Soprano Cleo Lee-McGowan has been announced as the winner of this year’s Sydney Eisteddfod Opera Scholarship, beating out eight other finalists in what was an unusual all-female line up. McGowan was awarded the Sydney Eisteddfod John Lamble Foundation Winner Scholarship, which comprises a $37,000 scholarship and $3000 prize purse as well as return airfare (up to $3000) to undertake overseas study. The soprano will use the scholarship to fund her studies at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London.

Cleo Lee-McGowan. Photo supplied

“I’m excited to face all the challenges that living overseas will present and begin the next chapter in my career,” said Lee-McGowan.

The soprano secured her victory with her assured performance of the arias Ach, ich fühls from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and Comme autrefois from Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles. Adjudicators Cheryl Barker and John Pringle praised McGowan’s “superior technique” and “incredible emotion”.

Lee-McGowan recently made her Sydney Symphony Orchestra debut in a highly acclaimed concert presentation of Britten’s Peter Grimes and will sing with the SSO again next year in Brahms’ A German Requiem conducted by David Robertson in July. She has been the recipient of the Joseph Sambrook Opera Scholarship with Melba Opera Trust since 2017 and holds a Bachelor of Music with Honours from the University of Melbourne. McGowan was a finalist in last year’s prestigious IFAC Handa Australian Singing Competition.

Juliette Di Bello, Cleo Lee-McGowan and Michelle Ryan with adjudicators Cheryl Barker and John Pringle. Photo © WinkiPop Media

In second place, 19-year-old soprano Juliette Di Bello received a scholarship worth $8000 as well as $2000 cash. Di Bello intends to use the scholarship to fund her studies at The Juilliard School in New York. Coming in third place, soprano Michelle Ryan received $5000, and was also invited to compete in the 2019 Fine Music Young Virtuoso Award state final in October alongside fellow finalist Anna Stephens. The remaining finalists, including Stephens, received $1000 each.

Previously known as the Sun Aria, the annual Sydney Eisteddfod Opera Scholarship has identified Australia’s future stars for nearly nine decades, launching the careers of singers like Dame Joan Sutherland, Kiri Te Kanawa, Stuart Skelton and Nicole Car.