Thursday, 29 September 2011

WNO - The Vimeo Years

A bit like digging around in a supermodel’s knickers draw, WNO’s Vimeo page has a couple of natty things to pique your peeking interest. Don Giovanni leads the way, with director John Caird and designer John Napier talking about their involvement in the production, followed by a snippet of dress rehearsal footage.

Not to be left out of the limelight, unlike the saggy, but strangely comforting pair of pants / knickers to be found in most folks underwear draw, The Barber of Seville gets to show off its frillies, with Christine Rice singing Una voce poco fa during the dress rehearsal.

John Caird Talks Don Giovanni

John Napier on Designing Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni Dress Rehearsal Footage

Christine Rice as Rosina (Dress Rehearsal)

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Barber of Seville - Wales Millennium Centre, 22nd of September 2011

Borrowed from WNO

Figaro - Jacques Imbrailo

Count Almaviva - AndrewKennedy
Rosina - Christine Rice
Doctor Bartolo - Eric Roberts
Don Basilio - Clive Bayley
Berta - Megan Llewellyn Dorke
Fiorello - Philip Lloyd-Evans

Conductor - Alexander Polianichko
Orchestra and Chorus of WNO

Director - Giles Havergal
Designer - Russell Craig
Lighting Designer - Gerry Jenkinson

I’m holding my hands up, and typing this with my bose. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to tripping out to see The Barber of Seville, partly because WNO perform it in English, but mainly because it would have been my third serving of Giles Havergal’s production in recent seasons. If you’ve seen it, chances are you’ll have liked the self-conscious nature of the production, with its very own onstage stage and audience – you even have caped conductor Alexander Polianichko swapping a few words with cast, and crew (dressed up as busty wenches) before a single note has been played. It is an entertaining production - but see it too often and the enjoyment can wear off. To counter familiarity WNO came up with a smothering of canny casting for opening night, helping to turn a ho-hum evening into an enjoyable one.

Jacques Imbrailo’s Figaro is an elegant creature, maybe not the rambunctious character you’ll meet most days in Rossini’s masterpiece, but he proved to be a winning performer. The strength of his performance lay in his lyrical baritone, which stood up to the vocal demands of the role. As his employer, Andrew Kennedy gave the turn of the evening as Almaviva. Like Imbrailo before him his singing was seemingly effortless, and he was a joy to listen to – a smidgen too sober for my liking in the drunk scene, he garnered the cheer of the evening at the curtain call.

Christine Rice made for a formidable Rosina, perhaps too formidable in the first act where I would have liked a touch more guile to her portrayal. Although her top was a tiny petal short of full bloom on the evening, her lower register was 88% cocoa and was a welcome reminder that mezzos should be more than sopranos with a low register. And on a purely puerile level, she is a very fine looking Rosina.

Of the boo brigade I felt that Eric Roberts was curiously off form as Doctor Bartolo. He has been one of the highlights of this production in recent revivals, and I can’t help but think I caught him on an off night. Clive Bayley played his partner in slander with arid, malevolent magnificence; pale of face and green of coat, his Don Basilio was the calculating git he should always be.

Stepping up from the chorus Megan Llewellyn Dorke brought character a-plenty to the role of Berta – as did fellow chorus escapee for the evening, Philip Lloyd-Evans (Fiorello). Their lowly colleagues in the chorus shone, as is their wont.

In the pit Alexander Polianichko, conducting the piece for the very first time, brought a sprinkling of new ideas to the score – but nothing obtrusive. Once or twice the unison between stage and orchestra felt strained, though in general the performance of the orchestra was, as ever, sumptuous. It would be interesting to catch a later performance to see how Polianichko's take on the score develops.

Far be it of me to suggest to a professional opera company what works they should, and shouldn’t, perform – but I would like to think that WNO's Barber would be given a few seasons off following this run. You can’t always strike it as lucky as WNO have with this cast, and should it return in the near future casting would be more crucial than ever. My moan out of the way I’ll get around to spreading the word that this is a show worthy of opening your wallets to. Kennedy gives a Golden Lock of the Night Award ™ winning performance, and is surrounded by a well oiled cast and production that can silence even your noisiest neighbour (yes, you with the bloody whispering and sweet unwrapping). Details of when and where to catch the opera with the zippiest overture in opera can be found here.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Don Giovanni - Wales Millennium Centre, 16th of Sepetember 2011

Photo - Wales Online Don Giovanni (David Kempster) gets to know Donna Elvira (Nuccia Focile)

Don Giovanni – David Kempster
Leporello – David Soar
Donna Anna – Camilla Roberts
Don Ottavio – Robin Tritschler
Donna Elvira – Nuccia Focile
Zerlina – Claire Ormshaw
Masetto – Gary Griffiths
Commendatore – Carlo Malinverno

Conductor – Lothar Koenigs
Orchestra and Chorus of WNO

Director – John Caird
Designer – John Napier
Assistant Designer - Yoon Bae
Choreographer – Kate Flatt
Lighting Designer – David Hersey
Fight Director – Kevin McCurdy

Another new season, another new Don Giovanni. Does the world need a fresh retelling of Mozart’s hell bound opera? Probably not. Does WNO’s new production shed new light on the only man in operatic history to have RSI of the groin? Again, probably not. Is it worth you travelling out to see? Definitely yes.

