On March 7, 1974, the Monastero family, owners of Monastero’s Ristorante in Chicago, sponsored a contest evening for voice students from Northwestern University. The singers were required to learn Italian operatic arias and romantic songs, and the contest, which followed a gourmet Italian dinner, featured a prize of $1,000 furnished by the Monastero family. Ardis Krainik, the late director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, was the judge. That first evening was a great success and was followed by another contest in 1975 that attracted widespread support from those who attended until, through popular demand, the Bel Canto Foundation was established on November 28, 1976.
The annual Bel Canto Foundation Opera Contest Evenings offer a unique opportunity to young singers from ages 17 to 32 to compete for more than $40,000 awarded in monetary prizes, numerous performance opportunities, and one grand prize currently worth $10,000.
The contest encourages young singers to learn Italian operatic and romantic repertoire, and the winners are judged upon authentic interpretation of arias, proper Italian diction, correct vocal production and overall stage presentation. Most remarkable is the fact that the majority of the financial support of the foundation comes from $25 to $1,000 donations. All of the money goes to the singers, as the foundation incurs no administrative costs, and all work is volunteered.
From 1974 to 1981, the grand prize winners of the contest were sent to study with the legendary baritone Tito Gobbi at a six-week opera workshop held in Florence, Italy. Following Maestro Gobbi’s retirement in 1982, the Bel Canto Foundation established an opera seminar at Hotel I Due Foscari in Busseto, Italy, which ran from 1983 to 1988, and featured the outstanding teaching talents of tenor Carlo Bergonzi and soprano Renata Tebaldi.
In 1989, the seminar was moved south to Siena, Italy, and Maestro Walter Baracchi, the highly revered vocal coach from La Scala, became the artistic director, moving across the Atlantic to Northwestern University School of Music, with Dean Bernard Dobroski serving as the foundation’s gracious host. Maestro Baracchi continued as artistic director until 1992, with the great bass-baritone Giorgio Tozzi assuming the role in 1993, and soprano Martina Arroyo joining him in 1994.
The 1995 and 1996 grand prize winners were sent to participate in Maestro Carlo Bergonzi’s opera seminar, held at the famed Chigiana Institute of Music in Siena, Italy. From 1997 to 2006, the grand prize winner was sent to study for eight weeks at the Accademia Verdiana under Maestro Carlo Bergonzi in Busseto, Italy. Since 2007, the Bel Canto Foundation grand prize winner has been awarded a cash prize of $10,000 to use toward furthering their education and/or operatic career.
The Bel Canto Foundation has presented many wonderful concerts, including performances of Verdi’s “Requiem” and Puccini’s “La Boheme.” All singers who participate in the annual contest benefit, for each singer is awarded a financial prize, even if not chosen to advance to the next level. A very active board of directors provides great support to the singers throughout the contest and beyond, attending their performances and following their careers.
Former winners of the opera contest can be heard on major operatic stages throughout the world. We invite you to become a member, thereby ensuring opera stages always will have young singers who perform in the Bel Canto tradition, which, literally translated, means “beautiful singing.”