How the Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition became the biggest singers’ stock exchange in the world
From the very beginning of his artistic career, Hans Gabor, the founder and long-term manager of the Wiener Kammeroper, was engaged in discovering and promoting young talented singers. Quite some singers who later became international opera stars, made their first steps in opera life under his artistic leadership.
These efforts were channeled into the successful concept of a very special singing competition: instead of academic vocal instructors, those who are in practice responsible for the engagement of singers, were to assess the talents and maturity of singers: opera and festival managers, music promoters and representatives of the media industry. Artists’ agencies were given observer status.
That was the background against which the 1st Belvedere Competition took place in Vienna in 1982. The idea of a trustworthy “singers’ stock exchange” without a strictly academic orientation quickly gained popularity. Applications started to come in from around the world. Very soon the number of participants had to be restricted in order not to overtax the jury. In 1992 the decision was made to organize preliminary rounds all over the world. The first qualifying rounds were held in 13 cities, and by now that number has risen more and more.
As early as in 1988, the competition – up until then reserved to the operatic repertory – was extended, also to encompass operetta. In 2000 the accompanists’ competition was added. Both will still continue, even if not every year.
Since 1995 the name of Hans Gabor was added to the original name “Belvedere Competition” – after all, his work is inseparably linked with the contest.
An ever increasing number of institutions have donated special prizes, be it in cash or in kind, or in the form of engagements. Apart from the main prizes, the much vied-for prize of the audience can be won; it is awarded by the audience of the public final concert until today.
Since 2013 the International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition is spreading its wings. The final rounds, held for 31 years in Vienna, take now place in the most renowned opera houses around the world on an alternating basis. In 2013 the city of Amsterdam hosted the first event outside of Austria since its founding, followed by Düsseldorf in 2014, Amsterdam again in 2015, Cape Town in 2016, Moscow in 2017, Jurmala (Latvia) in 2018, Villach, Carinthia (Austria) in 2019. The 2020 final rounds were cancelled due to the pandemic. In 2021, the competition was held at the Erfurt Theatre in Germany and in 2022 Jurmala in Latvia will host the finals for the second time. In subsequent years, the finals of the competition will be held in European cities and overseas.
Isabella Gabor and Holger Bleck, General Managers since 1999, are thrilled about the upcoming perspectives: “We are very happy, that the Managing & Artistic Director of the Dzintari Concert Hall, Guntars Ķirsis, hosted for the second time the final rounds in Jurmala . We especially appreciate this invitation in these challenging times."
The 2022 qualifying rounds are held in about 70 cities world-wide. The singers continue to be judged by a jury consisting of artistic and casting directors from the world's most prestigious opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera New York, Royal Opera House Covent Garden London, Teatro alla Scala Milano, Gran Teatre del Liceu Barcelona, Cape Town Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin to name a few.
The International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition is THE “springboard” for a career in opera: Past participants and prize winners include Elina Garanča, Angela Gheorghiu, Marina Mescheriakova, Ildikó Raimondi, Irina Samoilova, Stanislav Schwez. Recent winners include Italian tenor Antonio Poli, who made his debut at the Salzburg Festival alongside Anna Netrebko and Piotr Beczala. Soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen, the 1st prize winner of the International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition in 2011, made her highly-acclaimed Royal Opera House Covent Garden debut in 2012 as well as 1st prize winner of 2017, Russian Mezzo Soprano Aigul Akhmetshina, in 2018. Pretty Yende, winner of all main prizes in 2009, makes an international career with engagements at the most renowned opera houses in the world.
The competition administration and headquarters are based in Vienna.