On Hariclea Darclée's 135th anniversary, in 1995, her native city of Braila honored the memory of the legendary soprano by organizing the Voice Competition named after her. The huge success of the event was perpetuated in 1997, with 167 candidates from 25 countries, in the superb theater in which the great artist made her debut in 1881, at age 21.
Braila was renowned for its cultural and artistic life, applauding Sarah Bernhardt or De Max, and for its passionate love for singing and for the human voice. Many outstanding Romanian artists, Matei Millo, Elena Teodorini, George Niculescu-Basu, Petre Stefanescu-Goanga, and foreign stars, including Adelina Patti, Titta Ruffo, Tito Schipa, Feodor Shaliapin, were acclaimed over the years by a public of sensitive connoisseurs.
The biennial Hariclea Darclée Voice Competition represents an exceptional and far-reaching revival of this great tradition.
Over 10,000 people spontaneously crowd round the theater where, since 1995, Mariana Nicolesco has presented her Gala Concerts and where she also invited the young laureates of the Hariclea Darclée Contest, bringing to the general attention, with Idomeneo and Don Giovanni, in 1999, the first Romanian Mozart generation to emerge in Braila.
Another memorable, special occasion was in 2001, when, with La Traviata, an Aria Concert and the Chorus Concert on the Esplanade of the Danube, all the illustrious composer's operas were represented for the International Verdi Year.
In 2003, the performance of Puccini's La Bohème, celebrating the centennial of the first presentation of this opera in Romania, with Hariclea Darclée as Mimi, was also a great success. As was the Concert of Arias from the operas composed for the famous soprano and interpreted by her in world premiere.
The 10th anniversary of the Hariclea Darclée International Voice Competition in 2005 coincided with the triumph of the representation of Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia as well as with the Extraordinary Concert on the Esplanade entitled On the Waves of the Danube, dedicated to the composers from the countries along the river, with a very much-appreciated performance by Braila-born Jazzman Johnny Raducanu. And, for the International George Enescu Year proclaimed by UNESCO, the complete cycle of Songs by the great Romanian composer was brilliantly presented, and subsequently featured at the Aichi Universal Exhibition, in Tokyo and Nagoya, in Prague, Rome, Paris and New York. The contest, with the 2005 edition, was marked by the participation over the years of 1500 competitors from 45 countries and 5 continents.
In 2007, the celebration of Romania's accession to the European Union, with the Danube Esplanade concert Europe sings with us, generated great enthusiasm.
A notable belcanto performance occurred in the same year with the Hariclea Darclée Competition laureates - prepared by Mariana Nicolesco - interpreting Donizetti's operas dedicated to the Queens of the Tudor dynasty: Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Queen Elisabeth I in Roberto Devereux.
The famous Trittico: Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, honoring the International Puccini Year 2008, was also much appreciated.
2009 brought a major success with the absolute premiere in Romania of Gaetano Donizetti's Parisina d'Este and Gemma di Vergy, coordinated by Mariana Nicolesco, at the Bucharest National Opera, later at the Pelesh Royal Castle in Sinaia and during the Darclée Festival. The audience also attended the conference on the vocal approach in the Baroque and Classical periods, commemorating 250 years since the passing away of Georg Friedrich Haendel, and 200 years since the passing away of Joseph Haydn, followed by a Recital held by the participants in the Master Class.
The 2010 jubilee edition, marking 15 years since the creation of the Hariclea Darclée Festival and Voice Competition, was a true apotheosis, with 187 competitors from 27 countries, while the International Jury was presided by the great baritone Nicolae Herlea. With the same brio as in the previous editions, the Darclée Festival Orchestra was conducted by maestro Marco Balderi.
The young artists were acclaimed in a delightful opera performance of Donizetti's Don Pasquale, in the Danube Esplanade Concert - a spectacular Darclée Celebration, with arias, choruses and orchestra sequences from operas sung once by Hariclea Darclée, at the Gala of the Laureates, when, in an electrifying atmosphere, the winners received their Prizes, the Darclée Medal and Diploma as well as the Darclée Coin, especially created by the National Bank of Romania.
The public was enchanted by the Münchner Klaviertrio and by pianist Matei Varga's Concert Homage to Chopin, Schumann, Darclée, on the 200-year anniversary since the birth of the two great composers and the 150-year anniversary of the birth of the legendary soprano. On the occasion of the 2010 events the brochure Darclée-Vissi d'arte was also presented by Dutch author René Seghers.
