master's degrees from Hanyang University. As a student, he won several major South Korean voice competitions. His roles include the title role in Rigoletto, Germont in La traviata, Marcello in La bohème, both Don Giovanni and Leporello in Don Giovanni, and the Sacristan in Tosca. He created the leading role of Santa Claus in the Korean premiere of Roberto Molinelli's comic opera Processo a Babbo Natale. In 2011, he performed in a New Year's concert broadcast by KBS (Korean Broadcasting System). In addition, he has appeared in a gala concert for the National Opera of Korea and the 2012 Busan Singer Festival.

2014 International Wagner Competition Conductor:

Sebastian Lang-Lessing began his tenure as Music Director of the San Antonio Symphony in 2010. In addition to making his Seattle Opera debut conducting the International Wagner Competition this year, his season includes the Dvo?ak Festival in San Antonio; joining Renée Fleming for a concert in Naples, Florida; and multiple conducting opportunities with Dallas Opera, the Belgrade Philharmonic, Tianjin Symphony and a tour by Teatro San Carlo in Naples to the Royal Opera House Muscat in Oman.

Lang-Lessing served as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra from 2004 to 2012. Earlier posts include positions with Hamburg State Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, and Nancy Opera. He regularly appears on the podiums of the world's preeminent opera houses, including the Paris Opera, San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Opera Colorado, Bordeaux Opera, Washington National Opera, Hamburg State Opera, and in Oslo and Stockholm. He also has a particularly close connection with Cape Town Opera. Among his recent opera engagements was a highly acclaimed new production of Wagner's Rienzi with the Deutsche Oper Berlin, featured on the DVD released by Unitel.

2014 International Wagner Competition Judges:

Stephanie Blythe, one of the world's leading mezzo-sopranos, has sung Fricka and the Second Norn in all Seattle Ring performances since 2000. She added Waltraute in Götterdämmerung in 2009 and 2013. Other roles at Seattle Opera include the title role in Carmen, Isabella in L'italiana in Algeri, Amneris in Aida, and Dame Quickly in Falstaff. She has performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Royal Opera Covent Garden, and Opéra National de Paris, among others. Her many roles include Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera; Azucena in Il trovatore; Ježibaba in Rusalka; Orfeo in Orfeo ed Euridice; Cornelia in Giulio Cesare; Jocasta in Oedipus Rex; Baba the Turk in The Rake's Progress; Mère Marie in Dialogues des Carmélites; Eudige in Rodelinda; three roles: Frugola, La Zia Principessa, and Zita in Il Trittico; Auntie in Peter Grimes; and Ino/Juno in Semele. She has recently toured the US with the two programs We'll Meet Again: The Songs of Kate Smith and an All-American song program, which culminated in a Live >From Lincoln Center broadcast on PBS and a recital in Carnegie Hall.

Stage director and tenor Peter Kazaras has a long history with Seattle Opera, as a singer and director for its mainstage and as the Artistic Director of the Seattle Opera Young Artists Program. Before shifting his career to stage direction, he performed at houses all over the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Vienna State Opera, Houston Grand Opera, and San Francisco Opera. At Seattle Opera he made his debut singing the role of Steva in Jen?fa in 1985, and went on to perform a wide range of roles including Tamino, Faust, Hoffmann, Edgardo in Lucia, Lensky in Eugene Onegin, Pierre in War and Peace, Peter Quint and Captain Vere. His Seattle Opera directing credits include Bellini's Norma, Le nozze di Figaro, Falstaff, Il barbiere di Siviglia, Tristan und Isolde, and Madama Butterfly. For the Young Artists Program, he has directed productions of Don Giovanni, Ariadne auf Naxos, A Midsummer Night's Dream, L'enfant et les sortilèges & Gianni Schicchi, The Turn of the Screw, and many other operas. He has also directed for the Caramoor Festival, San Francisco Opera's Merola Program, the Cabrillo Festival, Madison Opera, Santa Fe Pro Musica, Eos, Hartt, the Academy of Vocal Arts, UCLA, and Chautauqua Institution. In 2007/08, became a professor at UCLA, where he serves as Director of Opera.

Bernd Loebe has been the director of the Frankfurt Opera since 2002. One year into his term, Frankfurt was voted "Opera House of the Year" in a poll of critics by the German magazine Opernwelt. This honor has happened several times since. During the 2008/09 season Frankfurt Opera founded the Opera Studio, a training program for emerging singers. In 2009 he was the Vice President of the German Academy of Performing Arts and in 2010 he was elected Chairman of the Deutsche Oper Conference. Before taking the helm in Frankfurt, he spent 11 years as Artistic Director at Brussels' Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie. He has been a juror in many international singing competitions, including the New Voices competition in Gütersloh, Germany, the Moniuszko Vocal Competition in Warsaw, and the International Vocal Competition in Toulouse.

Swiss-born director François Rochaix founded the Atelier de Genève in 1963, and he served as general director of the Théâtre de Carouge in Switzerland, which he also founded, from 1975-1981 and 2002-2008. Rochaix made his opera debut staging Britten's Turn of the Screw for the Grand Théâtre de Genève, and his other opera credits include productions at the Scottish Opera, Opera North, the Royal Theatre of Copenhagen, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Cleveland Opera, and the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Rochaix made his Seattle Opera debut in 1985 with a new production of Wagner's Die Walküre and returned the next year to stage the entire Ring cycle. He has returned several times since then, directing new productions of Wagner's Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Aida, Bizet's Carmen, Dialogues des Carmélites, and the 2003 production of Parsifal that opened Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. In 1999, Rochaix staged the massive Festival of the Winegrowers in Switzerland, which only occurs once every 25 years, and in 2001 he directed the opening ceremony of the Swiss National Exhibit. He also has served as the director of Harvard University's American Repertory Theatre/Moscow Art Theatre School Institute for Advanced Theatre Training. In 1991, Rochaix received the Reinhardt Ring, the highest theater award granted by the Swiss government.

Stephen Wadsworth has directed at the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Royal Opera Covent Garden, Vienna Staatsoper, Nederlandse Opera, Edinburgh Festival, and in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Santa Fe. He made his Seattle Opera debut 29 years ago with Jen?fa, and has returned for the world premiere of Daron Hagen's Amelia, Iphigénie en Tauride (a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera), Orphée et Eurydice, Handel's Xerxes (performed in Wadsworth's English translation), and Wagner's Lohengrin, Der Fliegende Holländer, and the Ring. He wrote the opera A Quiet Place with Leonard Bernstein, and directed the world premieres of Daron Hagen's Shining Brow and Peter Lieberson's Ashoka's Dream, as well as new plays by Beth Henley and Anna Deavere Smith. Wadsworth has staged much-traveled productions of plays by Shakespeare, Molière, Marivaux, Goldoni, Shaw, Wilde, and Coward. The French government named him a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for his work on Molière and Marivaux. Wadsworth is Head of Dramatic Studies at the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artists Development Program, and the James S. Marcus Faculty Fellow and Director of Opera Studies at the Juilliard School, where he has launched the first intensive acting program for opera singers.

International Wagner Competition is set for 7:30 p.m., Thursday, August 7, 2014 at the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington. For tickets and information, call 800-426-1619 or 206-389-7676 or visit

About Seattle Opera: Founded in 1963, Seattle Opera is one of the leading opera companies in the United States. The company is recognized internationally for its theatrically compelling and musically accomplished performances, especially the Opera's interpretations of the works of Richard Wagner. Since 1975, Seattle Opera has presented 38 cycles of the Ring (three different productions), in addition to acclaimed productions of all the other major operas in the Wagner canon. Seattle Opera has achieved the highest per capita attendance of any major opera company in the United States, and draws operagoers from four continents and 50 states.


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