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Originally published August 11, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 11, 2008 at 10:28 AM

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An operatic "Idol": 8 international finalists in sing-off of Wagnerian arias

Unlike that other world-renowned singing contest judged by a panel of industry experts and audience members, the finalists in 2008's International...

Special to The Seattle Times

Coming up

International Wagner Competition

Speight Jenkins, master of ceremonies; Asher Fisch, conductor. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, McCaw Hall, Seattle Center; $45-65 (800-426-1619 or 206-389-7676 or www.seattleopera.org)

Recital

Recital: Tenor Ben Heppner and pianist Asher Fisch. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, McCaw Hall, Seattle Center; $45-65 (800-426-1619 or 206-389-7676 or www.seattleopera.org)

Unlike that other world-renowned singing contest judged by a panel of industry experts and audience members, the finalists in 2008's International Wagner Competition weren't chosen from a pool of occasionally delusional amateurs.

Instead, the eight contestants in this year's "Wagnerian Idol" — the second of what many hope will become a biennial Seattle operatic tradition — were culled in a rigorous, yearlong process that concluded with live auditions held in Munich, London, New York and Seattle last fall.

This Saturday, Seattle audiences will be able to listen to the eight finalists: one soprano, two mezzos, three tenors, a bass-baritone and a bass elected during that process by Seattle Opera General Director Speight Jenkins and Asher Fisch, Seattle Opera's principal guest conductor. The eight singers will perform two Wagner arias in a concert conducted by Fisch and judged by a panel of six international authorities, including acclaimed Wagnerian tenor and Seattle favorite Ben Heppner and Artistic Director Peter Kazaras of Seattle Opera's Young Artists Program.

The payoff? Two $15,000 prizes — an "Audience Choice" prize and an "Orchestra Choice" prize — plus international recognition as an opera singer with emerging promise in the notoriously demanding Wagnerian repertoire.

Jenkins, the mastermind behind "Wagnerian Idol," has spent years consolidating Seattle's reputation as an international presenter of the Wagnerian repertoire. In that time, Seattle Opera has staged two new productions of the massive "Ring" cycle, "Ring des Nibelungen," as well as of Wagner's six other major operas.

Jenkins' intention for the competition, to identify Wagnerian talent, bore immediate fruit. Last August's "Flying Dutchman," for example, featured the Seattle debut of one of this year's finalists, tenor Jason Collins.

One of the winners of the 2006 competition, Irish soprano Miriam Murphy, says that international interest in her voice has since skyrocketed: "Seattle Opera's reputation for Wagner is second to none, so to have been recognized there has meant that I am now, over the next three years, covering Isolde, Kundry and Brünnhilde for the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Bastille, the Liceu in Barcelona, and best of all, I return to Seattle to take part in their production of the 'Ring.' "

Here's an introduction to this year's eight competitors, in their own words.

Sumi Hahn: sumi@bewodo.org

Darren Jeffery bass-baritone

His arias: "Wahn! Wahn!" (Die Meistersinger); "Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge" (Das Rheingold).

Hometown: Launceston, Cornwall, U.K.

Age I first fell in love with opera: Around 19 years old. I didn't listen to opera at home and only really began to discover it when I started music college.

If I were a pop/rock star, I'd be: Elvis Presley. Not because of his voice alone, but I really admire the way he excelled in so many different styles. I love listening to him.

Compare your sound to a food or drink: A pint of Guinness!

When not doing opera, I'm: Trying to spend as much time as possible with my beautiful wife and three lovely children.

People would be surprised to know that I: Restore worn out Land Rovers and ex-military vehicles in my spare time. I currently have a 1968 Land Rover and a 1955 Scammell Explorer tank recovery truck.

The first thing I'll do if I win this competition is: Phone my wife back in the U.K.

Nadine Weissman mezzo-soprano

Her arias: "Weiche, Wotan, Weiche" (Das Rheingold); Waltraute's Narrative (Götterdämmerung)

Hometown: Berlin

Web page: www.nadineweissmann.com; Facebook member

Age I first fell for opera: Not until my early 20s. Until then, I wasn't sure whether I would settle on opera or music theater. I saw my first "Ring" cycle in Berlin when I was 17.

If I were a pop/rock star, I'd be: Barbra Streisand. She was my first inspiration to be a performer.

Compare your sound to a food or drink: Dark, rich, semisweet, with an unexpected bite that may burn you like dark chocolate laced with hot chili.

When not doing opera, I'm: Listening to music theater or jazz or other classical stuff.

People would be surprised to know that I: Am German, when they hear me speak English with an American accent.

The first thing I'll do if I win is: Admit that Wagner seems to be my thing.

Jason E. Collins, tenor

His arias: "Siegmund heiss ich" (Die Walküre); "Nur eine Waffe taugt" (Parsifal)

Hometown: Lady's Island, S.C.

Web page: www.jasoncollinstenor.com

Age I fell for opera: I was 16 and saw "Madama Butterfly" in Brevard, N.C. When that lady sang she struck a chord in my heart and I have never been the same.

