Although the singers sang one aria each in both halves of the program, I'll list and consider both together below. The order of the singers remained the same.
Haeran Hong (soprano, 28)
"Je suis encore tout étourdie" (Manon)
"Deh vieni" (Figaro)
Hong is a very good version of the cute soprano, charming of form, manner, and voice, though the sound has a bit more meat than ethereality for her particular type. The Juilliard grad is well-schooled musically as well, and only lacked a bit of... magic, for want of a better word.
Maya Lahyani (mezzo, 27)
"Deh! proteggimi" (Norma)
"Près des remparts de Séville" (Carmen)
I really liked what I saw from this Israeli mezzo. Her firm & even instrument is pleasing in a standard sort of way, but at the service of her wonderful musical sense (and/or ability to follow Armiliato -- does it matter which?) and intense seriousness it's quite something. Lahyani may have hurt herself with her aria choices, though -- the Adalgisa scene is a revealing slow selection but lacks a contrasting cabaletta, and though the Carmen bit showed off her rhythmic facility it's still short and not hugely ambitious.
Rena Harms (soprano, 25)
Nedda's bird song (Pagliacci)
"Tu che di gel sei cinta" (Turandot)
I found Harms' voice uneven, and unsatisfactory when tested at the bottom in Nedda's aria. She did do well in delivering Liu's aria, though.
Nathaniel Peake (tenor, 28)
"Ah, la paterna mano" (Macbeth)
"O paradis" (L'Africaine)
Hear Peake sing one note and you're pleased and impressed: he has real force and some money notes. Hear him sing a series of notes and you wince: he puts them out one by one with little apparent sense of line or phrase, and with a really unstylish bit-by-bit overemphasis in the Verdi. He's got the sound production, but isn't 28 a bit late to start becoming a musician? The big YAPs he's done -- with, incidentally, companies (SFO, Houston) represented on the judging panel -- don't seem to have helped.
Lori Guilbeau (soprano, 24)
"Toi qui sus le néant" (Don Carlos)
"Give me some music" (Antony and Cleopatra)
Guilbeau managed to bore for 3/4 of Elisabetta's heart-rending aria (in French!), but woke up for a rousing end. Barber's languorous music for Cleopatra was a better fit for this young singer, alive from start to finish and more satisfying, I think, than Lauren Flanigan's effort in the full concert version last year. Guilbeau's voice is strong, compact, and focused though not, at this young age, quite expansive. Very interested to see what it becomes in ten or so years.
Hyo Na Kim (mezzo, 27)
"Smanie implacabili" (Cosi)
"O mon Fernand" (La Favorite)
The rendition of the Dorabella aria was one of the two most impressive performances of the day (the other being also from Cosi -- see below). Kim has a voice to savor: flexible, of course, but more naturally and effortlessly large-limbed and expansive than any other of the day, the sort of sound that loves a big house and vice versa. And though she doesn't seem a natural actress (at least as Dorabella -- the tragic grandeur of Leonore seemed an easier fit) Kim did show well-developed musical understanding in both pieces, with an excellent sense for phrase and line. You can see her as Dorabella in full with Mannes May 6 and 7, but she should really be singing big parts at big houses.
Rachel Willis-Sørensen (soprano, 25)
"Einsam in trüben Tagen" (Lohengrin)
"Come scoglio" (Mozart)
Willis-Sørensen has a hint of a quick vibrato underlying her voice, less audible at top, more audible -- and helpful in making an impact -- at the bottom. It's an interesting, effective sound that should work for many parts. She took a bit to warm up to the interpretive side of Elsa, but when she came back for the second half in Fiordiligi's aria she really seized the moment. The voice has character, yes, but it also passes all of Mozart's cruel tests: strong through the range, surprising in flexibility, and (not least because of its character) very effective at conveying strong emotion. Willis-Sørensen went all-out, offering not only virtuosity and gripping seriousness but flashes of humor, and though she nearly ran out of gas on the last high notes it worked: the audience rightly wouldn't stop clapping even long after she'd gone offstage, though a competition like this certainly won't allow a curtain call.
Elliot Madore (baritone, 22)
"Batter my heart" (Doctor Atomic)
Largo al factotum (Barber of Seville)
Curtis student Madore is an energetic and game performer, and though I can't help sensing something a bit put-together in both his sound and stage manner, they're both very impressive and well-developed for a 22-year-old.
Leah Crocetto (soprano, 30)
"Ernani involami" (Ernani)
"Ch'il bel sogno di Doretta" (Rondine)
Yes she can, in fact, sing "Ernani involami" -- impressively well, too. She can even sing the cabaletta, which the audience didn't expect -- again, pretty well and with some big top notes. How many sopranos can say that? Crocetto has a big figure, but not as big as Angela Meade (the last notable dramatic coloratura in this event) and perhaps her large head helps with the on-stage thing. The voice, though full top to bottom and more excitingly dramatic-coloraturaish than Meade's, isn't quite finished: Crocetto's vibrato can get away from her at times, particularly at the end of phrases, and she unfortunately only fakes a trill. And Madga's aria was a mistake: the final high notes are impressive, but for all its flexibility Crocetto's instrument hits for power, not finesse and romantic wistfulness.
After the finalists had sung, there was a bit of a nostalgic interlude. Met legend Frederica von Stade has only been a Gala presence since the 2000-01 run of the Merry Widow, but she called an official end to her singing here with a couple of arias. Her voice has, of course, aged much in the 40 years since her company debut, but here she didn't at all embarrass herself in reprising the Werther aria that helped her in this very competition before even that. She gave a short speech, finished her part with a lighter selection from Offenbach's "La Perichole", and accepted praise and a first edition of Cendrillon from Peter Gelb. Brief but touching.
Unfortunately, an event headlined by two mezzo legends (Marilyn Horne emceed in place of the stuck-in-London-due-to-weather mezzo great Joyce DiDonato) finished with both worthy mezzo-sopranos getting the short end of the stick as Peake, Guilbeau, Willis-Sørensen, Madore, and Crocetto were selected as the official winners. The sopranos certainly impressed, but I would have selected both mezzos before the men and certainly Kim over Peake.
That said, time will tell, and all who sang yesterday will surely get their chances.