John Caird gives us a traditional telling of the opera – good and bad are clearly drawn, the humour in the work is played for laughs, not for introspection. Salzburg audiences would more than likely turn their noses up at it, but judging by their fashion sense a Salzburgian disapproval would surely count as a vote of approval elsewhere. I’ve seen many different takes on Don Giovanni, all fascinating and striving towards an exploration of the protagonist / society – and quite often they succeed, but Caird has given us something just as equally important as a deconstruction of the text, and that is to give us a Giovanni of enjoyment, a Giovanni that Mozart would recognise. In this, he is ably assisted by John Napier’s foreboding, yet beautiful designs – a set of moveable walls, inlaid figures echoing classical images of hell with their tormented poses. Apart from being a feast for the eyes, the walls allow a visible refreshing of scenes, and avoid playing against a blank canvas that can often be the case with many Mozart operas, given the nature of their numerous, and rapid, scene changes. Central to the design, indeed, the genesis for the design as a whole, is a scaled up version of Rodin’s The Gates of Hell, which open up and take Don Giovanni to an effective flaming hell, ultimately giving Star Wars fans a nice Han Solo ending for our anti-hero.

Photo - The Arts Desk © Richard H Smith Leporello (David Soar) and his boss (David Kempster)

With the scene, and directions set, the next piece of the puzzle is the cast, led more than ably by David Kempster’s devious Don. Devilish, with a hint of malice, he was convincing in the role, switching from heartless to horny with his generous baritone conquering (nearly) all the women in his path. As with any great role versatility is required, and Kempster displayed plenty with Fin ch'han dal vino and Deh vieni alla finestra sung with ease. A nice touch by Napier and his team had the Don dressed in white clothing, turning the idea of a knight in shining armour on its head. His reward for giving such an accomplished performance was to be roundly booed at the curtain call, a sure sign from a WMC audience that you’ve played a good baddie.

The task of playing the Don’s put-upon servant fell to David Soar. Long time readers of the blog will know that I’m a big fan of his, and his Leporello did little to diminish his rising stock – following appearances at Covent Garden and Salzburg he is due to make his Met debut in the 2012 / 13 season. Caird had him play Leporello as a wannabe Giovanni, coming to his master’s aid in the opening duel (enabling Giovanni to kill the Commendatore) and looking to have his wicked way with anything in a dress at the drop of his worn, cavalier style hat. Throughout the evening he made light work of the quick fire demands made on him vocally by the role with superb enunciation, and the money aria for any Leporello (Madamina, il catalogo è questo) was munched nicely by his dark chocolate bass of a voice.

So the bad men covered themselves in glory – but what about the “good” guys?

Donna Anna’s owner for the evening, Camilla Roberts, put in a shift and a half as the wronged woman with vengeance on her mind. It’s easy for Anna to be seen as little more than a beige background to Giovanni’s antics, but Roberts breathed a tumult of emotions into the character, never allowing any hint of apathy to be directed towards her by this particular audience member (he’s a truly nasty piece of work, but sometimes I can’t help but want the Don to escape the mob’s clutches). It’s often said (by me) that you need a four seasons in one-day kind of a voice for Donna Anna, and Roberts carries a waterproof coat, a pac a mac, sunglasses and a winter coat throughout her performance.

Despite the numerous impressive performances, the revelation of the evening (for me) was Robin Tritschler’s Don Ottavio. I’ve seen Tritschler a few times, and though I’ve always liked the beauty of his voice I’d found, until Friday, it suffered in the volume department. On opening night it was as if Tritschler had discovered a booster button, crucially without affecting the light natured timbre of his voice, and it gelled well with his firm middle and he gave a gloriously well-rounded performance both vocally, and visually, achieving the impossible in having me look forward to Don Ottavio’s arias – who surely is one of the most boring characters in opera. For this, Tritschler receives my Golden Lock of the Night Award ™.

Photo - The Arts Desk © Richard H Smith Donna Anna (Camilla Roberts) and Don Ottavio (Robin Tritschler)

For his second role with WNO Gary Griffiths was inch perfect as Masetto. His effortless baritone swayed this way and that with Masetto’s ever changing love-addled emotions, capturing the audience’s heart, judging by his reception at the curtain call. Like most voices of depth he is blessed with an imposing frame, which was put to great use as his Masetto couldn’t help but whisk his Zerlina off her feet with gentle precision throughout the performance.

Claire Ormshaw was her usual pocket rocket self as Zerlina. Coy, artful and heartfelt she wrapped Masetto around her little finger as easy as she reached her creamy high notes. I get the feeling Mozart would have loved the sight of the diminutive Ormshaw becalming Griffiths’ imposing Masetto as she sang Batti, batti, o bel Masetto.

