American Julie Adams and New Zealander Isabella Moore triumph in an impressive night of opera.

American soprano Julie Adams has won the second annual Elizabeth Connell Prize for aspiring dramatic sopranos. The 27-year-old from San Francisco was one of five international sopranos in a stellar field competing for the $20,000 first prize at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. She also wins an audition at the Royal Opera House in London. At the same event, New Zealand soprano Isabella Moore won the Fifth annual Joan Sutherland & Richard Bonynge Bel Canto Award. The 25-year-old singer carried off the $30,000 first prize as well as a place in the Georg Solti Accademia di Bel Canto summer school in Tuscany for 2016. The judging panel comprised conductor Richard Bonynge (who celebrates his 85th birthday next week) as well as opera singers Nance Grant, Bernadette Cullen, Ghillian Sullivan and Fiona Janes

The Elizabeth Connell Prize was created in 2014 from a legacy left by the late South African dramatic soprano and despite only being in its second year is clearly hotting up to be a major award on the vocal competition circuit. Entrants were heard in four cities: Sydney, London, San Francisco and New York and the finalists included second prize winner Teresa Romano from Italy, third prize winner Deirdre Angenent from the Netherlands, Gunta Cēse from Latvia who won the Universal Music Prize and Elisabeth Rosenberg from USA.

For the final, Julie Adams (already a winner of the 2014 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and the 2015 George London Award) exhibited a stunning top, superlative diction and an excellent sense of line in two arias – a relative rarity, Azaël, Azaël from Debussy’s underated Prix de Rome cantata L’Enfant Prodigue and a blistering Pace, pace mio Dio from Verdi’s La Forza del Destino. Awarding the prize, Bonynge spoke of the difficulty the judges had coming to a decision – “everyone has their favourites”, he admitted – and Adams was certainly one of a strong field. Deidre Angenent should be commended for an immaculately delivered Der Männer Sippe from Der Walküre (winning her $5,000 from the Wagner Society of NSW) and Teresa Romano’s arias from Macbeth and Andrea Chénier revealed an already fully formed artist with a formidable technique and thrilling, if occasionally wild, top notes.

Isabella Moore with Richard Bonynge

Isabella Moore completed a Master’s degree at the Wales International Academy of Voice with the help of the doyen of vocal tutors Dennis O’Neill. For the Bel Canto Award final she revealed a remarkably strong, dark-hued soprano voice, which Bonynge rightly described as “unusual” in a focussed rendition of Pleurez mes yeux from Massenet’s Le Cid and an exciting Ernani, Ernani involami from Verdi’s Ernani, a little untamed, but demonstrating real potential. Her closest rival was undoubtedly Queensland soprano Tabatha McFadyen who won the $8,000 Richard Bonynge Award, the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival Prize and the Tait Memorial Trust Prize with a beautifully refined aria from Bellini’s I Capuleti E I Montecchi.  Morgan Balfour, also from Queensland won the Decca Award and the Universal Prize with a pretty pairing of Donizetti and Rossini. Among the rest of the field, which was a little more patchy, Victorian soprano Rebecca Moret’s Senza Mamma from Suor Angelica was the best of the bunch.