I don't intense to sound accusing, I will just take quotes from the competition rules and describe how reality looks like.
Participants <...> are asked to present themselves with a valid document <...> on an opening day, 26 March 2019, at 5 p. m., to attend the draw of the alphabetical order of performance.
It means, one person has to pick up a piece of paper with a letter on it. In our case, it was the letter "N" and it meant that the order of performance goes alphabetical, starting with the Names on "N". It took one girl to pick up the letter. Why should everyone else be there? Maybe because it's an opening, followed by the registration? So we all one by one came to the jury table to show our presence and our documents. Surprisingly, nobody asked for our IDs. Neither was our presence important, because, as we realized later, nobody checked out, which participants are there and who didn't appear to the competition at all: on the next day there was a list with all the names, no detailed time table, just the beginning of the 1 round. Which means, nobody knew, when exactly their performance will happen, nor calculate, how many participants are physically there.
So the "registration" didn't make any sense, apart from the fact that people had to arrive a day before and spend more money for one extra night.
First selection: The candidates shall perform 3 (three) pieces from the set programme:
1) an operatic aria,
2) a chamber aria /or a song (Lied/lirica/chanson),
3) a piece from church music, an oratorium or a cantata (Mass).
This kind of repertoire is quite unusual for an opera competition. Normally there are just opera pieces in different styles and languages. So it takes extra effort to find a song and an excerpt of the church music at all. Moreover, people choose pieces carefully, making them match together and show different characters, colours and abilities of the voice.
This is why nobody is happy when the day before the competition the jury reveals that people have to decide if they will sing Oratorio or Song. How do you choose between two completely different genres? It is like if somebody say to you: the main dish stays, but you have to choose if you get a soup or a dessert. Even worse: you have to choose if you serve a soup or a dessert without knowing what your customer actually prefers.
Art. VII - Accompanying piano players shall be made available to the participants by the organizer. <...> The piano players shall be available for rehearsals before the start of each phase. The time schedule for rehearsals shall be determined by the piano players. Under no circumstances shall intervals of 10 minutes be exceeded.
All true! There is a pianist available. And everyone gets a short rehearsal. Unfortunately, there was only one pianist. Who hasn't seen any of the music before (each participant was obligated to send the sheet music of all the pieces of their program). Who is obviously an opera accompanist and doesn't normally play Oratorio or Lied. Who is Italian and doesn't speak any other language which as well doesn't help to rehears two pieces in 10 minutes, one of which is a Bach cantata or a Schubert song. Again a question: why would you ask to send the scores if the pianist doesn't receive them/look at them in advance? Why would you have only one pianist if it is physically not possible for him to keep in mind all of that? Why would you add this kind of music to the competition program if it is obvious that most of the chamber music pieces are not playable by sight-reading?
This all is pretty sad but, unfortunately, a pretty common situation for the competitions. We are so used to be treated like the dust that we don't even notice anymore how wrong it is. Me neither. I probably wouldn't bother writing all this stuff down, but here come another excerpts of the rules which I personally see not as a "grey area" but intentional hiding of information.
Art. IX - The jury shall consist of artists and theatre experts of international renown.
There is one thing to be explained to non-musicians. Why do we do competitions at all? Because this is an opportunity to get connections for the future carrier. Of course, there is the prize money, which is absolutely great to win. But there are as well "special prizes" like an engagement or a concert in a nice theatre. Apart of that, even people who don't receive a prize and don't get to the finals at all, have an opportunity to be seen by the jury members - this is why it is important to know in front of whom exactly you will be performing and if it is worth coming and paying.
So this jury is announced on the website of this particular competition:
"Jury of the Competition 2019:
Fiorenza Cossotto, Chairwoman, Mezzosoprano, (Italy)
Richard Bonynge AC, CBE, Conductor, Sydney, (Australia)
Andrea de Amici, Manager, Milano, (Italy)
Cristina Ferrari, Art. Director Theatres of Piacenca (Italy)
Anatoli Goussev, Tenor, Voice coach "Scuola Musicale di Milano" (Italy)
Nora Schmid, General Manager "Opera House of Graz", (Austria)
Vittorio Terranova Tenor, Voice coach Milano, (Italy), Art. Director I.S.O. Deutschlandsberg, (Austria)
Alberto Triola, Art. Director "Festival della Valle d'Itria" & "Accademia del Belcanto, Rodolfo Celletti", Martina Franca (Italy)"
As you may see, there are some big names! The first two are legendary musicians, and it is a great honour just to get a chance to sing for them. Apart from that, there are agents or opera managers, who can offer opportunities for the singers whose performance they find convincing.
