Spanish tenor Placido Domingo (L) speaks to French tenor Julien Behr
London - Arab Today
Gesticulating and breaking into spine-tingling arias, a jovial Placido Domingo coached young opera singers vying for their big break while perched on a stool in a rehearsal room at London's Royal Opera House.
Frenchman Julien Behr greeted him with a "Buenos dias!" before practising an aria with the legendary Spanish tenor for Sunday's final of the Operalia competition, being held in the British capital for the first time.
"It's about emotion. Really in the emotion. And there's more joy too!" Domingo told Behr, putting his hand to his heart, as he described the scene in Charles Gounod's "Faust" in which the hero realises he is in love.
"You have to do it more naturally," said the bearded 74-year-old -- one of the famous Three Tenors who performed concerts at four World Cup finals along with Jose Carreras and the late Luciano Pavarotti.
Behr, who has performed with the Opera National de Paris, nods dutifully to the maestro and repeats part of his aria -- "Salut! Demeure chaste et pure" (Greetings, remain chaste and pure).
"We're very concentrated on our voice and sometimes we can forget the emotions in the text that are expressed in the music," the 32-year-old tenor, dressed in a blue shirt and terracotta brown jeans, told AFP after his rehearsal with Domingo.
"It's really interesting for me because he has played Faust many times on stage... Everything he says is gospel to me, about music, about emotions."
Behr was one of 11 finalists from Australia, France, New Zealand, Norway, Romania, South Africa, South Korea and the United States taking to the stage on Sunday for the opera singing competition.
Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen, 28, and Romanian tenor Ioan Hotea, 25, were declared the winners after performing live auditions accompanied by a full orchestra.
Set up by Domingo in 1993, the contest aims to boost the careers of young singers.
"I have always taken a special interest in promising young singers, and I have thought a lot about the enormous difficulties these artists face as they start their careers," Domingo said.
The jury of Operalia was made up of industry professionals and previous winners including Erwin Schrott, Nina Stemme, Rolando Villazón and Sonya Yoncheva have risen to international fame.
- From gospel to opera -
Another contestant, 24-year-old South African soprano Noluvuyiso Mpofu, a postgraduate music student in Cape Town, said she was hoping to follow in their footsteps.
"You get to showcase yourself, showcase your talent and hope that you can find something and people will hear you, hear that special thing that you have."
Mpofu started singing gospel music in church before moving on to choral ensembles and finally opera.
She said she has been overwhelmed by the support in South Africa for her participation in Operalia.
"I didn't know I had that support apart from my family but, like, nationwide you have support, you have people rooting for you, it's totally amazing!"
She said that one day she would like to help boost the profile of opera in her homeland "because music is such a wonderful thing, opera is such a wonderful thing and people should actually be heard singing and expressing themselves."
Taking to the stage at the Royal Opera House for the first time on Sunday, Mpofu sang "E strano, e strano... Sempre libera" from Giuseppe Verdi's "La Traviata" -- her favourite opera.
"When I was first introduced to music, my first love was 'La Traviata'... I'm hoping to share my love of that aria and that music with the audience. It's something that is very dear in my heart."