The Kurt Weill Foundation for Music announced the unprecedented awarding of three First Prizes in the 25th annual Lenya Competition. The four members of the eminent jury independently scored three finalists in a dead tie and elected to name Taylor-Alexis DuPont, Ryan Johnson, and Nyla Watson all as first place winners. Each received the full $25,000 top prize. Kim Kowalke, President of the Kurt Weill Foundation and Founder of the Competition, commented: “This year the final round was anything but business as usual. In twenty-five years, I’ve never seen a jury in absolute agreement that all three were fully deserving of first place and a $25,000 prize. Such an outcome is truly without precedent.”
The finals took place as one part of an extraordinary day-long celebration on 29 April marking the 25th anniversary of the Competition. Twelve former prizewinners performed in a gala reunion concert, with eight others appearing remotely via video. The cast featured stars of opera and Broadway alike, including Brian Mulligan, John Brancy, Amy Justman, Richard Todd Adams, Justin Hopkins, Nicole Cabell, Lucas Meachem, and Andrew Polec. The festive evening was hosted by Erik Liberman before a cheering crowd packed into Rochester’s Kilbourn Hall, where the Competition began 25 years ago. The entire celebration, including the final round, will be available on the Kurt Weill Foundation website for on-demand streaming starting 8 May.
The finals jury chose also to award two special named prizes. Jeremiah Sanders received the Kurt Weill Award for his performance of “O Tixo, Tixo, Help Me!” from Weill’s Lost in the Stars. Celeste Rose won the third Rebecca Luker Award for her performance of “I Cain’t Say No” from Oklahoma!. The latter prize honors Luker, a six-time judge for the Competition who succumbed to ALS in December 2020, by recognizing an outstanding performance of a “Golden Age” selection. Both prizes carry a monetary award of $6,000. Each of the remaining finalists received $3,000, in addition to their previous $1,250 semifinalist award: Rebekah Howell, Stavros Koumbaros, Midori Marsh, Alicia Russell Tagert, Lucie St.-Martin, Juliane Stolzenbach Ramos, and Ian Williams. The sum of $108,000 awarded to the twelve finalists brings the cumulative prize total for the Competition’s quarter century to more than $1.5 million.
Each finalist performed a continuous fifteen-minute program of four contrasting numbers, including a selection by Kurt Weill, before a jury comprising luminaries from the worlds of theater and opera: Dame Josephine Barstow CBE DBE, long recognized as one of the world’s leading singing actresses; Kyle Scatliffe, currently appearing in Hamilton on Broadway as Marquis de Lafayette / Thomas Jefferson and a 2010 Lenya Competition prizewinner; Ted Chapin, longtime President and CEO of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization and co-founder of the Encores! series at City Center; and James Holmes, expert British conductor of opera and musical theater, with a long and brilliant track record especially in the works of Weill and Sondheim.
The 2023 Competition drew a pool of 271 applicants representing 20 countries and 36 US states. Twenty-four were selected as semifinalists, who auditioned in-person and received immediate feedback and coaching from one of the two semifinal round judges: prominent music director Andy Einhorn and “Leading Lady of Crossover” Amy Justman. The twelve finalists ranged in age from 27 to 32.
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 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 $1.5 million in prize money since the Competition’s inception, the Kurt Weill Foundation has celebrated the talent and supported the careers of hundreds of singing actors worldwide.