Neue StimmenNeue Stimmen (New Voices) is an international singing competition. Initiated by Liz Mohn, it was launched in 1987 to provide support for young opera singers. It is considered an important forum for new talent, one that has marked the beginning of international careers for many participants. The competition is organized every two years by the Bertelsmann Stiftung in Gütersloh. It is one of the foundation’s oldest projects.
HistoryIn 1985, the Berlin Philharmonic under the direction of Herbert von Karajan gave a concert at the to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Bertelsmann media group. During the event, Karajan spoke with Liz Mohn about the lack of programs for promoting new opera talent, saying that, compared to other countries, it was difficult to find suitable young singers in Germany. As a result, Mohn, who became a member of the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Advisory Board in 1986, organized an international singing competition. August Everding, general manager of the Bavarian State Theaters, played a key role by providing the specialized knowledge required to hold the event.
Organized together with the managers’ committee of the Deutscher Bühnenverein, the association representing Germany’s theaters and orchestras, the first competition took place at the Gütersloh Community Center in October 1987. In contrast to other events designed to promote new talent, the Neue Stimmen participants performed on a large stage in a concert hall, which they had to fill vocally. They were also accompanied by a symphony orchestra. In conjunction with the competition, the Bertelsmann Stiftung organized a symposium at which experts debated cultural policy issues. The symposium was also held in subsequent years.
Neue Stimmen was initially a European singing contest since only artists who trained in Europe qualified to participate. One noteworthy aspect is that singers from Eastern Europe competed right from the start. Beginning in the 1990s, artists from other countries also participated, for example from China, Israel, Japan, Korea and the United States. Neue Stimmen thus took on its current international form. The number of applicants has grown steadily through the years. Approximately 1,500 applications are now submitted for each competition.
After events in 1987, 1988 and 1989, the organizers began holding competitions every two years. The first master class took place in 1997 and has been held ever since in the years between the competitions. It supports the development of particularly talented singers who have previously competed in Neue Stimmen. In 2012, a lied master class was added, which was also held in 2013 and 2014. The organizers want to use this event to maintain the lied as an art form.
CompetitionThe Neue Stimmen competition has existed for 30 years. In 2017, 1,430 singers from 76 nations applied to compete. The rules stipulate that contestants must be enrolled in a music conservatory and must already have learned or performed a role. Female singers up to the age of 28 and male singers up to 30 may apply. The jury selects the best 40 or 45 talents during preliminary auditions. The auditions take place around the globe in impartial, professional settings, in locations such as Beijing and New York City. After that, the top-performing singers are invited to Gütersloh for the final round, which consists of semifinals and finals. These events are open to the public and the contestants receive support from répétiteurs.
Since 2013, a first, second and third prize have been awarded to the top three female and top three male singers, a structure that allows for a fairer evaluation of the participants. It is also possible for two contestants to tie for the same prize if the jury feels that their performances are of equal caliber. An Audience Prize and other special awards designed to promote the singers’ development are also given. Neue Stimmen prizewinners receive a cash award that reflects their place in the competition’s final standings. They also receive long-term support, for example in securing high-profile engagements. Opera house directors and agents use the competition to scout for new talent and to bring promising singers from around the world to the venues they represent.
JuryAugust Everding chaired the jury from 1987 to 1997 and died shortly before the 1999 competition. He was succeeded in 1999 and 2001 by René Kollo. In 2001, Peter Ustinov became honorary jury chairman and patron of the Neue Stimmen competition. Gérard Mortier led the jury in 2003, 2005 and 2007, a role that has been filled by Dominique Meyer since 2009.
The competition’s artistic director is . Brian Dickie is responsible for the preliminary auditions.