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Singer's soaring notes win coveted Fulham Opera prize

The £1,000 winner of Fulham Opera’s inaugural Verdi prize is soprano Nadine Benjamin.

She outsang 10 rivals to win the judges’ top marks in an enthusiastically supported final staged on Sunday at St John’s church in North End Road.

It was Nadine’s rendition of the Ave Maria from Otello which swung the contest her way, although she also sang impressive arias from Aida and Un Ballo in Maschera.

The judging panel for the Robert Presley memorial Verdi prize was David Syrus, the Royal Opera House head of music; baritone Sir Thomas Allen; mezzo-soprano Yvonne Howard; and Fulham Opera artistic director Ben Woodward.

It is named after a founding member of Fulham Opera, who sang many Verdi roles in his career.

The 11 finalists were selected after each submitting three recordings to the judges.

Nadine, who has performed at the Edinburgh Festival, Covent Garden and the Royal Opera House (her first professional solo role was in Carmen Jones at the Royal Festival Hall in 2007), also runs her own mentoring company, Everybody Can!

Her passionate singing style was acclaimed by both judges and audience, who were also treated to performances by tenors Roberto Abate and Alberto Sousa, sopranos Emily Blanch, Katherine Blumenthal and Nina Clausen, mezzo-sopranos Mae Haydorn and Louise Callinan, baritones Benjamin Lewis and Hakan Vramsmo, and bass baritone Lancelot Nomura.

Alberto Sousa was runner-up, winning a £500 prize and the £100 audience prize, with Ben Lewis scooping the £250 judges’ discretionary prize.

Fulham Opera is an independent opera company which aims to produce high-quality work in the intimate space of St John’s – a church well known to North End Road market goers for seemingly being perpetually wreathed in scaffolding.

Currently in rehearsal is a production of The Flying Dutchman, completed by Richard Wagner in 1842, to be conducted by Ben Woodward and Jonathan Finney (who has devised a new reduced orchestration for the occasion) on six dates between November 19 and December 5.

It will be sung in German, with English surtitles, under the direction of Daisy Evans, with Keel Watson in the title role.

Verdi prize finalist Mae Heydorn sings the role of Mary, with Keel Watson as the Dutchman, John Mile as Daland and Janet Fischer as Senta.