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LONDON (Reuters) - Frankfurt Opera was crowned the world's best opera company on Monday at the inaugural International Opera Awards which were set up to promote opera to a wider audience as it comes under increasing financial pressure.
The award was one of 21 prizes announced at a ceremony in central London to kick off "The Operas", annual awards set up by Opera Magazine and British businessman Harry Hyman.
German Jonas Kaufmann, often described as the "new king of tenors", was crowned the best male singer after strong reviews from productions of "Carmen" and with his solo albums, Verismo Arias and Wagner, becoming bestsellers within weeks of release.
Swedish soprano Nina Stemme, who received raves in Munich, Milan and Paris for her Wagner, beat five others including Joyce DiDonato and Sarah Connolly to be named best female singer.
Briton Antonio Pappano, music director of Britain's Royal Opera House, won the award for best conductor.
The winners list said that under its intendant Bernd Loebe, the Frankfurt Opera had established itself as one of Europe's best, with houses almost regularly filled to capacity for a mix of rarely performed works and more mainstream repertoire.
Opera Magazine editor John Allison said he hoped the awards would bring more recognition to opera at an economically tough time when many opera houses were struggling due to a drop in private sponsorships and state subsidies.
"Very few opera companies in the world are immune to the financial pinch," Allison said, adding that this could stifle creativity and tempt opera companies "to play it safe".
Hyman said the awards were intended to broaden the audience for opera and encourage new talent by creating bursaries.
"I hope they will become the Oscars of opera," he said.
The awards received 1,500 nominations from 41 countries and the winners decided by a 10-member jury made up of opera critics, opera house chiefs and singers.
The award for the best new production went to "The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh" by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov that was performed by the Netherlands Opera and directed by Russia's Dmitri Tcherniakov, who also won the award for best director.
The award for best world premiere was won by the favourite, "Written on Skin" by George Benjamin which premiered at the Aix-en-Provence festival in France before runs in several major opera houses.
The young singer award went to British soprano Sophie Bevan and the best newcomer, conductor or director, was won by Italian conductor Daniele Rustioni.
A lifetime achievement award was given to George Christie, former chief executive of the British opera house Glyndebourne.
Here is a list of winners in key categories.
OPERA COMPANY: Frankfurt Opera
CONDUCTOR: Antonio Pappano
MALE SINGER: Jonas Kaufmann
FEMALE SINGER: Nina Stemme
YOUNG SINGER: Sophie Bevan
DIRECTOR: Dmitri Tcherniakov
WORLD PREMIERE: "Written on Skin" by George Benjamin, Aix-de-Provence
NEW PRODUCTION: "The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh," Netherlands Opera and Dmitri Tcherniakov
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: George Christie
NEWCOMER (CONDUCTOR OR DIRECTOR): Daniele Rustioni
ORCHESTRA: Metropolitan Opera CHORUS: Cape Town Opera
Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by Michael Roddy