Lovers of controversy and intrigue must have found it slow going at the Annapolis Opera's 12th annual vocal competition at Maryland Hall Sunday afternoon. By the time the judges had put the eight young singers through their paces, the winner, the two runner-ups and the proper ordinal ranking for the top three finishers couldn't have been clearer.
Soprano Angela Fout, a graduate of the Baltimore School for the Arts and a student at New York City's Juilliard School, overshadowed the rest of the field with the lustrous maturity of her voice and her artistic presence.
Her "Nun eilt herbei" from Nicolai's "Merry Wives of Windsor" was full of spirit, yet the characterization remained the very model of vocal poise and class.
Fout cuts a very statuesque figure on stage, and the regal quality she projects physically is part of her vocal presentation as well.
She also gave us a heady dose of coloratura pyrotechnics in "Come scoglio" from Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte," and her Puccini ("Donde lieta" from "La Boheme") was beautiful.
The audience agreed with the judges, as the soprano won the $150 Audience Choice Award in addition to the $1,000 first prize awarded by the adjudicatory panel that consisted of Ronald Gretz, Annapolis Opera's music director, Francois Loup of the University of Maryland voice faculty, and Kim Pensinger Witman, general director of the Wolf Trap Opera Company.
The second prize of $800 went to James Lynn, a virile-sounding bass-baritone from Norfolk, Va., whose marvelous rendition of Claggart's big aria from Benjamin Britten's "Billy Budd" expressed dark malevolence every step of the way.
His "Madamina" from Mozart's "Don Giovanni" might have lacked humor, but the voice is well on its way to becoming something extraordinary.
The $400 third prize went to Charmaine Hamann, a lyric sopra- no from the Peabody Conservatory, who was slinky and charming in her "Caro nome" from Verdi's "Rigoletto."
The most notable of the other five participants was Baltimore soprano Joanne Robinson, who gave us dextrous Donizetti and some deeply-felt Mozart that wasn't the last word in intonation but possessed a haunting, soulful quality.
Aesthetic justice triumphed, in short, right down to the warm round of applause received by piano accompanist JoAnne Kulesza, who stuck to the singers like glue under difficult circumstances, with virtually no rehearsal time.