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Australian conductor Daniel Smith has taken First Prize in the 5th Luigi Mancinelli Opera Conductors’ International Competition, held in Orvieto, Italy. Hopeful maestri were required to conduct Verdi’s La Traviata in three rounds. The field of 68 competitors was narrowed through a qualifying round conducting pianists and singers, followed by a semi-final with full orchestra and singers, and a final public performance with the same ensemble.
Smith’s prize includes a study grant at Spazio Musica valued at €1,150, as well as €1,200 in additional prize money and a stint as music director for the 2012/13 Spazio Musica season run of – you guessed it – La Traviata.
The 30-year-old Australian-born maestro is based predominantly in Italy, though he has taken the podium with orchestras all over Europe, recently working with legendary opera director Franco Zefirelli. He was assistant conductor with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra from 2005-2009 and protégé of Gianluigi Gelmetti, which could be what gave him his edge in the prestigious Italian competition.
"I was so proud to fly the Australian flag in this very tough international field, competing against established music directors from international opera houses, and against Italians for whom La Traviata is set deep within their culture," said Smith.
He added that he has "a special bond with La Traviata as it was the first opera I worked on at the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma during my assistantship there, and I share the same birthday as Maestro Verdi – he must have been in the pit with me!
"There were also many challenges. In the semi-final, having to sing all the roles of the complete opera in Italian and being judged on pronunciation, rhythm and pitch made me realise why I became a conductor and not a singer."
This is Smith's second major win in just over a year, having garnered Orchestra’s Choice Prize for Best Conductor in the 2011 Lutoslawski International Conducting Competition. Next month, he will be the only Australian contender in the 6th International Conductors’ Competition Georg Solti in Frankfurt. He hopes that the win in Orvieto will help him "secure a music director position with a renowned symphony orchestra or opera company in the near future".