Source: Courtesy of OperaliaBrenton Ryan — “The Aria of the Worm” from “The Ghosts of Versailles” (Corigliano)
Professional opera tenor Brenton Ryan, formerly of Sedalia, recently received a prestigious award in the 2016 Maestro Plácido Domingo’s Operalia World Opera Competition in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Ryan, the son of Gena and Stafford Swearingen, of Sedalia, and Kenneth Ryan, of Fresno, California, was one of 12 finalists, and one of only three Americans, in the competition that ran July 19 through 24. The international competition begin with 1,000 entries. It was pared to 40, then to 28, and finally to 12 finalists.
Because Ryan had previously been in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program at the Los Angeles Opera, he knew Maestro Domingo. Domingo personally extended the invitation for Ryan to enter the Operalia this year.
“There are occasional times when he invites singers to participate in the competition,” Ryan, who was in Sedalia on Thursday, said. “He actually invited me to participate last year when it was in London, but I couldn’t because it was during my wedding.”
Last year Ryan married mezzo-soprano Naomi O’Connell, of Ballyvaughan, Ireland. This year Ryan was one of the invited singers who was part of the first 40 people pared from the initial contestants.
“It was an absolute honor,” he noted.
Winning the Birgit Nilsson prize at the competition ran the full gamut of emotions for Ryan.
“I was ecstatic, I was excited, I was humbled, grateful,” he said. “It’s the most prestigious opera competition in the world. To be able to participate and let alone win an award, was incredible. So, I felt very, very grateful.”
Ryan added that the Birgit Nilsson award is a specialized prize for “people who sing repertoire” either by Richard Strauss or Richard Wagner.
“It’s sort of a special niche of opera, that requires a special and specific voice to be able to sing it,” he said. “If anybody sings in any part of the finals in the competition an aria by those two composers, or one of them, they are therefore considered for this award.”
The award also brought a monetary prize of $15,000, but Ryan said the honor extends far beyond trophies and cash.
“Actually, the biggest award for this … is the exposure,” he noted. “This is for anybody, it doesn’t matter if you won an award or not. Because the audition panel is comprised of top international casting directors, artistic directors, stage directors, and that’s just the audition panel.
“It’s sort of like scouts, just like for sports,” he added. “There were 30 to 40 of these international professionals scouting for new upcoming talent.”
Since the competition, Ryan has already been approached by some of the opera professionals about upcoming performances.
“That’s the best part of it, it’s exposure to these companies and managers,” he said.
Ryan’s family and his wife’s family in Ireland were able to watch the competition as it was live-streamed.
“That was really exciting,” he noted. “People could watch from all over the world. Even the finals concert in Mexico, they broadcast it live in movie theatres all throughout Mexico as well. It was great that although they couldn’t be there in person, they could still watch it as it was happening.”
For his final selection in the competition Ryan sang “The Aria of the Worm” from the opera “The Ghosts of Versailles.” This was his first performance as a villain and as the character Begearss.
“I had performed in the opera, but not the same character,” he said of Begearss. “I did that opera in Los Angeles and I sang the role of Leon. I was the understudy of this character, Begearss. It’s so much fun, because tenors don’t often get the chance to be the bad guy.
“Most of the time they’re the romantic hero or the lover,” he added. “Most of the bad guys are the baritones or the basses, but a tenor gets to be a bad guy for once.”
Ryan received a Bachelor of Music degree from DePaul University in Chicago and a Masters Degree from Rice University in Houston. He and his wife are in the process of moving back to New York where they will freelance in the opera field.
Next year Ryan will preform in San Franciso, Los Angeles, San Diego and St. Louis. While in St. Louis he will perform in the contemporary opera “The Trial” by Philip Glass during the month of June at the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts.
“It’s a new work for me and I’m very excited about it,” he added.
For more information on Brenton Ryan, visit brentonryan.com.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.