The phoniatrist and musicologist Dr. Stephan Poen lectured about Hariclea Darclée in the history of universal lyric theater, while in 2011 he spoke about soprano Mariana Nicolesco's interpretations of Franz Liszt's Songs at Milan's Teatro alla Scala and at RAI Roma on the 200-year anniversary of his birth, as well as of Gustav Mahler's works, in commemoration of the centenary of his passing away. The event was followed by a Recital of the young artists.
The Awards Ceremony and the Gala of the Laureates 2012 surpassed all expectations in terms of splendor. The climax of this extraordinary evening was the touching moment when the laureates were singing the famous Brindisi from Verdi's La Traviata, and the renowned Italian director Flavio Trevisan came on stage, offering Mariana Nicolesco a priceless gift of historic and emotional significance: the tiara worn by Hariclea Darclée for the world premiere of Puccini's Tosca at Teatro Costanzi in Rome in 1900, and later on by Maria Callas at Teatro Carlo Felice in Genova in 1954. Callas had given it to her young friend, the future Maestro Flavio Trevisan: "Nothing could be more legitimate than for this crown, which once belonged to Queen Hariclea Darclée, then to Queen Maria Callas, to be handed today to Queen Mariana Nicolesco," he said, to the audience ovations and tears.
The glorious days of the Festival and Voice Competition included the celebration of Nicolae Herlea upon his 85th anniversary, a magnificent performance with Verdi's masterpiece Il Trovatore and a Verdi-Wagner Concert on the Esplanade of the Danube, with the participation of the George Enescu Philharmonic Choir and the Darclée Festival Orchestra brilliantly conducted once again by Maestro Marco Balderi, a concert attended by thousands and thousands of people.
These events anticipated the celebration of the Bicentennial of the birth of these two titans of music, which was held during the 2013 Master Classes, in the Verdi - Wagner International Year.
The 2014 Master Classes anticipated the jubilee edition of the Hariclea Darclée Festival and International Voice Competition marking in 2015 their twentieth anniversary, events for which Mariana Nicolesco obtained the UNESCO High Patronage. The 2014 edition meant also a special homage to the memory of Hariclea Darclée, who passed away 75 years ago. It was, at the same time, the occasion to honor the art of Christoph Willibald Gluck and Niccolò Jommelli, 300 years after their birth, and of Giacomo Meyerbeer, commemorating 150 years since he passed away.
The fundamental principles, rigorously respected since the first edition in 1995 and up to the Jubilee Edition in 2015, make those manifestations equal to none in the world, as was recently stated even by the prestigious Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in an article regarding the events dedicated to Hariclea Darclée -The First Tosca, and entitled: Constantin Brancusi, George Enescu, Mariana Nicolesco: the Cult of a Country for its Glories, as results from countless testimonies expressed over the years, and as is shown by the exceptional status granted to these events for their contribution to the world cultural patrimony. Evening after evening, triumph after triumph marked the 2015 Jubilee Edition: The Festive Ceremony and Inaugural Concert, the conference 20 years of Glory of the Art of Singing, the Concert Encountering again the talents revealed by the Darclée Competition, the performance of Donizetti's opera L'Elisir d'amore, the Concert on the Danube Esplanade: Two decades in the World of Masterpieces, or the Prize-Giving Ceremony and the Gala of the Laureates.
In 2016, the Master Classes were dedicated to the relationship between Masters and Disciples. Great personalities - such as the outstanding soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, in commemoration of 10 years since she passed away, the incomparable violinist Yehudi Menuhin, upon the centennial of his birth, and the renowned composer Francesco Cilea, on the 150-year anniversary of his birth, were also honored on this occasion, which marked the 135th anniversary of Hariclea Darclée's debut on stage and the 185th anniversary of the world premiere of Bellini's Norma. Three TV programs broadcast on national television were dedicated to the events, to the glory of the art of singing, to the transmission of its great traditions and to the accomplishments of the young artists.
The 2017 edition of the Darclée Festival and Voice Competition brought together a new record number of participants: 200 from all around the world, with 80 from China alone. The note of success was evident from the very start, with the Festive Opening, the Inaugural Recital and the Conference, supported by visual projections, entitled Once Again on the Glory of Music.
These were followed by the Extraordinary Piano Recital performed by Matei Varga, dedicated to the centennial of the birth of the never-forgotten Dinu Lipatti. Afterwards, the admirable interpretation of Ruggero Leoncavallo's opera I Pagliacci was vividly applauded by the audience.
