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The winners of the inaugural HCO Singing Competition were:

Nigel Beale First Prize - £1000 

Siân Dicker, soprano (right)

Second Prize (anonymous donor) - £500

Michael Lafferty, baritone (second left)

Rosalind Armstrong Song Prize - £500

Florian Panzieri, tenor (left)

Fourth Prize (anonymous donor) - £300

Helen Charlston, mezzo-soprano (second right)


To critical acclaim, semi-finalist Joanna Songi (below) sang Pamina and winner Siân Dicker (left) appeared as First Lady in our 2019 production of Mozart's The Magic Flute. With finalist Florian Panzieri, Siân gave a memorable Lieder Recital at Merley House in September 2018.

Dr Claire Rutter, international operatic soprano and Chair of Jurors, presents the Nigel Beale First Prize to soprano Siân Dicker

About the 2018 competition…

Over 40 singers aged between 20 and 28 from across the UK entered this first HCO contest. 

After preliminary rounds in London in May, eight semi-finalists sang on 15 July at Merley House, Wimborne:


Helen Charlston, mezzo-soprano

Siân Dicker, soprano

Jonathan de Garis, baritone

Callie Gaston, soprano

Laura Hocking, mezzo-soprano

Michael Lafferty, baritone

Florian Panzieri, tenor

Joanna Songi, soprano


The semi-finals and finals were held on the same day, with semi-finalists performing a rich variety of 15-minute programmes from mid-morning onwards.


A packed house was later treated to four 20-minute recitals from the finalists. Here, singers were free to present a balanced programme including at least one aria and one English song.


Making the tough decisions was a distinguished jury:

  • Dr Claire Rutter, international operatic soprano (Chair)

  • Nicholas Chalmers, Artistic Director of Nevill Holt Opera and conductor of Northern Ireland Opera

  • Gavin Carr, Chorus Master of the Philharmonia Chorus, music director of the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and baritone.

The official accompanist was Paul Chilvers, Professional Accompanist and Repetiteur at Trinity Laban Conservatoire.


Lynton Atkinson, HCO Artistic Director, recalls: 'The quality of singing was high, unsurprisingly to those of us who had experienced the day of preliminary auditions, and the judges, who had no background information about any of the singers, were reacting purely to performances on the day.


'They were aware that the singers were at different stages in their vocal development, but not until afterwards did they learn for example that two of the finalists were 22 years old, and yet to commence postgraduate study.

Lynton Atkinson with Jurors Gavin Carr, Dr Claire Rutter and Nicholas Chalmers

'Claire Rutter's comments, plus the words from our President, Simon Keenlyside, that while winning contests can be a great boost, "many a fine artist never won a competition and many a winner didn’t go on to have the career that was anticipated" ensured that the competitive element was kept in proper perspective. After all there was so much beautiful singing for us all to enjoy, including from those we regretfully heard only in the semi-finals (of course they too had prepared repertoire for the finals which went unheard!), and the atmosphere was quite wonderful.


'Indeed many competitors commented on its warmth, and I am delighted that judging by the lovely feedback, the singers we are trying to support clearly appreciated and enjoyed the experience. The audience certainly did, and also the work of the terrific accompanists!'


Hurn Court Opera is enormously grateful to Nigel Beale, the Armstrong Family Trust and our two anonymous donors for generously providing the prizes for this year’s competition.

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