Sounds like a dream. And people pay a registration fee, all other costs, travel from all around the world for the chance to be heard.
In reality, in the first round, participants had to sing for 4 people. One of them was Vittorio Terranova, artistic director of the competition. Another one was the secretary of the competition. Unfortunately, I don't know who another two were.
It is absolutely fine if the big names are not there since the very beginning. But there are two things to do in this case.
First, it should be written at the rules, like every important competition does. Just make a star and write black-and-white that this and this jury member will be there only for the finals.
And second, don't call it a "First selection". It is a pre-selection and this is a completely different story. Preselections are auditions, which happen in different places way before the competition. People don't prepare a big program and usually sing one piece, after this, the local jury (and everyone knows that this is not the same people from the official jury of the competition) decide if this singer may participate. The singers as well don't pay the whole participation fee before they are selected for the main competition. There are of course the last pre-selection at the competition venue right before the start, but every singer knows that it is better to sing the pre-selection somewhere else because there is a fixed number of competitors allowed to sing in the main competition and by the time of the last pre-selection the list is almost full and the chances to get in are pretty low. Which brings me to the next excerpt from the rules:
Art. VI - The following applies to the participants of the 1st section: First prize winners (no categories) of the last four years (2015 included) of any other international European singing competition are excused from the first round of selection. <...>
The art director of the competition might admit directly to the Semi-final winners of 2nd, 3rd or 4th prizes of any other international singing competition of other nations.
Candidates selected by a special jury under chairmanship of the Art director of the competition could be called directly in the Semi-final.
After all, said above, it becomes clear that this is exactly the pre-selection situation. Only worse. There are people, who can come directly to the Semifinal without any selection. Not only the prize winners of other competitions but also people, selected by the special jury... of what? When? Can I, as an Art director, invite my musician friends for a teа, while I give a lesson to my student, and since my friends just heard her singing, say that we all make a nice jury and it was her audition for the semi-final?
I must confess, I don't remember this last sentence being written as I sent my application. As about "prize winners (no categories) of the last four years", I sent my diplomas of the 1. Prizes in 2 different international music competitions (for Lied and for Solo singing) but still wasn't allowed to skip the First round.
At the end of the day, nobody reveals, how many people are admitted to the Semifinals at all, nor how many of them are already in the list and come directly.
Normally the schedule helps: if you see, how much time is given for each round, you can at least figure how many participants are expected. The rules say:
Semifinals: 29 and 30 March 2019, 10 a. m. - 1 p. m. and 4 - 9 p. m.
The semifinalists shall perform 2 (two) selected pieces from the programme submitted, including a compulsory piece.
Which means, two days, 8 hours long. Ok, the first round was shorter: beginning in the afternoon on the first day and in the morning on the second day. But the obligatory program was reduced. And who knows how many people more are coming. So even if two full days for the second round looked a bit exaggerated, nobody could expect that there comes a list of 15 - fifteen! - names to perform all in the evening of the second day.
I am done with the description of the rules vs. reality and let you make conclusions by yourself.
In addition, fun facts:
- the registration fee is € 90,-
- in the competition venue, there is no place to warm up, so you have to go to the music school nearby. Unfortunately, there are lessons and all the rooms are occupied.
- there is also no room to change the clothes, or leave a bag, or wait for your turn. There is only a hallway behind the auditorium for all people to wait. There were as well few chairs, those who didn't get them were staying all the time.
- there is no time table or groups division, just a list of all names, including people who didn't appear to the competition at all. Which is perfectly fine if you are at the beginning and an absolute disaster if you are at the end of the list and can't figure out, what time you have to be there. For example, the last girl literally had to run 15 minutes from her hotel because she was going to arrive one hour before singing and her time came even before that.
This is singing we are talking about. A matter of preparation, concentration and being physically and mentally able to perform.
Waiting for the rehearsal with a pianist
Waiting at the competition venue
This is not such a special case, it is an average experience every second singer is familiar with.
I personally didn't get to the list of 15 names. Which is also kind of suspicious. But believe me, this is not the reason why I decided to write all of this down. I believe that it is important to start speaking about things which need to be changed and what many of us are afraid to speak about.
I can't say without checking my CV, how many prizes I have won in the past 13 years - and I can't even count, how many times I failed! I have an experience, I have a career and my life and confidence don't depend on competitions anymore. But it is not the same for young singers, students, people who do their best to make the first steps in the opera world and who are dependent on things like this. Maybe if I start, other people won't be afraid to speak about outrageous conditions they are put in.
I start a new hashtag: #singersshare Feel free to comment, repost and join me in sharing experience to warn and support each other and prevent from making the same mistakes.
March 29, 2019