The International Hilde Zadek Singing Competition in Vienna

(Translated from the German original article “Internationaler Gesangswettbewerb,” which appeared in the June/July 2011 issue of Illustrierte Neue Welt)

In April of 2011, the 7th International Hilde Zadek Singing Competition was held in Vienna in cooperation with the Vienna University of Music and Performing Arts. A total of 77 participants from 27 different nations had signed up for the competition. Only the eight best of them made it through the two preliminaries and reached the finale. The contestants presented songs from four centuries, ranging from the composers Schoenberg to Rihm. For two hours, the audience was able to enjoy high-level performances in the sold-out Magna Auditorium in Vienna. Christoph Wagner-Trenkwitz acted as the host.

In addition to the first, second, and third prizes, 11 special prizes were handed out that came with cash rewards, opportunities to participate in different concerts, and free enrollment in master classes. The finalists presented three songs each. 25-year-old mezzo-soprano Ileana Mateescu from Romania emerged as the clear winner, winning three prizes in addition to the first prize that came with €7,000. Mateescu sang songs by the Romanian composer Felicia Donceanu, Gustav Mahler’s “Lob des hohen Verstandes,” and the aria “Sento la gioia” from Georg Friedrich Haendel’s opera “Amadigi di Gaula.”

The first runner-up was the Korean baritone Eungkwang Lee; the second-runner ups were the baritone Zachariah Kariithi from Kenya and the German mezzo-soprano Christina Bock.

The competition, which takes place in Vienna every two years, was named after the singer Hilde Zadek, who still teaches opera at the age of 93 and who was part of the jury herself. Zadek was born in Bromberg and raised in Stettin. Being Jewish, she was expelled from school in 1934 at the age of 16. The events leading up to that point were quite remarkable: When the Nazis seized power in Germany, life became increasingly difficult for Zadek. One day during a PE class, one of the girls at school said, “It reeks of Jews” (“Es stinkt nach Juden.”). Zadek got fed up and knocked out the girl’s front teeth. As a result of this, she had to leave school immediately before the Nazis could get a hold of her. In 1935, she emigrated to Palestine, where she underwent training to become a singer while working as an infant nurse. After graduating from the academy of music, she wanted to return to Europe as soon as possible in order to become an opera singer. When she received a letter from Zurich saying that she had been accepted at the academy, Zadek made the big move.

After her arrival, she moved into the household of Franz Salmhofer’s godchild. Franz Salmhofer was the director of the Vienna State Opera. During a private singing performance in their apartment in Zurich, Zadek caught Salmhofer’s attention and was offered an appearance in Vienna. Zadek made her 1947 Vienna debut as the title character in Aida. In the course of 25 years that followed, she made over 700 appearances at the Vienna State Opera, which she is now an honorary member of. She was also a member of the legendary Mozart ensemble of the post-war era. In addition to the most famous soprano arias from the classical and romantic periods, she also sang in E.W. Korngold’s “Die tote Stadt,” Gottfried von Einem’s “Dantons Tod,” and Alban Berg’s “Altenberg-Lieder.” As a guest singer, she often performed at the most celebrated opera houses in the cities of New York, London, Rome, Munich, Paris, and at festivals in Salzburg, Edinburgh, and Glyndebourne. Between 1964 and 1978, she served as the director of the singing department at the Vienna Academy of Music, and up to this day she still gives master classes all over the world. The International Hilde Zadek Singing Competition pays tribute to the singer’s extraordinary commitment to promoting young talents. Zadek once said, ”I regard it as my duty to continue doing what I am doing for as long as I shall live, thus helping young singers to become artists.”