John Brancy: Life after CMIM

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Back in 2018, American baritone John Brancy left everyone in awe at CMIM after winning first prize in the Song Division, as well as advancing to the Aria Division finals, a feat perhaps comparable to that of a marathoner who also competes in the 100-metre.


Nonetheless, his vocal marathon was just beginning. Since then, the velvet-voiced baritone has made debuts with several significant opera companies. At Oper Frankfurt in 2018 he sang Peter in Olga Neuwirth’s Lost Highway, based on the David Lynch film. Then in early 2020 at Pacific Opera of Victoria, he was the Steward in the Canadian ­première of Jonathan Dove’s Flight. The year 2019 brought him to San Francisco Opera as Donald in Billy Budd and he returned there in late 2021 as Guglielmo in Così fan tutte. He sang that role again this past February, jumping in at the last moment at San Diego Opera. In 2020, Brancy even received a Grammy award for Best Opera Recording for his ­appearance in the title role of Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s recording of Tobias Picker’s  Fantastic Mr. Fox.

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One of the highlights of Brancy’s last four years is performing with San Francisco Opera. “It is one of the best opera houses in the world and it also allowed me to perform along with legends such as Ferruccio Furlanetto from whom I learned so much.” He also shared ­optimism about some upcoming projects. “Next year I will be participating in a ­future world opera première [by]a well-known British composer. I have an excitement around new works; it’s such a blessing to be one of the singers that gets chosen to bring a new work to life.” He noted that we are at a very important moment for new opera, given how COVID has accelerated an already-­existing trend towards the convergence of film and opera. “Audiences will probably miss the excitement of a live in-person show and of hearing the acoustic of singers in the space, but on the other hand, the potential of reaching audiences from all over the world and how technologies are going to influence the art form is very intriguing.”

Speaking of new opera, Brancy will return to Montreal this coming November for the twice COVID-delayed, world première of Julien Bilodeau and Michel Marc Bouchard’s La beauté du monde at Opéra de Montréal. Its story concerns the heroic efforts that went into protecting some of the world’s great works of art during World War II. “My character, Franz Wolff-Metternich, was operating on both sides so that the pieces of art wouldn’t be put into the hands of the Nazis …”

Advice for 2022 CMIM contestants

Brancy has a message for mezzo Deepa Johnny: “First off, congratulations for being the only singer selected to participate in both song and aria categories, and, secondly, good luck!” He added jokingly that CMIM should create a special award for singers who reach the finals of both categories: “The John Brancy” award.

He compared the competition to a marathon-and-a-half of singing. “For the other contestants, I would also say that pacing is everything. Please save all of your partying until the competition is finished. Get a lot of sleep, lots of hydration.” He added, “Whether opera or song, please do not neglect the ­importance of the text. If you don’t have an ­intimate understanding of it and a clear idea of the dramatic performance that you are going to give, then you will be at a deficit.”

CMIM 2018… where are they now?

by Gianmarco Segato

Emily D’Angelo. The Canadian mezzo-­soprano, who won second prize in CMIM 2018’s aria division, has since become one of the world’s most sought-after opera singers. Only a few months after her CMIM win, she took four top prizes at the prestigious Operalia competition in Lisbon. Her career subsequently took flight, landing her leading roles such as Idamante in Mozart’s Idomeneo at Bavarian State Opera, Sesto in La clemenza di Tito at London’s Royal Opera House and Prince Charming in the Metropolitan Opera’s holiday presentation of Massenet’s Cendrillon (all 2021). In ­October, she released enargeia, her debut recording on Deutsche Grammophon.

Mario Bahg. The South Korean tenor won first prize in the aria division at CMIM 2018. In 2019, he was tenor soloist in Verdi’s Requiem with Orchestre ­symphonique de Montréal under Kent Nagano. He is currently a member of Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, one of the world’s most prestigious opera training programs. Bahg has sung the title role in Gounod’s Faust at Oper Köln, a role he will reprise at Lisbon’s Teatro Nacional de São Carlos in May.

Julien Van Mellaerts. The UK/New Zealand baritone won second prize in the song division at CMIM 2018. Since then, he represented New Zealand at the 2019 Cardiff Singer of the World competition. His debut recording, “Songs of Travel and Home,” was released on Champs Hill Records in 2021. Van Mellaerts has taught English Song at London’s Royal College of Music since 2021. His opera roles have included Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro at Opera Holland Park, London (2021) and Silvio in I pagliacci at the Israeli Opera (2022).

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