The fifth annual Maryland Vocal Competition was billed as an evening with "The Stars of Tomorrow," and the sponsors at the Annapolis Opera weren't exaggerating.
Eight gifted young vocalists, finalists chosen from a field of 45 applicants, provided an evening rich with song last Friday at Key Auditorium at St. John's College. Each sang two arias, one selected by the judges and one of their own choosing.
The judges -- the Rev. Martha Wright, Annapolis Opera conductor Ronald Gretz, and Ava Shields, founder of the Arundel Vocal Artists, among them -- were particularly impressed by the men on hand. They awarded two tenors and a baritone the top three prizes.
The winner of the $750 grand prize provided by the Peggy and Yale Gordon Trust was John Weber, a 29-year-old tenor from Baltimore who local opera-goers will remember as a credible Rodolfo in last spring's Annapolis Opera production of Puccini's "La Boheme."
Weber's is an involving voice of admirable resonance, and his arias from Stravinsky's "The Rake's Progress" and Verdi's "Macbeth" were far and away the most polished offerings of the evening.
His fellow tenor, Christopher Petrucelli of College Park, was awarded third prize for his "Che Gelida Manina" from "La Boheme" and a riveting account of Lenski's aria from Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin". The Puccini was a bit earthbound -- there was more tenderness on his face than in his voice -- but the challenging aria from the Russian repertoire was quite special.
The only questionable choice was second-place winner Gregory Carpenter, a bass-baritone from the University of Maryland. Clearly, the judges were bowled over by his sumptuous voice, and understandably so.
But his singing was the least idiomatic of the eight. His aria from Gounod's "Faust" was belted out in noncommittal French, and his "Non piu andrai" from Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro" was a stylistic mess. There was little humor, no variation of color, tone or volume, and his Italian needs work. Even the rhythm was off at times.
Still, it wasn't hard to read the judges' minds. When they find a voice like that, they pamper it.
He could have been replaced toward the top with Detra Battle, a soprano from Upper Marlboro whose "Jewel Song" from "Faust" was charming with its sparkle and poise.
That is not a minority opinion. Miss Battle won the Aris Allen Prize, awarded to the audience's favorite singer after those in attendance are polled at the competition's end.
What a delightful touch this is, too, because opera is nothing if not a spectator sport!