Xenia Puskarz Thomas, a 21-year old lyric mezzo-soprano from Queensland, has won the 2018 Lady Fairfax New York Scholarship. Presented by The Opera Foundation for young Australians, the prize, worth $43,000, will allow her to study in New York with internationally acclaimed vocal, language and movement coaches.

Xenia Puskarz Thomas. Photograph © David Otott

Four singers competed in the Finals Concert at the Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music on Sunday October 21. Competing alongside Thomas were bass-baritone Jeremy Kleeman, soprano Jessica Harper and soprano Alexandra Flood. They were accompanied by Sharolyn Kimmorley AM, with Guy Noble hosting the event.

The Lady Fairfax New York Scholarship was initiated in 1963. Since then over 53 young Australian opera singers have had the chance to further their study in New York, among them Samuel Dundas (2013), Anna Dowsley (2012), Natalie Aroyan (2008) and Alexander Lewis (2006). Lewis, who recently performed in The Nose and The Merry Widow for Opera Australia, and who will play Tony in West Side Story for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour in 2019, performed as the guest artist at this year’s Finals Concert.

Thomas is currently completing a Bachelor of Music (Hons) at the Queensland Conservatorium. She was awarded the 2018 Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University Postgraduate Prize and the Tinkler Encouragement Award at the 2018 IFAC Handa Australian Singing Competition. She has performed roles including L’Enfant in Ravel’s L’Enfant et Les Sortilèges and Gladys Callaway in the premiere of Paul Dean’s first opera Dry River Run in which Limelight said she had “a warm, luxurious mezzo that fills the theatre as the outspoken Gladys Callaway”.

Anke Höppner, the 2018 Adjudicator and Member of the Foundation’s Music Advisory Council, who judged this year’s Scholarship with singer Peter Coleman-Wright and conductor Nicholas Braithwaite, said: “Four performers with very different voice types and corresponding personalities delivered outstanding performances, and all would have been worthy recipients of the scholarship. Xenia posses a beautiful mezzo-soprano voice of magnificent potential. She inspired the audience with her energetic stage presence and fearless desire to engage with the characters she portrayed at the deepest emotional levels. The promise of Xenia’s talent convinced us that she would be able to thrive most under the conditions of the scholarship.”

It was also announced that New South Wales soprano Eleanor Lyons has won the 2018 Vienna State Opera Award Scholarship, which enables a young Australian singer to study at the Vienna State Opera for four months; New South Wales conductor Natalia Raspopova is the winner of the 2018 Berlin New Music Opera Award, which allows study in Berlin in conjunction with the Komische Oper Berlin; Victorian mezzo-soprano Chloe Harris has won the 2018 Dalwood-Wylie American Institute of Musical Studies Award, which enables a young Australian singer to participate in the American Institute of Musical Studies Summer School in Graz, Austria; and New South Wales bass Timothy Newton has taken home the 2018 Deutsche Oper Berlin Award, which gives the winner a 10-month contract with the Berlin company.