York singers enjoy success at home and abroad

Alumni of York’s classical vocal music program are in the spotlight again this spring, garnering a plethora of awards and rave reviews. This is the first in a two-part story highlighting recent successes.

Soprano Stefanie True (BFA ’03) won the top award, the £3000 Adair Prize, at the prestigious London Handel Competition in the UK last month. She impressed the judges with her performances of the arias Vaghe perle and Se giunge un dispetto from Handel’s opera Agrippina; Capricious Man from the oratorio Saul; and the recitative and aria Non è pero … Mie pupille from the cantata Clori, mia bella clori in the three rounds of the festival.

York alumna Stefanie True performing at the prestigious London Handel Competition
Above: York alumna Stefanie True performing at the prestigious London Handel Competition

“Once again we have great cause to be proud of Stefanie True,” said Professor Catherine Robbin, head of classical vocal music at York and True’s former teacher, who is herself a renowned Handel interpreter. “It’s no small feat to win such an important international competition. This is a great milestone for Stefanie, after all the hard work she’s done to place herself among the top rank of baroque singers on the scene today.”

“I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to study with Catherine Robbin,” True said. “She instilled in me a respect for, and dedication to, communicating the text as simply and genuinely as possible. This is still for me the most important aspect of performing any piece, regardless of the composer or style of the music.”

The Handel Singing Competition is an annual event open to professional singers between the ages of 23 and 34. This year, 140 artists from around the world were accepted to compete, whittled down to 15 semifinalists and then six finalists. In the final round, True was accompanied by the London Handel Orchestra conducted by Adrian Butterfield in St. George’s in Hanover Square, the church Handel attended while he lived in London.

“Winning this competition means a lot to me,” said True. “I’ve devoted so much of my time and energy to singing exactly this kind of music, and in a way, it feels like this prize is an affirmation – a signpost for me to carry on doing what I’m doing.”

After completing her BFA at York, True earned an artist’s diploma in classical singing and a BMus and MMus in early music at the Royal Conservatoire in Den Haag, The Netherlands, and advanced her studies with scholarships to the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute in Canada, Gregynog Festival Masterclasses in Wales and the Britten-Pears Young Artist Program in the UK.

True has appeared in operas, oratorios, festivals and solo recitals in Europe, North and Central America, and in South Korea. Her opera credits include the roles of Cephise (L’Europe Galante), Poppea (Agrippina), Adelaide (Lotario), Serpina (La Serva Padrona) and Belinda (Dido and Aeneas). Handel looms large in her discography, which includes Aci in the cantata Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, Maddalena in La Resurrezione, and a solo recording of Handel’s Roman Cantatas, all under the direction of Marco Vitale with Contrasto Armonico. Her other releases include Lully’s Italian Ballets de cours with La Risonanza, directed by Fabio Bonizzoni, and the upcoming Arne Cantatas and Overtures and Great Britain Triumphant! under the direction of Mary Terey-Smith with Cappella Savaria.

Above: Stefanie True singing the aria Se giunge un dispetto from Handel’s opera Agrippina at Teatro Comunale di Modena (2009)

True’s former classmate Melissa Davis (BFA ’04), a mezzo-soprano who sang with True as part of the very well-received vocal trio, the York University Singers, at CBC Radio’s Holiday Open House during their undergraduate student days, is still reaping successes as the winner of the first National American Spirituals Solo Voice Competition in Buffalo, NY, in 2009. As part of her prize, Davis had the chance to perform with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra last year as guest soloist for their Summer in the Parks program at Niagara Falls. This summer, she’ll be starring in Highway to Canaan, a new opera about the Underground Railroad composed by J. LanYe, to be presented in Melissa DavisPort Clinton, Ohio.

Right: Melissa Davis

Davis, who also studied with Robbin at York, toured across Canada and in France and the US as a signature soloist and choir member of Toronto’s acclaimed Nathaniel Dett Chorale. Since 2007, she has been pursuing graduate studies at the University of Illinois, where she holds a master of music degree and is currently completing her doctorate in music arts. Her recent concert credits include appearances with the University of Illinois Symphony Orchestra, Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra, Sinfonia da Camera and the Allerton Festival Orchestra.

Along with Robbin, a distinguished roster of voice teachers lend their expertise to the professional training of York’s young classical singers, including Norma Burrowes, Stephanie Bogle, Michael Donovan, Janet Obermeyer and Karen Rymal.