Failing prizes may silence Canberra Aria

Catherine Carby.

THE Australian National Eisteddfod has stepped in to help save the jewel in its crown, the National Operatic Aria competition, guaranteeing $15,000 for first place in 2012.

But for how long?

As Canberra’s Patricia Whitbread, a former Opera Australia principal and now artistic adviser for the competition, warns, this could be the last of the arias if new sponsorship is not found after one of its major corporate sponsors was forced by events in Europe to reduce its donation.

Lorina Gore.

The National Aria, as it is now known, has been putting Canberra on the operatic map since 1955, with the Eisteddfod hosting it each year. First as the glamorous Shell Aria and then as the Qantas Aria, it saw opera-lovers from all around the country flocking to the nation’s capital for the annual contest. This year, the National Operatic Aria finals will be at The Albert Hall on Saturday, September 15.

In recent years, thanks to the support of local, clean energy scientist/business couple Gavin and Sylvia Tulloch, it has also offered real prize money of $15,000 for first, $7000 for second, $4000 for third and $1000 each for the remaining three finalists, among the richest in the country.

The National Aria has also proved a stamping ground for Canberra’s brightest and best, with Canberra entrants punching well above their weight and going on to brilliant careers. Mezzo-soprano Catherine Carby, (1999) soprano Lorina Gore, (2001) Amanda Forbes (2003) and baritone Ben Connor (2010) are all Canberran Aria winners.

Amanda Forbes.

Gore and Carby enjoyed careers in England before returning to become leading lights in a new generation of Opera Australia principals. Forbes, who is Whitbread’s daughter, is a rising star in England.

Connor is just one of seven singers to win a coveted contract in the Young Artist program at the Theater an der Wien (The Theatre on the Wien River) in Vienna.

As Alan Hicks, head of voice at the ANU School of Music explains it, “every dollar counts” when you’re training

to be an opera singer and they tend to run around the country on the competition circuit saving up.

But, Hicks points out, the National Operatic Aria is “not just a competition”. To win it, you have to have a finalised study plan that shows you are serious about your career. He considers it “a good decision to have a really generous first prize.”

Ben Connor.

Good, but a stop-gap. Whitbread, for one, says they’re “throwing their hands up” over the matter and would be thrilled if somebody with deep pockets could step in to bolster the minor prizes and to secure the top prize for the future.

Contact Singing Eisteddfod convenor Janetta McRae at 6231 6073 or

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