A Test of Courage, then a Career

Photos: Enno Kapitza
Many singers feel pretty small when they perform for Francisco Araíza and Brian Dickie (foreground, left to right), since that could well be the first step toward becoming one of opera’s big names.

Anyone who wants to make it to the “Neue Stimmen” final round has to go up against some pretty impressive competitors, since only the best are invited to Gütersloh. Performing in front of the renowned jury takes quite a bit of courage. But it’s worth it …

His brow is beaded with sweat. Behind the rimless glasses the brown eyes suggest a mixture of tension, euphoria and relief. It is 2013 and we are at one of the auditions for “Neue Stimmen”. Christoph Rebelein has just finished singing. He is one of over 1,400 young talents who have applied to compete. The auditions are held all around the globe, including at the Gasteig cultural center in Munich. Newly arrived contestants sign in outside of the small concert hall that Rebelein has just left. They have come from Stuttgart, Freiburg, Mainz and other cities. Some, however, have traveled even farther to be here: The 105 registration forms for the Munich event contain addresses in Spain, Slovenia, France, Finland and the United States. Rebelein is from the German town of Tegernsee. This is his last chance to compete in “Neue Stimmen”, since 32 is the maximum age for male singers, 30 for female singers. These magic numbers are a cause of dismay in almost every city when participants pull out their IDs. That is the moment when any attempt to pose as a younger version of oneself ultimately comes to light. But then what wouldn’t most people do to gain such high-profile recognition?

The Händel was bumpy

Rebelein wipes the sweat from his brow. What he has feared most has come to pass. “Of course – they wanted to hear the Händel!” he says. Each participant has to prepare five arias from different eras and operas. He or she may choose one to perform; the jury spontaneously chooses another. “The Händel was bumpy,” Rebelein says. A petite hand gently touches his arm. “No, you performed it well,” says Anna Virovlansky, who was sitting with the three jury members in the wood-paneled concert hall. The soprano won fourth place at “Neue Stimmen” 2003, a victory that led to her first permanent contract. “Suddenly major opera houses were interested in me. Liz Mohn invited me to concerts in India and China. She even took time to meet with me personally. They were wonderful experiences.” Today Virovlansky is here to see old acquaintances. “The personal attention given to each singer is extraordinary,” she says. “It’s clear that everyone involved is doing it from the heart. It’s much more than just a job.” The soprano’s comments have given Rebelein renewed confidence. In a few days, he and his fellow competitors will find out who has qualified for the next round. Out of more than 1,400 participants, only 45 at most will be chosen.

Vincenzo Neri warming up with the pianist Céline Dutilly before his audition.

Courage pays off

Now it’s Rachel Anne Moore’s turn. Her fiery red curls reach to below her shoulder blades, contrasting with her light blue eyes and cobalt blue dress. The soprano, a native of the United States, only recently moved to Bavaria from Seattle. While she is singing in Munich, her husband Justin is attending to their two-year-old daughter in a hotel room not far from Lake Starnberg. Tomorrow, the second day of auditions, their roles will be reversed. Justin is also a singer. “Back home, it is very difficult to have both a singing career and a family,” Moore explains. “Unlike in Germany, there is no such thing as a long-term contract. That means a lot of traveling and frequently being apart from each other.” This is their fourth competition in four months.

Time to warm up. On the way to the small rehearsal room with its piano, she runs into Sara Fanin and gives the Italian singer a hug. The two know each other from a competition in Italy. They chat for a minute then say goodbye, each wishing the other in “bocca al lupo”, Italian for “good luck.” Fanin will not be auditioning until tomorrow, but wants to see the venue and how to get there. The soprano and her mother drove five hours from Padua to Munich. They don’t want anything to go wrong, since this could be the young singer’s big chance.

Moore is still looking forward to hers, but Jeongyeop Seok’s has come and gone. The South Korean who now lives in Wurzburg exits the concert hall, his hopes dashed. He has been preparing for this day for three months and has just botched one of his arias.

Defeat is something the often chosen Virovlansky has also experienced. “You can’t always be successful. And that’s good. That’s how you grow and it makes you all the more humble and grateful when everything goes as it should” (Anna Virovlansky). That has been her story: After contracts in Bonn, Dusseldorf and Munich, the Russian soprano is now a freelancer. “In this profession you have to continue to develop and take the next step. As a freelancer, I won’t be offered contracts for smaller and medium-sized roles. I’ll be taking on major parts and I find that exciting.” She’s not afraid. Her participation in “Neue Stimmen” has also taught her something else: Being courageous pays off.

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CONTINUE with “The Road to Gütersloh” – The Whole World Watches This Competition

Rachel Anne Moore prepares for her performance.