News Item, , Berlin/Gütersloh: "Protected space" for up-and-coming singers

Liz Mohn Foundation for Culture and Music promotes Berlin Staatsoper's International Opera Studio

Argentinian bass Fernando Javier Radó sings arias from the role of Philip in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Don Carlo” with great fervor. No less expressive are the Israeli soprano Enas Massalha and the Ukrainian baritone Viktor Rud, who show plenty of comedic talent when performing the Pamina-Papageno duet from Mozart’s “Magic Flute.” And soprano Gal James from Israel uses her full, round voice to do justice to three songs by Richard Strauss. These up-and-coming performers are four of the six artists that have received scholarships from the Liz Mohn Foundation for Culture and Music, making it possible for them to attend the International Opera Studio at Berlin’s Staatsoper for two years.

The opera studio offers young singers “a sort of protected space in which they can develop and try new things,” said Mohn, vice-chair of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board, speaking at the project’s official launch in the Staatsoper’s Apollo Hall. The Liz Mohn Foundation for Culture and Music will be providing €250,000 each year through 2011 to finance the educational endeavor. General Music Director Daniel Barenboim knows that next generation singers have to work hard if they want to develop, since the path to an international opera career is steep. “Talent alone does not suffice,” he said. “A great deal of discipline is also necessary. Art is a combination of imagination and effort.”


Under the direction of Boris Anifantakis, the opera studio opened on November 1, 2007. Since then, the six singers, including Spanish mezzo-soprano Silvia De La Muela and Australian-Irish tenor Paul O’Neill, have had the opportunity to become acquainted with standard ensemble work. They are being groomed to take on smaller and midsized roles in performances at the Staatsoper, which means the singers are also receiving instruction in acting and foreign languages. Their newly won knowledge will also be put to the test in a production being organized by the opera studio itself. Yet the studio singers are anything but novices when it comes to performing on stage, having already gained considerable international experience and won a host of prizes.  Massalha, for example, recently performed in  Prokofiev’s “The Gambler” in Berlin, while last year James could be seen in Massenet’s “Manon” side-by-side with Anna Netrebko und Rolando Villazón.

As initiator and sponsor of the “Neue Stimmen” International Singing Competition, over the past 20 years Mohn has seen the extent to which music can bring people together regardless of linguistic and cultural boundaries. In addition to promoting up-and-coming talent, she is also dedicated to introducing music into early childhood education. Similar to Barenboim, who has established “music kindergartens” in Ramallah and Berlin, Liz Mohn also supports projects for young children, since without educational initiatives that can anchor an appreciation of music within society, theaters and concert halls will eventually find themselves without audiences -- and the International Opera Studio’s graduates would have to perform to empty houses.

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