International Opera Awards 2021: who won at this year’s online ceremony – and Lifetime Achievement award winner

This year’s International Opera Awards have taken place, paying tribute to the resilience of the opera world throughout a tumultuous 2020

The winners of the 2021 International Opera Awards have been revealed.

The victors were crowned as part of an online ceremony on 10 May, which celebrated achievements in opera around the globe over the last calendar year in a wide range of categories.

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The Awards, considered opera’s answer to the Oscars, were returning after 2020’s live ceremony was forced off stage by the pandemic, and the online event made up for lost time by celebrating work done in 2019, while also paying tribute to the resilience of the opera world throughout 2020.

Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink, who retired in 2019 aged 90, and who was presented the 2021 Lifetime Achievement award (Photo: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

The ceremony was once again presented by BBC Radio 3’s Petroc Trelawny, and included performances from winners Lise Davidsen, Jamie Barton, Javier Camarena, Xabier Anduaga, Vasilisa Berzhanskaya and countertenor Jakub Jozef Orlinski.

There was also singing from tenor Stuart Skelton and soprano Ermonela Jaho, as well an exclusive performance recorded on stage at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden featuring soprano Alexandra Lowe, a member of the Jette Parker Young Artist Programme.

The event also raised funds for the Opera Awards Foundation Artist Hardship Fund, set up in 2020 to provide emergency grants to young artists severely affected by the pandemic.

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The awards celebrated work done in 2019, while also paying tribute to the resilience of the opera world throughout 2020 (Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/Getty Images)

Who were the winners?

Aside from the Readers’ Award, all winners were chosen by an international jury of opera professionals chaired by John Allison, editor of Opera magazine and classical music critic of The Daily Telegraph.

Over 100 finalists from six continents were shortlisted.

Opera Company of the year was presented to the Teatro Real Madrid, recognised both for a superlative 2019 season and as one of the first opera companies to return to live performance under lockdown conditions, with an acclaimed La Traviata in July 2020.

Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen was named Female Singer of the year, while Mexican tenor Javier Camarena took the title of Male Singer of the year, dedicating the award to “the entire artistic community” for its commitment despite the challenges of 2020.

Also celebrated was American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, voted by the public as the Opera Magazine Readers’ Award winner, who said she was “absolutely gobsmacked” by the win.

Mezzo soprano Vasilisa Berzhanskaya and tenor Xabier Anduaga shared the Mazars Young Singer award while the Salzburg Festival – another company to lead the way in performing under Covid-19 restrictions – was named Festival of the Year for the second time, having first won the title at the inaugural awards in 2013.

In the UK, there were wins for both Birmingham Opera Company (Education and Outreach) and its Music Director Alpesh Chauhan (Newcomer of the Year), while Sir David Pountney was honoured as winner of the Good Governance Award for Leadership in Opera for his significant contributions as head of the Bregenz Festival, and more recently, Welsh National Opera.

‘The deepest and most moving experiences’

The 2021 Lifetime Achievement was presented to Bernard Haitink, who retired in 2019 aged 90.

Reflecting on his career in a touching acceptance speech, the conductor said: “I can honestly say that some of the deepest and most moving experiences of my musical life have been in the opera house...It has been a gift.”

The award for Philanthropy went to the Martina Arroyo Foundation for its work with young artists and outreach initiatives, with the legendary diva herself accepting the award from New York.

A new award, presented in association with the organisation Opera For Peace was presented to Denyce Graves, recognising the American mezzo’s deep commitment to social causes.

A full list of winners can be found at

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