Saturday, Mar. 13, 1999 at 23:42 CST

Opera Guild prize caps bass-baritone's busy week

By Wayne Lee Gay
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

FORT WORTH -- It's been a busy week for Iowa native Kyle Ketelsen, 27. Having already won one major prize on Thursday in New York -- a $7,500 grant from the George London Foundation -- along with making his Carnegie Hall debut as soloist for Haydn's oratorio `Creation,' he took the first-place Helen Irwin Littauer Award and a cash prize of $6,000 at the Marguerite McCammon Voice Competition of the Opera Guild of Fort Worth yesterday at Bass Performance Hall.

Ketelsen, a bass-baritone, delivered two comical arias in the semifinal round, which began at noon, and clinched his first prize with two serious arias in the late afternoon finals. The audience of several hundred clearly agreed with the jury, selecting Ketelsen for the Rick Berg Audience Favorite Award of $600 in balloting at the end of the first session.

Ketelsen's performance on both occasions showed off a deep, spacious voice with a strong low range. His repertory was clearly designed to demonstrate an impressive acting range as well: he began with the drinking song "`Quand la flamme de l'amour"' from the seldom-performed `La Jolie Fille de Perth' by Bizet, followed by the immortal "Catalogue" aria from Mozart's `Don Giovanni.' In both cases, he was totally at home on the stage, creating a miniature operatic scene through sheer stage presence, without benefit of costume or props.

Lean and flexible for `buffo' roles, Ketelsen also has the stature to create more imposing characters convincingly -- as he did in King Rene's arioso from Tchaikovsky's `Iolante' and Blitch's pleading "Hear me, oh Lord," from Floyd's `Susannah.'

Tenor Daniel Weeks, 32, a professor at the University of Illinois with a doctorate in progress at the University of Cincinnati, took second prize and the Rudolf Kruger award of $2,000 for performances of arias by Massenet, Mozart, Donizetti and Stravinsky; like Ketelsen, he actively created characters in the concert format, though his singing was occasionally forced in the upper registers.

The youngest semifinalist, tenor Jesus Garcia, 22, took third place and the $1,500 Ben E. Keith award. A Houstonian studying at the University of North Texas, Garcia showed great potential but still has far to go, with clear breaks in his range and an underdeveloped stage presence.

The 12 semifinalists who appeared yesterday were selected in taped auditions from a field a 73 applicants earlier this year; male singers ages 21-35 and female singers ages 21-32 were eligible to apply. Jurors for yesterday's competition were Fort Worth Opera general director William Walker, Portland Opera artistic director Robert Bailey, Fort Worth Opera principal conductor Richard Barrett and Boston Lyric Opera general director Janice Mancini Del Sesto. Pianists Alan Buratto of the Fort Worth Opera staff and Tara Emerson of Southern Methodist University accompanied the competition performances.

Wayne Lee Gay, (817) 390-7756
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