Operalia Competition Gives Top Prizes to Russian Soprano, Chinese Bass

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The Operalia competition, started by Placido Domingo with the aim of discovering and nurturing the opera stars of the future, named two first-place winners on Sunday in Verona, Italy. They are Aida Garifullina, a soprano from Kazan, Russia, and Ao Li, bass-baritone from Dezhou, China. Each received a $30,000 prize.

Garifullina, 25, is a 2011 graduate of the Vienna Conservatory and has appeared at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg and the Festival Arena di Verona. She also has a budding pop/crossover career; her website features numerous Russian TV appearances and stints singing with Michael Bolton. She reports having sung for three Russian presidents and the Prince of Saudi Arabia.

Li, also 25, is in his third year with the San Francisco Opera's Adler Fellowship program. He has sung a number of roles with the company including Lorenzo (Capuleti e i Montecchi) and Sciarrone (Tosca). He studied at Shangdong Normal University in China.

French soprano Julie Fuchs and Italian baritone Simone Piazzola took second place ($20,000) at the Operalia and two Americans tied for third place ($10,000): soprano Kathryn Lewek and tenor Zach Borichevsky.

Now in its 21st year, the Operalia competition moves to a different opera-loving city every year (last year it was in Beijing). It is open to singers 18 to 32 years old and begins with 40 entrants, which are narrowed down to ten finalists. Past winners include Rolando Villazon, Joyce DiDonato, Nina Stemme and Joseph Calleja. Domingo is one of several judges.

Aida Garifullina performs at Arena di Verona in Italy:

Ao Li in recital: