The Hariclea Darclée International Voice Competition


Since 1997 the Hariclea Darclée International Voice Competition is held annually in Braila. Every second year there is the major contest and festival, whereas the other year features a conference and a masterclass. The major contest is quite a happening. Hundreds of young singers are hosted in the hotel Trajan, opposite the theatre and close to the banks of the Danube. The stairs, the elevators, the bathrooms ­ in fact you can hear singing, scaling and gorgling everywhere. All fine young people who come with a dream, hoping to learn, to win, but most of all to sing. To choose a singers career is no lighthearted decision, especially in the 21st century where classical music seems to be marginalized under the beat of popmusic. Yet one could also uphold another view, for there certainly was never a time where so many people visited the opera as today! Perhaps opera's function in society is smaller today than in 1900, but as earths people have multiplied vastly there are more people listening to opera today than ever before. Especially if one realizes that opera is no longer a European art, but a universal passion from Milan to Seoul, New York to Tokyo and Moscow to Bejing.

The background of the COMPETITION

In 1995 the Brailan municipality was thinking about organizing a significant event that would honour the memory of Hariclea Darclée. Mariana Nicolesco was asked to investigate the possibilities. She had the idea to have a competition with young artists, and after some dispute about the pro's and cons of the old theatre versus the new one, it was decided to use the theatre where Darclée had sung herself. The first Hariclea Darclée festival started with 120 participants. There was no pre-selection, but instead there were three eliminating phases. The singers were between 20 and 35 years old, and could bring their repertory of choice. There the tradition started to let the finalists perform in public at the end of the competition, while some of them are also parttaking in the complete opera performance that concludes the contests finals. Mariana Nicolesco is clear about the concept and the advantages :

"These young ones are full of doubt on this extraordinary path they are heading for, and lots of them might get there, if only they would be singing the right repertoire. That is why we let them sing the things they feel most comfortable with. A good young voice is like a rough diamond. You polish it and all of a sudden you see this extraordinary light come out. And then there's the theatre life of course. In these weeks full of rehearsing for the final concert and the opera performance they learn to live in the theatre for twelve hours a day - and to enjoy it. This is very rare. I had this experience myself at La Scala. I will never forget these seven new productions, especially the Don Giovanni with Muti: from ten o' clock a.m. to two p.m. with only a few 10 minute breaks. We could go on and on, and then after midnight we all went over it again at dinner. That is what young singers find in Braila today. We give them the chance to participate in real public performances, so that they can develop."

mariana2When it comes to Romania's vocal talents, Nicolesco is very optimistic:

"There are exceptional Romanian voices today, just as there have always been. Talent is one thing though, to bring it to bear fruits is another. You have a score in which everything is written, but just how to interpret this score is something you have to learn. As for the Romanian situation: we are a Latin country, yet I meet singers who don't speak Italian! And the words, especially their meaning and subsequently their interpretation are crucial for the singing. How can you touch me if you don't know what you are saying? They need to develop the style. You see, the instrument is one thing and no singer deliberately wants to use it wrong. They don't want to have the larinx closed, they do want to sustain etc. Now the basis of singing is breathing, the diaphragm, sustaining the line. There aren't one hundred types of piano-playing - you have one instrument and basically only one technique. That's the alphabet, just like when you write. What varies is the handwriting and the different style, but all within the same basic technique. Some become great writers, others don't. Three of the laureates from the past competitions entered the academia of La Scala di Milano. Not yet La Scala, but they do sing at the stage of La Scala. That's extremely important! Some moreover sing at the Salzburg festival, some in Rome, at the Metropolitan and at the Viennese Musikverein."

During his final years Romanian baritone Nicolae Herlea was president of the international jury of the Darclée voice competition. He had high hopes for the future of Romanian talent:

"Romania once had a very rich European culture; now it has to renew this great tradition. In the musical field, that is exactly what Mariana Nicolesco and I are trying to do with the Hariclea Darclée International Voice Competition. Mariana never sang here before 1989, due to political circumstances that everybody knows, but when the opportunity was there she returned to sing in Romania, and that was important-just as important as continuing this Darclée Competition, creating this platform for young artists. I think this competition is an extraordinary thing. Some singers have promising voices, but it's hard to predict their future. It depends on so many things. They must meet the right people to support her, and they must be prepared to study some more years, beginning in smaller theaters. Everybody wants to start at the top these days, but if I was a manager, I would take them to Prague, Budapest, and so on, until they are ready for the challenge of a great theater."