Ukrainians honoured in 2022 International Opera Awards

Two Ukrainian opera companies were celebrated for their ‘outstanding work in challenging circumstances’ at the International Opera Awards 2022 last night [28 November]. Hosted by the BBC’s Petroc Trelawny, in Madrid, Spain it was the first time the Awards has ever taken place outside of the UK, and the first in-person event since 2019.

Lviv National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre and Odesa Opera and Ballet Theatre (pictured above) were jointly awarded the Opera Company award – the first time the award has ever been given to two companies – to acknowledge their courage and resilience for continuing to perform despite the the war. While the Russian invasion forced both theatres to close initially, both companies have recently reopened and started staging world-class productions again. Representatives from both companies accepted the award in-person, to a rapturous reception and a long standing ovation from the audience at Madrid’s Teatro Real.

After a 30 hour journey by bus, car and air to be present at the ceremony, Oksana Taranenko, Stage Director of Odesa Opera and Ballet Theatre, said: “We are accepting this Award for every Ukrainian soul in heaven. We are in a cold dark place trying to do our jobs. We are fully aware that we have become a place of inspiration for the people… We have many staff from the company fighting on the front lines or living as refugees: recently we had no sopranos as they are mostly young mothers and had to leave. This great support from the international community will help us to stand up for our people.”

Legendary British mezzo-soprano Dame Janet Baker was celebrated with the Lifetime Achievement award. From her operatic debut in 1956 to her retirement in 1982, her reputation as one of the greatest British singers was cemented by her acclaimed roles at Glyndebourne and English National Opera, as well as her association with Benjamin Britten who wrote the cantata Phaedra especially for her.

The Opera Magazine Readers’ Award – voted for by the public – was won by Samoan tenor Pene Pati. As well as being a member of popular trio Sol3 Mio, Pati’s star has continued to rise over the past few years and he has performed at some of the world’s greatest opera houses and recently released his debut solo album on Warner Classics to critical acclaim. British soprano Nardus Williams (below) was awarded the Rising Star award – a former English National Opera Harewood artist and Times Breakthrough Award nominee, this accolade further establishes her growing reputation as one of the most exciting British singers of her generation.

The Good Governance Institute Leadership Award was given to Nicholas Payne, who has led Opera Europa since 2003 and previously been in charge at English National Opera and the Royal Opera House, and the Philanthropy award was given to Aline Foriel-Destezet for her continued support of music and opera.

Other winners announced on the night included French soprano Sabine Devieilhe and baritone Stéphane Degout, who were named as Female Singer and Male Singer respectively; Daniele Rustioni was presented with the Conductor award. Michael Spyres collected the award for Recording (Solo Recital) for BariTenor, a collection of works for both tenor and baritone range, while the award for Recording (Complete Opera) went to the recording of Offenbach’s Le voyage dans le Lune on the Bru Zane label. Soprano Susan Bullock CBE presented the Villa Conchi International Opera Award for Festival of the Year, sponsored by The Grand Wines, to Santa Fe Opera, and the Sustainability award was won by Gothenburg Opera.

The Awards, founded by philanthropist Harry Hyman in 2012, aim to raise the profile of opera as an art form, to recognise and reward success in opera and to generate funds to provide bursaries for aspiring operatic talent from around the world. Since 2012 over £400,000 has been raised by the Opera Awards Foundation, going to more than 125 bursary recipients. In the past year, just under £52,000 has been given out in bursaries to opera artists who are emerging onto the professional international opera scene.
In 2020, the Foundation established an Artist Hardship Fund, providing emergency grants to previous bursary recipients facing financial hardship due to the pandemic. In 2021 the Fund re-opened grant applications more broadly to other young and emerging artists affected by the crisis.

The awards ceremony was streamed live on Teatro Real’s My Opera Player and OperaVision, where audiences can continue to catch up with the event on demand.