Baritone Parks puts on world class performance
For Ed Parks, the day he was invited to the prestigious Operalia singing competition in London is more memorable than the day he pocketed a $10,000 prize in the contest.
Parks, the Indiana-raised opera singer, with the Metropolitan Opera of New York and Carnegie Hall on his credit list, took third place in the international competition held last weekend in London.
A renowned baritone, Parks was the top American in the 23rd annual Operalia, a program founded by Plácido Domingo.
Two tenors, Ioan Hotea, of Romania, and Darren Pene Pati, of New Zealand, placed first and second in the men’s division, making Parks, in the eyes of many, the best baritone.
In. The. World.
Parks would be the first to put some perspective on that thinking.
“It’s the best in the world under (age) 32. And there’s a lot that goes into it,” Parks said. “And there are a lot of singers that probably couldn’t even audition because of having summer programs or summer festival work.
“But of the singers that I heard — and I didn’t hear everybody through all the rounds — these are very high-quality singers.”
Domingo started the program in 1993 as a vehicle for launching careers and bringing recognition to the world’s most promising young opera singers.
Hundreds apply for the chance each year: men and women, from bass to soprano, from 18 to 32 years of age.
This year, according to organizers, more than 1,000 singers put in entries.
Parks, 31, was one of the most eager candidates. It was his final year of eligibility and his chance to overcome last year’s disappointment.
“I applied last year but I didn’t make it past the first video submissions,” he said. “The videos weren’t very good, just not up to date or the best quality. They responded and said I should apply next year. And I did.”
Anticipation built as Domingo’s staff reviewed the applications for Operalia.
“I found out in March. My wife, Julie, and I just got to the hospital and she was about to deliver our baby, Willow,” Parks recalled. “It was really earlier on in the day, we had just checked into the hospital and were sitting around and I got an email from Operalia.
“It was pretty wild!”
From March 19, Parks and the others had more than three months to tune up for the stage.
They arrived July 13 in London.
Parks was among a field of 40 quarterfinalists from 21 nations who sang in the preliminary rounds for an international panel of judges. The field was narrowed to 20 semifinalists and then 11 finalists.
Parks made the eliminations on the strength of some of his traditional work — an aria from “Il barbiere di Siviglia” (“The Barber of Seville”).
“I debuted in the Met singing Fiorello in ‘Barber of Seville,’ and then I sang the actual Figaro, the part of the barber, in Orlando. So I use that aria quite a bit for auditions and other competitions,” Parks said.
“In the first round, I started with that aria … then they picked a second aria, one that I sang from ‘The Pearl Fishers’ by Bizet. That’s also a role that I had sung before.”
For the semifinal round, Parks said, the judges made the choices.
“They picked one aria the day before. When they announced who was moving on to the second round, they announced the aria which you would be singing, and I sang an aria from ‘The Queen of Spades,’ called ‘Yeletsky’s Aria.’”
To wrap up the competition, Parks got the OK for his Figaro role again.
“Maestro Domingo had ideas of what he wanted people to sing, too. So there was a little conversation about what you wanted, what he thought would be good for you, and for the program and the concert,” Parks said.
Parks was the first to take the stage on Sunday, as the finalists performed in a Gala Concert on Covent Garden’s main stage accompanied by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House conducted by Domingo. (It’s online at http://www.medici.tv/#!/operalia-2015-final-round-london-opera-placido-domingo.)
He was one of three Americans to qualify for the finals, and the top singers shared in more than $160,000 in awards.
Parks carried away a prize of $10,000 as the third-place male singer.
But the competition provides priceless rewards for the young emerging singers.
“It is one of the most prestigious voice competitions,” said Christopher Hahn, the general director of the Pittsburgh Opera.
“Plácido Domingo founded it … with a particular interest in discovering new voices and encouraging new voices, and he is interested in an international feel to it.”
Domingo’s Operalia competition circulates each year to different opera houses around the world. London hosted it for the first time this year.
Hahn, a past judge for Operalia, said most other singing competitions are based in Europe.
“Voice competitions are an incredibly important tool in encouraging young singers,” Hahn said. Top instructors and schools are expensive and, Hahn said, the prize money in contests like Operalia help aspiring students to further their training.
“Operalia is one of the world’s most prestigious and influential singing competitions. The number of competitors (both winners and participants) who have gone on to enjoy extraordinary careers is remarkable,” said Anthony Freud, general director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and a member of the Operalia jury the past two years.
“It’s like a lot of other great competitions and programs you might go into,” Parks said. “It carries a label. Being a finalist or winning a prize at Operalia — it’s great just because of what it does for your r￩sum￩. And the judges that were judging that competition are all casting or artistic directors for major opera houses, so it was a weeklong audition for them.”
Parks graduated from Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artists Development Program, then debuted with the Met in the 2009-10 season, as Fiorello in “Il barbiere di Siviglia,” and has since appeared as Schaunard in “La boh￨me” and as Larkens in “La fancuilla del West,” which was broadcast in HD around the world. He also appeared as Schaunard in the Met’s 2011 tour of Japan.
Parks said he has been booked for shows along the Atlantic coast for the 2015-16 opera season.
“This season, I’m debuting at a lot of different opera houses,” Parks said. “I’ll go to Virginia and do ‘La bohème’ there, and then I go to Atlanta, I’ll do my first ‘Don Giovanni’ in Savannah.
“And I’m back at the Met in the winter for ‘La bohème.’”
Add to all that Parks’ performances with the Atlanta Opera and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Central City Opera in Colorado, Michigan Opera Theater, Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, along with a series of foundation awards and competitive honors, and it amounts to a prestigious start to his career, Hahn said.
“The Operalia competition is trying to identify supreme talent and they base that on what comes out of the competition. It’s all about the quality of the voice, and anything like this is a great endorsement,” Hahn said.
“When I and any of my colleagues in the opera world are auditioning singers, we are made aware of what they’ve done, and a lot of it has to do with what roles they’ve sung.
“A young singer is building a résumé that includes as many big hits as possible.”
That’s what Hahn sees in Parks’ experience.
“The fact that he emerged out of that (Lindemann Young Artists) program is a great endorsement, because it’s very hard to get into that program,” Hahn said. “He has performed in Atlanta, and with other companies … he is starting to make his way.
“The things he has been doing look appropriate to his age and talent.”
Domingo oversees the Operalia competition and presents the awards, but doesn’t vote on the winners, according to the Operalia website. He’s there as an adviser and counselor, “offering guidance on artistic and career development to each of the participants. Singers at earlier stages of their careers may be chosen to join one of the Young Artist programs established by Domingo” in Washington, Los Angeles and Valencia, Spain, according to the site.
“Talent alone is not enough; it is also essential for young singers to come to the attention of those impresarios, managers, casting directors, conductors and stage directors who can further their professional careers,” according to Domingo.
“My purpose in Operalia is to help identify not only the best voices, but also to discover those singers whose personalities, characters and powers of interpretation show that they have the potential to become complete artists. Individuals such as these become tomorrow’s stars.”