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Elizabeth Harwood Memorial Award for Singers: Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, 14.3. 2006 (RJF)


This award is in memory of the lyric soprano Elizabeth Harwood (1938-1990) She trained at what was then the Royal Manchester College of Music where she was taught by the redoubtable Elsie Thurston and coached by that great vocal master Frederic Cox who was acutely aware of her stage potential. Elizabeth appeared at the Buxton Festival in 1957 and Glyndebourne in 1960, winning the Ferrier Memorial Scholarship that same year. After using the prize money to study in Italy with Lina Pagiughi, she then learned her operatic trade in five years with the Sadlers Wells Company. A Fiordiligi alongside Janet Baker’s Dorabella for Scottish Opera, brought her wider notice and she debuted at Covent Garden in 1967, La Scala in 1972 and the Met in 1975. However, it was her association with Karajan at Salzburg from 1969 that brought her great fame. She was taken from us early.

Since Elizabeth was acutely aware of the difficulties of getting established in a very competitive profession, and of the benefits of further study, this award was set up by her wishes and in her name. Isobel Flinn, a regular member of the jury panel, and former senior vocal coach at the National Opera Studio, administers it. The Trustees include Elizabeth's husband Julian Royle who always attends the finals of the competition and presents the winner with the cheque. The award is valued at £5000 and is open to students leaving the RNCM, to help their continuing studies and in gettting established on the performing platform or stage. The competition's rules require the singer to present a 15 to 20 minute programme which must include a Mozart item, Elisabeth’s particular love and speciality. Past winners, like other RNCM alumni, now appear on many operatic, concert and oratorio stages around the world.


As any schoolmaster will aver, there are good years and bad years for academic achievements. I have attended this award over the past thirty or so years and it is just as true for college leavers setting out into the singing profession. Last year, the award was won by the outstanding Australian mezzo Dominica Matthews whose singing of Parto, parto, ma tu, ben mio from La Clemenza di Tito would have graced any operatic stage in the world straight away. Although she walked away with the award it was against considerable competitive opposition.


This year though, there was no such outstanding singer, but there were a number of the six finalists who would have been worthy winners and were surely in with sufficient a shout as to give Isobel Flinn, and fellow visiting adjudicator the soprano and former colleague of Elizabeth, Valerie Masterson, some considerable thought.

In a very varied selection of vocal treasures, O luce di quest anima from Donizetti’s late Linda Di Chamonix sung by Kristene Sutcliffe was of particular note, complete with a good trill: and a rendering of Una voce poco fa from Rachel Russell whose range of vocal expression and bodily projection were that of a good actress aware of what she was singing.

Of the two men finalists, David Butt-Philip was initially a little stiff of demeanour, but he was able to soften somewhat and give a good and amusing Largo al Factotum. His voice is not yet settled and I suspect that his fach may be lower than straight baritone: I could even hear a Wagnerian Dutchman hidden away although it might take a few years to emerge. It was the tenor Robert Gardiner however, who was the winner.

Tall, with a strong true tenor voice and a touch of baritonal hue, I thought that Robert would have been better choosing one of Tito’s arias for his Mozart rather than Vedrommi intorno from Idomeneo. His range of expression and vocal involvement emerged in some sotto voce singing in Duparc’s Phidylé, although his head tone was a little hollow. His singing of Lensky’s Kuda, Kuda from Eugene Onegin with exemplary diction, plangent tone and secure intonation had the purists purring and this surely brought him to fore among some considerable performances. With a degree in Astrophysics and school teaching experience before his three years at the RNCM, I suspect that his skills may emerge more in concert and oratorio than on the opera stage. I do not doubt though that he will have a successful professional career as a singer, and will benefit greatly from the start that this award will give his career.

Robert J Farr





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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)