Also in 2017 the Concert on the Danube Esplanade, opened in a symbolic manner with Beethoven's Ode to Joy, now the Anthem of Europe, was also marked by special moments, such as the duet sung by the laureates of the Great Darclée Prize from the first edition of the Competition, or the presence, on stage, upon the invitation launched by Mariana Nicolesco, of the Ambassador of China to Romania, His Excellency Xu Feihong, who, to the delight of all those present, joined the group of Chinese artists in singing famous songs from their native country.
Romanian National Television broadcast five one-hour shows dedicated to the Hariclea Darclée Festival and International Voice Competition, and the series ended in the general enthusiasm engendered by the Gala of the Laureates.
In addition to the Master Classes in the Art of Singing, it is well known that a major dimension of the events is related to history and culture. In 2018, a lecture and the Extraordinary Concert on the Esplanade of the Danube were both dedicated to the values of Romanian music at the Centenary of the Great Union, to the 650-year anniversary of Braila and to the originality of the astonishing Gioachino Rossini, commemorating 150 years since his passing away.
During the 2019 edition of the Master Classes, Braila was a true lyric capital of the world while, on the last day, the Gala performance was a real, staggering, six-hour marathon. Honoring Darclée's memory 80 years after she passed away, the manifestations were at the same time a wonderful preparation for the 2020 edition of Hariclea Darclée International Festival and Voice Competition, for which over 2900 young singers from 50 countries have already registered since 1995.
As in all other editions, all were invited to a lecture illustrated by five video projections of arias from Darclée's repertoire sung by Mariana Nicolesco on the world stages, and which received endless ovations by the audience.
The traditional Extraordinary Concert entitled In Hariclea Darclée's Universe brought together the Darclée Festival Orchestra, the George Enescu Philharmonic Choir prepared by Iosif Ion Prunner, the numerous young artists and an enthusiastic public, seduced by music, by the voices, by the art of singing.
On the final evening, Mariana Nicolesco, the soul of the events, said: "Before applauding the young talents who will enchant us as ever, I am sure, it is my pleasure to express our recognition to some of those who have been close to us for so long, building together this unique cultural edifice.
I would like to mention again my indestructible credo that nothing can bring people closer together than singing does. And this is also proved by the so many voices which came here from a country that is so far away as China is" - among them, mezzosoprano Baoyi Bi, who first participated in the Voice Competition, who then attended the Master Classes, and who is now invited as a Member of the International Jury of the contest. Mariana Nicolesco honored her with The Diploma of the Darclée Foundation "for her extraordinary contribution to the preparation of the young lyric talents from her country and to the prestige of opera music".
Then, the great soprano granted the Honorary Diploma of the Darclée Foundation and the Special Prize of the Braila County Council to Dr. Stephan Poen "for his remarkable lectures dedicated to the history of music and to the Sacred Art of Singing" and to Maestro Marco Balderi "for his exceptional contribution to the success of the Darclée events".
Mariana Nicolesco - At Hariclea Darclée’s anniversary - On June 10, 2020 we celebrate 160 years since a legend of the Art of Singing was born, Hariclea Darclée, for more than two decades the number one soprano of her time.
It is also 120 years since she marked the history of opera with her interpretation in world premiere, in Rome, of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca.
For a quarter of a century, year after year, we have been bringing homage to the famous artist, in her native city of Braila, with world-renowned events bearing her name: the Festival and International Voice Competition in which, until now, over 2900 young artists from 50 countries and 5 continents have taken part.
And the Jubilee Edition, which everyone expected with great joy to take place this summer, was rescheduled for July-August 2021, when we will be together again for the glorious celebration of music.
The Hariclea Darclée Festival and International Voice Competition were and are permanently in the attention of national and international press, radio and television, including EuroNews and Mezzo, of the music magazines like Orpheus in Berlin or Amadeus in Milan.
Between an edition and the next of the Competition, the enthusiastic audience may attend Mariana Nicolesco's Master Classes offered to the laureates of the contest, thus witnessing the transmission of the sacred ritual of singing from one generation to another.
Under the glorious, inspiring sign of the great Darclée, for whom Puccini composed Tosca, Mascagni Iris and Catalani La Wally, young opera singers from all over the world are expected in Braila, invited to join the wonderful celebration of music and voice, in a competition from which, in one way or another, everyone will come out as a winner.