I don't think the instruction to focus on potential was any different, but the emphasis on those who would likely go on to Wagner careers may have been. As soon as he said it, I thought of Elza van den Heever, who was the co-winner in 2008, and whose career has focused on music other than Wagner, although the program says "She will reprise the role of Elsa in Lohengrin at Zurich Opera next year," which means she has some some Wagner. I then thought that may have eliminated Stonikas, who has sung major roles with Seattle Opera and elsewhere, but not Wagner roles. (She'll sing in "Ariadne auf Naxos" next season.) Similarly Furman, who did sing Froh in the 2013 Ring.
I went back to the program to look at the Wagner connections: Danholt has sung in early Wagner ("Das Liebesverbot" and "Die Feen") as well as smaller tenor roles in other Wagner operas, and he was a finalist in last year's Wagner Society of England Competition. Savage hasn't had that much stage experience in Wagner, but he's covering Siegmund for Canadian Opera Company and has earned grants from three different Wagner societies. (He'll make his Met Opera debut in "Ernani," if there is a Met Opera season by then. I can't wait to hear him on Sirius). Helena Dix has received career support for Wagner. (Her "Liebestod" was lovely and her Isolde was a young woman, which doesn't always come across from singers who have to have voices that can still sing it after midnight, a long Act I, and a very tough Act II.) Mancini and Suzanne Hendrix were Valkyries in the 2013 Ring. Hendrix, whose done other Valkyries and small Wagner roles, is one of the three singers who could sing in the outdoor arena in Verona -- Savage and Stonikas were the others -- with her huge mezzo. (I would love to know what the judges thought of her.) She had a lot of stage presence in "Geliebter, komm" from "Tannhauser," even before opening her mouth. (My Flamenco teachers would have loved her.) Roman Ialcic covered Faffner and Hunding in the Ring. I wish I could have heard him; although I prefer him to a number of Hagens I've heard in the past, his voice seemed a little light for the role. Unfortunately, Faffner and Hunding aren't easily excerptable.
Since he announced this before the prizes, until then I had thought the two winners would be Savage, who had a wonderful Heldentenor sound, and Stonikas, who chose from two of Wagner's earlier operas where he was still writing arias; she opened the competition with "Dich, teure Halle" from "Tannhauser" and sang Senta's Ballad from "Der fliegende Hollander" in the second half. (A challenge with Wagner is that much of his music isn't a stand-alone, and even the scenes where the character is alone, like in Isolde's Narrative and Curse, doing a monologue, it doesn't quite feel complete, unlike the "Liebestod.") I had voted for Danholt for the audience prize, because I thought he wouldn't get one of the top prizes. He wasn't on the original list -- usually there are eight and two alternates -- and if he was added at the last minute, the other contestants must be ruing that decision. $25K is not chump change.
Danholt is a wonderfully elegant singer. His voice doesn't have the Heldentenor heft that Savage's does, but he's a reminder of how much Wagner admired Bellini, and his phrasing was gorgeous. I wasn't sure his voice would be considered strong enough, because although I thought his and Savage's starkly contrasting excepts from "Parsifal" were the highlights of the first half, his voice didn't quite ring through the orchestra in the Prize Song in the second. (The judges were the equivalent of eight rows behind me, and they would have heard almost the same thing.) As much as I liked new-to-Seattle conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing, I missed the expert way in which Asher Fisch adjusted the orchestra subtly to make the voices in front of him shine through. Of course, Lang-Lessing did not have the rehearsal time with the singers that Fisch did for a Ring, nor did he know them from experience, but I got the impression of a pre-determined approach from Lang-Lessing in the more dramatic pieces in the Competition: while he was a sensitive accompanist to Danholt's "Nur eine Waffe taugt," he had a tendency to let the orchestra run elsewhere.
Issachah Savage reprised "Mein lieber Schwan" from "Lohengrin," his second piece in the Competition, for the Speight Jenkins Celebration.
I was so glad Tamara Mancini sang "Gerechter Gott" from "Rienzi." While I wouldn't want to hear the whole thing in one sitting, the first part showed the bel canto influence on Wagner's work. The second part sounded more lyrical Teutonic.