2012 SAI voice competition winners show their growth

The 2012 winners of the Sigma Alpha Iota Competition in Voice (from left): Lilla Heinrich-Szasz, Leela Subramaniam, Raquel Gonzalez and Julian Arsenault. Not pictured is Brandon Cedel. Photo by Adam Birkan.

Yemi Falodun | Staff Writer

“I have this rule that every competition is stupid unless you win,” Brandon Cedel said.

In last weekend’s 2012 Sigma Alpha Iota Competition in Voice, the bass-baritone vocalist was one of five winners, including Julian Arsenault, Raquel Gonzalez, Lilla Heinrich-Szasz and Leela Subramaniam.

“I never get nervous when I sing,” Cedel said. “I get nervous when I’m waiting for the results.”

Cedel, who studies at Curtis Institute of Music with voice veteran and School of Muisc Voice Chair Marlena Malas, is all about having fun when it comes to singing.

“I go in like, ‘This what it is,’” Cedel said. “You can like it, take it, or leave it. Then if you like it, give me some money — if not, then whatever.”

When soprano vocalist Heinrich-Szasz arrived early and out of breath, wearing sunglasses, flip-flops and a sports jacket over her dress, the last thing she expected to hear was someone say, “You need to go on.”

“No, I have to go to the bathroom,” Heinrich-Szasz said. “In order to do a piece like that, you need at least five minutes of silence.”

She had been in this position before when she ran to a competition at The Juilliard School.

“So, I only had three minutes to breathe,” Heinrich-Szasz said. “And they don’t care that you’re out of breath. And I sang that same aria out of breath.”

And she promised herself, she would be prepared if it ever happened again. So Heinrich-Szasz came to Chautauqua to continue her study with her maestro, Malas.

“I came here to condition,” she said.

And it has paid off dividends, as she has been able to work with established teachers, including a master class and coaching from Sir Richard Alan Bonynge.

“He’s all about singing softer,” she said. “It’s not about adding pressure, which is good, because I sang for like three hours with him, and I felt like I didn’t sing at all.”

The summer has been an intense grind for all the vocalists, but Heinrich-Szasz enjoys it.

“I’m not really worried, because the program here makes singing fun,” she said.

And she credits Malas for making that happen.

“We always loved music and singing, and she keeps that going,” she said. “She doesn’t make you hate it. She makes you love it even more.”

Heinrich-Szasz is not the only SAI winner hitting high marks.

Last Thursday, Raquel Gonzalez performed the lead soprano role of Adina for the Italian comic opera L’elisir d’amore, by Gaetano Donizetti.

“It’s was weird, because I’ve been so absorbed in Adina for the past five weeks,” she said. “And then, I had the competition on the weekend.”

Gonzalez performed her favorite aria, “Ain’t it a Pretty Night,” from Susannah, at the competition.

“It’s was like going back home and wrapping myself in my favorite blanket,” she said. “It’s just really comforting to go back to that.”

Gonzalez will be starting a master’s program at Juilliard in the fall. But she said she feels greatly prepared for whatever is coming after being at Juilliard and Chautauqua for the past four years.

And she, too, has seen major growth in her singing, especially this season with Bonynge, who helped her in the bel canto style for L’elisir d’amore.

“It’s almost as if hearing the music and seeing it being conducted by Donizetti himself. The intimacy (Bonynge) has with the repertoire is as if he’s lived with it his whole life,” Gonzalez said. “It’s still really boggling to have been in a coaching studio with him, talking about a role Joan Sutherland did.”

Bonynge gave an insightful perspective, which Gonzalez was more than ready to soak up.

“He brought up less self-indulgent bits of the music, which made it more fine-tuned,” she said. “It was more personal. It was about the singing, but the singing was in service of the text and the story.”

Gonzalez said Bonynge touched on fluidity and making beautiful and natural sounds.

“It’s partly about having enough confidence in your voice, to not have to be 100 percent concentrating on the technique, which comes with practicing and singing a lot,” Gonzalez said. “The more you get up on stage, the less terrifying and daunting it becomes — the more I’m able to trust myself and give myself to the character. And when you give yourself to the character, the stage presence, charisma, just comes naturally.”