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Seattle Opera announces winners of world's first international Wagner competition

Photos by Rozarii Lynch

posted August 22, 2006








Miriam Murphy


From the stage of Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, Speight Jenkins, general director of Seattle Opera, announced the two winners of the world’s first International Wagner Competition, each of whom was awarded $15,000.  Soprano Miriam Murphy from Ireland and baritone James Rutherford from England were selected from among the eight finalists by a panel of five distinguished judges.  Each sang two arias accompanied by members of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra led by conductor Asher Fisch.  Murphy’s selections were “Ewig war ich” from Siegfried and Isolde’s Narrative and Curse from Tristan und Isolde. Rutherford’s selections were the Fliedermonolog from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and “Die Frist ist um” from Der fliegende Holländer

In addition, Rutherford was named the audience favorite from votes cast by the audience and the orchestra favorite by an Orchestra vote.  Susan Hutchison from the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences presented the “Audience Choice” Award plaque to Rutherford

Following her win in Seattle, Miriam Murphy sings the Woman Convict in Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at the Royal Opera Covent Garden in September.  She also appears with the Royal Philharmonic this fall.   

Rutherford will appear in Wagner’s Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Edinburgh Festival in September. 

Alternate Philip O’Brien from England sang in place of soprano Carolyn Betty, who withdrew from the competition because of illness.  The other finalists appeared as scheduled:  Jason Collins from the United States, Paul McNamara from Ireland, Carsten Wittmoser from Germany, Dorothy Grandia from the United States, and Andrew Lindsay Sritheran from New Zealand. 

This inaugural competition will be broadcast in its entirety on 98.1 Classical KING FM and streamed from its Web site at  on Saturday, August 26, at 7:00 p.m. (Pacific Time). 

Rutherford and Murphy were chosen from among the eight finalists of the competition, all of whom were selected last fall by Jenkins from auditions in Vienna, Berlin, London, Paris, Seattle, and New York. At the time of the auditions, all of the singers were between 25 and 40 and had not had more than one major Wagner role in an opera house.  

The five judges Jenkins brought together for the competition all have experience with Wagner operas.  They were mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, who sang Fricka in Seattle Opera’s 2001 and 2005 Rings; Dr. Dorothea Glatt, assistant to Wolfgang Wagner (director of the Bayreuth Festival) for 28 years; Sir Peter Jonas, recently retired director of the Bavarian State Opera; tenor and director Peter Kazaras, who sang the role of Loge in Seattle Opera’s 1995, 2001, and 2005 Ring productions; and director, author, and translator Stephen Wadsworth, who directed Seattle Opera’s 2001 and 2005 Rings. 

Audience and Orchestra Vote Too 

Once the singing concluded and the judges were deliberating, the audience and orchestra members had the opportunity to vote for the singer of their choice.  Lines stretched across the lobby of McCaw Hall as audience members cast their ballot. The voting for audience favorite was so close that a recount was taken.  Rutherford won both the “Audience Choice” and the Orchestra vote. 

Seattle Opera’s International Wagner Competition was made possible by a $300,000 gift from the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences.  The Simonyi grant also supports other education outreach at Seattle Opera.  “This gift recognizes Seattle Opera’s unique role in presenting Wagner’s great works and its reputation for attracting the best singers and enthusiastic audiences from around the world,” commented Charles Simonyi. 

More information about all the contestants and the judges can be found on the Seattle Opera Web site: .  Seattle Opera added a brief video clip of the winners to the IWC section of the Web site.  This can be seen at


James Rutherford (Andrew Lindsay Sritheran in the background)

Carsten Wittmoser, Seattle Opera General Director Speight Jenkins, Miriam Murphy, and James Rutherford

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