Irish Times        Saturday, January 30, 1999

Arts Review

Finals of ESB Veronica Dunne International
Singing Competition, NCH

By Michael Dervan

Beginning with preliminary rounds held in Ireland and abroad late last year, an initial entry of 117 singers from around the world was gradually reduced to 27 (quarter-finals), 13 (semi-finals) and eventually just five for the finals of the ESB Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition with the RTE Concert Orchestra under Proinnsias O Duinn at the NCH last night.

Of the five finalists, two were Irish, mezzo soprano Imelda Drumm and tenor Anthony Kearns; two Australian, soprano Rebecca Nash and baritone John Cummins; the last being the South Korean-born soprano, ByungSoon Lee. Each singer was obliged to sing a 16-minute programme of "arias from opera and oratorio". All save one chose to offer four items; only Lee restricted herself to two.

The Veronica Dunne has been an interesting competition over the years, each jury delivering in turn a first prize exactly in keeping with the enthusiasm of the audience's responses on the night of the finals. This year was no exception, with the first prize going to Byung-Soon Lee, who sailed and soared through Zerbin etta's aria from Strauss's Ari- adne auf Naxos with unfailing savoir-faire, consummate ease and consistently beautiful tone.

Straussian obstacle cour ses don't come much trickier than this and her singing carried such appeal that I'm sure the audience would have gladly listened to it all over again. Her other offering was a chaste "Pie Jesu" from the Faure Requiem.

The second prize went to Nash, whose singing held the least appeal for me, her Handel sounding stolid, her Verdi too much like Puccini.

Kearns, who was placed third, is clearly already a most welcome addition to the list of Irish tenors. He's stylistically aware and is not shy of high notes, though he doesn't yet always manage to establish a viable trajectory between phrases.

Drumm (fourth) seemed in many ways the most seasoned of the group as a performer, consciously handling the audience and acting out imagined scenes as she sang. Confident and persuasive as was her style, I'm not sure that Carmen needs quite as much selling as she laid on.

Cummins (fifth) showed two performing modes, the stiffness and restriction of his Handel and Massenet transforming into alertness and involvement in Mozart and Tchaikovsky.

The remaining prize, for the most promising young Irish singer (not necessarily a finalist), went to 20-year-old mezzo soprano Paula Murrihy, who was eliminated in the semifinals.