For the first time in almost a quarter of a century, all competitors are women. The Opera Scholarship is highly contested, with the winner given the financial opportunity to study overseas and compete at an international level while learning to sing in the form’s languages of Italian, French and German.
Each finalist performs two arias, the winner to receive $43,000, the runner-up $10,000 and third place-getter $5000, with the remaining finalists to receive $1000. This year’s adjudicators are Cheryl Barker and John Pringle.
In her sixth year of competition, first as a contemporary singer, and now in opera, Sydney’s Juliette Di Bello hopes to put the scholarship towards her tuition at the Juilliard School in New York where she starts next month.
”Learning to sing opera is very difficult, and like every singer, I have doubted whether or not I can succeed. That’s why winning this competition would mean so much to me.”
Once Di Bello decided to learn opera, ”I fell in love, utterly and completely, and with every new aria it’s as if I fall in love all over again . . . Now, I cannot contemplate doing anything else with my life.”
Bronwyn Douglass, from Botany, has entered the Sydney Eisteddfod almost every year since 2011, the first time for opera in 2015.
She was drawn to the art form by the incredible sound. ”I have always loved orchestral music, starting from childhood when my sisters and I basically watched Fantasia on repeat,” she said.
”When I heard opera for the first time – I was about 10 – with a voice soaring over an orchestra, I was excited and deeply moved by it. I have spent my life chasing that excitement and that sound.”
Bondi’s Michelle Ryan started classical voice lessons in year 10 and is now in her fourth year as a finalist. Voice training, she thought, would be good for her pop voice, particularly for HSC music exams. She found a voice coach and went on to pursue a Bachelor of Music in classical voice.
Twice finalist Ashfield’s Olivia Cranwell said winning would allow her to pursue a career in Europe. ”It would permit me to focus solely on singing, a luxury that is rare in this day and age, and put all my efforts into mastering the craft.”
Linda Morris is an arts and books writer at The Sydney Morning Herald