The Lotte Lenya Competition
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In 1998, to honor the centenary of the birth of Lotte Lenya (1898-1981), an extraordinary singing actress and one of the foremost interpreters of the music of her husband, Kurt Weill (1900-1950), the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music established an annual Lotte Lenya Competition. A one-of-a-kind contest that requires demonstration of both acting and vocal skills, the Lenya Competition celebrates talented singing actors of all nationalities, ages 19-32, who can "do it all" across the dynamic landscape of lyric theater. Prize amounts, applicant pools, and diversity of contestants have all grown substantially since 1998. Approximately 25% of applicants now come from abroad. In 2022, 7 of 11 finalists and 3 of the top prize winners were people of color. The essential concept of the competition however has remained constant for a quarter century: rewarding contestants for fully enacted, idiomatic performances of a wide range of repertoire.
In celebration of the Lenya Competition's 25th anniversary, all prizes will increase in 2023, including the top prize from $20,000 to $25,000 with a total of at least $100,000. This will bring the total of prizes awarded in the competition's history to more than $1.4 million. To date nearly 700 singers from more than two dozen countries have earned awards in the Lenya Competition.
Many winners of the Lenya Competition have gone on to illustrious careers. Recent highlights from alumni include Michael Maliakel (2015) starring in the title role of Aladdin on Broadway, Lauren Michelle (2015) in Teatro alla Scala's Die sieben Todsünden/Mahagonny Songspiel 2021 double-bill, Zachary James' (2009) lead role in Akhnaten at the Met and English National Opera, and Briana Elyse Hunter's (2014) origination of the "Mother" in Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson's Blue. The roster of past Competition judges features a "who's who" of acclaimed musical theater and opera figures, among them Teresa Stratas, Harold Prince, Julius Rudel, Patricia Racette, Jack Viertel, and Rebecca Luker.
This short film offers a close-up view of the Lotte Lenya Competition, tracing the journey of the 2013 Competition through the semi-finals, finals, announcement of the winners, and a 15th anniversary celebration concert at New York's Symphony Space. Through live footage and interviews, "Singing the Story" reveals the rigorous and unique nature of the Lenya Competition, which challenges singers to go beyond the usual "stand and sing" approach of vocal competitions by requiring them to present fully acted performances of wide-ranging theater repertoire, from opera to Broadway—to "sing the story."