If I were a pop/rock star I'd be: A big, bad swing singer at a lounge in Vegas, singin' some good ol' Sinatra.

Compare your sound to a food or drink: A fine cheese. Smooth, rich, fresh, and with a nice edge.

When not doing opera, I'm: Listening to any Dolly Parton, Nina Simone or Ozzy Ozbourne CD.

People would be surprised to know that: I was a competitive gymnast growing up and that I ran a gymnastics school for several years before studying voice at Juilliard.

The first thing I'll do if I win is: Call my parents.

Peter Lobert, bass

His arias: "Mögst du, mein Kind" (Der Fliegende Holländer); Hagen's Watch (Götterdämmerung)

Hometown: Dresden, Germany

Web page: www.peterlobert.de (in German)

Age I fell for opera: When I saw my first "Zauberflöte" with my mother and sister in the Semperoper Dresden — 8 years old, I think.

If I were a pop/rock star I'd be: Maybe Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull. He is a fan of Johann Sebastian Bach, like myself.

Compare your sound to a food or drink: A bloody 48-oz. American double Porterhouse steak.

When not doing opera, I'm: Always listening to Johann Sebastian Bach. It gives me structure.

People would be surprised to know that: I was a physician in my "first" life. Before becoming an opera singer, I studied medicine for five years at the Berlin Charité.

The first thing I'll do if I win is: Celebrate with my family!

Erin Caves, tenor

His arias: "Ein Schwert verhieß mir der Vater" (Die Walküre); "Winterstürme" (Die Walküre)

Hometown: Stockton, Calif.

Web page: www.erincaves.com

Age I fell for opera: I was very moved by the movie version of "Amadeus." Salieri's passion and longing for music was something I could relate to.

If I were a pop/rock star, I'd be: Someone not judged for their abs, but for their music, like Elton John.

Compare your sound to a food or drink: I have been told that my voice has been dipped in honey with a tang of citrus.

When not doing opera, I'm: Keeping up with American politics via podcasts. My brother-in-law introduced me to the new Grand Theft Auto IV game this summer and I spent way too much time during my vacation with that.

People would be surprised to know that: I dream of being the voice of an animated character.

The first thing I'll do if I win is: Go to Disneyland to celebrate my son's birthday.

Michael Weinius, tenor

His arias: "Preislied" (Die Meistersinger); "Ein Schwert verhieß mir der Vater" (Die Walküre)

Hometown: Stockholm, Sweden

Web page: www.michaelweinius.com

Age I first fell for opera: At 10 when I was in the boy's choir at the Royal Opera in Stockholm. We participated in "Otello" by Verdi. From that moment I knew that all I really wanted was to become an opera singer.

If I were a pop/rock star, I'd be: Tom Jones or Frank Sinatra. Great voices, fantastic stage presence, lots of humor and professional devotion.

Compare your sound to a food or drink: A glass of Cragganmore whiskey. Rich, smooth, aromatic, with a hint of honey and sea salt.

When not doing opera, I'm: Resting, spending time with family and friends.

The first thing I'll do if I win is: Call my wife and son.

Deborah Humble, mezzo-soprano

Her arias: Waltraute's Narrative (Götterdämmerung); "Weiche, Wotan, Weiche" (Das Rheingold)

Hometown: Adelaide, Australia

Web page: "What's Facebook?!"

Age I first fell for opera: I was about 18, at "Madame Butterfly" at the Adelaide Festival Theatre. I thought I would like to grow up and sing "Butterfly."

If I were a pop/rock star, I'd be: Madonna — intelligent ... wealthy ... looks great in her costumes! Still a star after all this time.

Compare your sound to a food or drink: I think it is impossible to describe one's own sound; more often than not I find myself trying to avoid listening to myself at all. Other people have described my voice like a glass of creamy Baileys.

When not doing opera, I'm: Traveling, hiking, playing tennis, cooking.

The first thing I'll do if I win is: Be lost for words for the first time in my life! Then open a bottle of Bordeaux.

Elza van den Heever, soprano

Her arias: "Dich, teure Halle" (Tannhäuser); "Einsam in trüben Tagen" (Lohengrin)

Hometown: Johannesburg, South Africa

Age I first fell for opera: If I had to name a moment, I fell in love with it when I sang in my first opera, as Tituba in "The Crucible." I was 18.

If I were a pop/rock star, I'd be: Barbra Streisand! She is awesome — singer, writer, director, actress. I think she has an incredible voice. An important voice.

Compare your sound to a food or drink: Dark chocolate with chilies.

When not doing opera, I'm: Hiking, biking, reading, drawing, cooking, spending time with friends.

People would be surprised to know that I: Was going to be a chef and had a full scholarship to attend a culinary institute in South Africa, before I made the very drastic decision to study in America and pursue a career in opera.

The first thing I'll do if I win is: Call my parents.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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