"When I enjoy my competition performance, it goes well. There are three keys to a successful performance: the audience enjoys it, I am satisfied with it and the jury is satisfied with me. It is important that when you sing, you sing with your heart and soul, and the singing moves the audience. When they have left the concert hall, they should not forget what or how I sang. It is all the same whether they say anything good or bad about me, provided I leave them with some impression."
The Mirjam Helin International Singing Competition is Yulia's third big contest. She has already twice won the singing competition in St Petersburg named after Elena Obratzova: in the first international competition for young soloists in 2006 and in the fifth international opera singers competition in 2007. Yulia has been deluged with other accolades from Russian music festivals since she was fourteen years old.
Yulia Lezhneva still lives in Moscow but gives concerts mainly in St Petersburg. She is all the time being invited there, where she is loved.
"If the audience likes your performance, you know that you did it right. If they do not, you have to analyse why. The audience is everything. The audience puts its soul into listening here in Helsinki, just as in St Petersburg. The English are more reserved," as the student from the Cardiff International Academy of Voice knows. Among others, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Ileana Cotrubas have taught her in their Master Classes.
Baroque masters as stepping stones
Yulia Lezhneva was born in December 1989 on the island of Sakhalin in eastern Siberia. Her father worked as a geophysicist while her mother devoted herself to caring for their only child. Yulia's interest in music began when she was five years old. When the family moved to Moscow, Yulia studied singing and the violin at a children's music school and at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory, one of the most prestigious music schools in Russia. She graduated from it with the very best honours in spring 2007.
"My musical journey started with baroque music, and I still enjoy it immensely. However, whatever I am singing at the time seems my favourite music. Bach, Berlioz and Debussy are now my favourites. I want to learn to sing lieder in German. I think that would suit my voice."
In the final of the competition, Lezhneva sang Jules Massenet's aria from Manon "Allons! il le faut... Adieu, notre petite table" and Giacomo Rossini's aria from Zelmira "Riedi al soglio". What would be her dream role? It is a big one: Cinderella in Rossini's opera's Cinderella.
"I certainly won't be singing it for many years as I am not yet a mezzo-soprano. I dream of a career as a freelance artist, but first I must study a lot. Winning the Mirjam Helin International Singing Competition seems unbelievable. It encourages me to become even better."
Interpreter with a mature voice
The 25-year-old Korean bass Kihwan Sim captivated the members of the jury and the audience in Helsinki with his natural stage performance, style and graceful singing. According to one music critic, he chilled the blood and brain fluids already in the preliminary round with Basilio's aria from The Barber of Seville about calumny.
Sim admits that this was his favourite song in the competition programme. The Mirjam Helin International Singing Competition was the second contest in Sim's career. In December 2008 he won in Germany's Maritim Singing Competition in which young singers from twelve countries participated. The jury especially praised Sim's supreme performance skills and mature voice, which resonated nuances of all feelings.
Sim, who is quite tall, first became keen on singing as a child in a church choir, which is typical in South Korea. The choirmaster praised his voice and encouraged him to develop it. After two years in the army, Sim began studying at Seoul University's College of Music.
"I was introduced to the Italian singing technique in my first year. After graduation, I moved to the University of Music and Theatre in Hamburg. I shall continue there for at least one year, perhaps longer. Many Korean singers supplement their studies in Europe. We are used to discipline and ambitious training."
Learning on stage
The Mirjam Helin International Singing Competition is considered the most demanding in the world. Sim says what he found most demanding was enduring the tension of the competition for two weeks. The tension was eased by the very welcoming family offering him accommodation,
the extremely efficient arrangements and the encouraging audience.
"In this competition, I learnt about performing and interpretation. I must study them further. You need to know the background of the songs well. Performing with a large orchestra was a great opportunity, and as the members of the jury were famous singers, it was a great honour to perform for them."
Sim admits that he avoids modern music. He names Mozart as his favourite composer, as his compositions are joyful but at the same time profound. Verdi's time will come later.
"My dream role is Mozart's Figaro, which I sang in Seoul over three years ago. It seems ideal for my voice. In 2010 I will sing the part of Don Giovanni's servant Leporello in the opera produced by our university."
In the semi-finals Sim delighted the audience by jestingly singing Leporello's "Madamina,
il catalogo e questo", known as the Catalogue aria, using the Mirjam Helin International Singing Competition leaflet as a prop. The winners are going out to conquer the world. Where do you see yourself in ten years' time?
"I see myself on the stage. Singing makes me happy. I hope I can touch people with my singing. I enjoy it when the audience is delighted with my performance."