- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 19, 2002

Placido Domingo is giving six up-and-coming opera singers a chance to share the stage with him. Mr. Domingo and some of the winners from the Operalia will perform a gala concert at 3:30 p.m. today at the Kennedy Center. Besides being a renowned tenor, Mr. Domingo also is artistic director of the Washington Opera. The Operalia, an international vocal competition started in 1993 by Mr. Domingo and headquartered in Paris, showcases opera singers in the early stages of their careers. The contest, for singers 30 or younger, concluded Oct. 7 at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium.

Guang Yang, a 30-year-old mezzo-soprano from Beijing, won first place and a prize of $50,000. She was one of 40 contestants flown to Washington to take part in the competition. Audience members will be able to see her in this afternoon’s show.

“After I won the competition, Placido said, ‘Are you pleased?’” Miss Yang says. “I said, ‘Of course, I am excited.’ No words came out of my mouth. He said, ‘You did very good. Let’s go to the theater.’”

Today, Miss Yang plans to sing a duet with Mr. Domingo, “Madre, Non Dormi” from “Il Trovatore” by Giuseppe Verdi. She also is singing an aria from a French opera, “Sapho,” by Charles-Francois Gounod.

“I have been practicing every day,” she says. “Right now, so far so good. I think I’m more excited than nervous. I’m really prepared for it. I can’t wait to sing with him.”

Miss Yang says that she hasn’t decided how to spend the prize money but that she probably will save it. She also has won the Concours International de Chant in Paris and the First International Opera Competition in Shizuoka, Japan.

“[The Operalia contest] really helps singers who have done their basic study to transfer to professional opera singers,” she says. “Many singers need money to go audition in different countries.”

Miss Yang began studying at the Juilliard Opera Center in New York City in 1998. She thought the Operalia would test what she had learned during her studies.

“I needed to check what I was learning at Juilliard,” she says. “I really appreciate my teachers and coaches here. Right now, I have the whole package in me.”

Even though winning this competition was a huge accomplishment, Miss Yang says she wants to become better at her craft. In March, she plans to study at Lyric Opera in Chicago for one year.

“I’m still a young person for an opera singer,” she says. “Age 30 is just the beginning. I still need a voice teacher. I still have lots of hard work to do.”

Other Operalia winners performing in the concert are Hyoung-Kyoo Kang, 28, a baritone from Seoul; Maya Dashuk, 25, a soprano from St. Petersburg; Eugenia Garza, 26, a soprano from Mexico City; Valeriano Lanchas, 25, a bass from Bogota, Colombia; and Jossie Perez, 25, a mezzo-soprano from New York City.

Philanthropist Alberto Vilar of New York City says he is pleased that his sponsorship of the competition enables young opera singers to advance in their careers. His interest in the Operalia began because of his close working relationship with Mr. Domingo. Mr. Vilar provided $175,000 in prize money to distribute to the winners.

“Opera is about great singing and great music,” he says. “This competition is becoming better known, maybe known as the best. People have gone on to bigger and better things.”

Grace Bender, Operalia chairwoman, says Mr. Domingo hopes that today’s concert will help give the contest winners the needed exposure to succeed in the classical music world. She says he makes it a point to encourage the contest winners even after the Operalia events end.

“Placido encourages them and helps them guide their careers,” she says. “He doesn’t just let them win and drop them.”

This is the first time the Operalia events have come to the Washington area, Ms. Bender says. She doesn’t know if they will ever return.

“Since it’s an international competition, they try to have it in different countries,” Ms. Bender says. “Last year, it was in Los Angeles. Next year, it will be in Paris.”

Ms. Bender says the Operalia committee invited local music students from area colleges to come to the concert free of charge.

“Placido is a world-famous tenor,” Ms. Bender says. “It’s almost impossible to get tickets to the operas he’s in. What a fabulous way for people to hear him.”

WHAT: “Placido Domingo’s Operalia”

WHERE: Kennedy Center Concert Hall, F Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW

WHEN: 3:30 today

TICKETS: $35 to $150

PHONE: 202/467-4600 or 800/444-1324

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