The Kurt Weill Foundation for Music has announced the winners of the twenty-sixth annual Lenya Competition, which took place Saturday 4 May at Kilbourn Hall in Rochester, New York. With a commanding performance of substance and style, Ana Karneža took home the First Prize of $25,000. From her glittering entrance to her touching close, her extraordinary personifications in four selections from Offenbach to ABBA left the full house in joyful tears. Christian Mark Gibbs and Jason Zacher each claimed a Second Prize of $20,000. These remarkable performances, and those of the other seven outstanding finalists as well, will be available on the Kurt Weill Foundation website for on-demand streaming starting Friday 10 May on

Two-time Tony Award-winning composer Jeanine Tesori, one of three final round judges, summed up the essence of Karneža’s impact on her evaluation sheet: “This Woman! Simply. Stunning.” Kim Kowalke, President of the Kurt Weill Foundation and Founder of the Competition, observed: “My advice to the judges each year has been, `you’ll know who should win because they succeeded in making you laugh, cry, and then cheer in sheer amazement.’ This year Ana did exactly that for all the judges and probably everyone in the audience too.”

Each finalist performed a continuous fifteen-minute program of four contrasting numbers, including a selection by Kurt Weill, before a jury of three esteemed artists whose careers mirror the values of the Competition: in addition to Tesori, world-renowned soprano Nicole Cabell, and internationally acclaimed director-writer Tazewell Thompson. The panel chose to award two discretionary prizes: Joseph Sacchi won for Outstanding Vocal Achievement. Queen Hezumuryango won for Outstanding Performance of a Contemporary Musical Theater Selection, a song from the Lenya Competition Songbook, “The Switch” by Julianne Wick Davis. These prizes both carry a monetary award of $6,000. Each of the remaining contestants received a finalist prize of $3,000: Kendra Dyck, Ta’Nika Gibson, Rebekah Howell, Kaileigh Riess, and Logan Wagner.

In the evening, four Competition alumni prizewinners returned to Kilbourn Hall for a performance of highlights from their illustrious careers ranging from musical theater to opera: Michael Maliakel, soon to complete his three-year run as Aladdin on Broadway; Analisa Leaming, who has starred on Broadway in The King and I and Hello, Dolly!; Jacob Keith Watson, currently appearing in Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along; and Rebecca Jo Loeb, on the roster of the Metropolitan Opera and Susan in the German premiere of Kurt Weill’s Love Life. Ted Chapin, longtime President and CEO of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization and co-founder of the Encores! series at City Center, served as emcee. Chapin had served as a judge for each of the final rounds in which the four alumni had won a top prize.

With its focus on both acting and vocal skills, the Lenya Competition celebrates talented singing actors of all nationalities who can “do it all” across the dynamic landscape of music theater. Twenty semifinalists had been previously selected from an initial pool of 286 applicants representing 25 countries and 37 U.S. states. In a unique judging-coaching format, leading Broadway music director and conductor Andy Einhorn and eminent soprano and vocal teacher Harolyn Blackwell narrowed the field to the final ten.

About the Lenya Competition

More than a vocal competition, the Lenya Competition recognizes talented young singer/actors who are dramatically and musically convincing in repertoire ranging from opera/operetta to contemporary Broadway scores, with a focus on the works of Kurt Weill. Since its inception in 1998, the Lotte Lenya Competition has grown into an internationally recognized leader in identifying and nurturing the next generation of “total-package talents” (Opera News) and rising stars in both the opera and musical theater worlds. In awarding more than $1.6 million in prize money since the Competition began, the Kurt Weill Foundation has celebrated the talent and supported the careers of hundreds of singing actors worldwide.