Only the casting of Nuccia Focile as Donna Elvira chimed at odds with the rest of the production. With her sparkling, flighty voice, and her undoubted skills as a comedic actress, the decision to make Elvira a far more comic role than I’ve seen before could have been the icing on the cake, but despite her succeeding with the comedy, I felt the role didn't suit her vocally, which is a shame as I’ve enjoyed Focile in every other role I’ve seen her in.

The job of dragging Giovanni to hell was given to the impressive Carlo Malinverno. The Commendatore has to be the greatest part-time gig in the whole world of opera, with the showstopper of all showstoppers in the shape of Don Giovanni, a cenar teco. I’ve seen quite a few Commendatores sink beneath an orchestra, so it was particularly thrilling to have a bass who could go deep sea fishing with the score.

Adding their support the chorus were boringly excellent as usual (have an off night so I can moan about you once in a while) – the male section getting to dress up as hooded monks who roamed creepily about the stage throughout the performance.

Lending superb support throughout the evening was Lothar Koenigs and his band of merry men and women. If any of you haven’t heard these folks in action you’re missing out on a real treat. Supple, muscular, chilling and thrilling, Koenigs led the orchestra and singers through the score, allowing both to shine – winds of all names, strings of all sizes, brasses with fire in their arses and percussions of the kitchen and beyond brought Mozart’s music to life, reminding you, if you didn’t need reminding already, just how brilliant this music is.

The ovations at the end of the evening told the story of this premiere. John Caird and his team have given us a Don Giovanni that, while traditional in its presentation, is an eerie feast for the eyes. The performers cannot help but give memorable performances, with solo and ensemble singing to die for, aided by Lothar Koenigs’ dazzling orchestra. There will be starrier productions of Don Giovanni hitting stages, and cinema screens, around the globe in the coming months, but you would be hard pressed to find a more satisfying cast, and production, than WNO’s. With Davids Kempster and Soar leading a cast of genuine substance you would be doing your ears, and the devilish part of your souls, a great favour in catching a performance, either in Cardiff or on its travels.

Friday, 16 September 2011

I Read the News Today

To mark the opening of WNO’s new season Wales Online have a pair of articles worthy of your perusal.

Director John Caird talks to Mike Smith about how Rodin’s sculptures have influenced his team's approach to Don Giovanni. A spoiler alert if you are going to see it in the flesh – some details of the production appear to have been let out of the bag like a cat on a moped.

The second article sees David Pountney, WNO’s Chief Executive and Artistic Director, chatting with Karen Price about his role with the company, “there’s room for more excitement in the artistic planning and that’s why I’m here really,” his part in introducing Lothar Koenigs to WNO, and his ideas about possible future productions, “I’ve never done a Ring…I always have an interest in new pieces and unknown pieces.”

Read, and enjoy!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Zom Giovanni

Borrowed from WNO

You’ll all be familiar with the plot of Don Giovanni (murderous lounge lizard gets his comeuppance at the hands of a zombie), so I’ll crack on with some DG musical highlights in anticipation of WNO’s new production, which opens the 2011/12 season this Friday.

Jimmy L and Met Orchestra giving it some welly.

Leporello explains how many hot dinners his boss has had. (1.53)

Don Giovanni in action. Smooth operator.

Donna Anna cottons on to Don G. Wants blood.

Despite being on the run he just can’t help himself. He should really be on the Jeremy Kyle Show.

Zombie gets its man.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Cineworld Cardiff to Show Anna Bolena

Lovers of aural gratification in Cardiff will be pleased to learn that the Met Live in HD broadcast of Anna Bolena on the 15th of October, starring Anna Netrebko and Ekaterina Gubanova, will be beamed to Cardiff Cineworld after all. A plain old error updating the cinema’s original advance booking page led to the date being left off the list. To book the performance, click here.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Don Giovanni Tweets For Your Eyes Only

Original photo Brian Tarr

Have you ever wondered how a singer prepares for the bad boy role of Don Giovanni? Does he listen to recordings? Maybe he talks to other singers who have played the role? Or does he just spend a week in Amsterdam with Charlie Sheen?

Answering these, and other (more intelligent) questions, will be David Kempster, WNO’s Don Giovanni in their forthcoming new production, as he tweets live from rehearsals this Friday for @WNOtweet.

If you have an itch to scratch about Don Giovanni, or if you want to ask Don Kempster any other opera related questions, all you need to do is tweet a question to @WNOtweet between now and Friday.

If tweeting isn’t your thing you can always email a question to and the best questions will be passed on to the Don himself. If you haven’t got the time to follow the tweets in real time WNO will be rounding them all up and publishing them next week.

And just as the Don roamed the globe in search of his 2000+ conquests, WNO would like to hear from tweeters and emailers from all around the globe, so shake a question loose from your mind and ask the Don a question he can't refuse.

I'll now stop with the Don references before I slip in a Dom DeLuise reference by mistake...

Monday, 5 September 2011

Met Live in HD Broadcasts Return to Cardiff


Good news for opera lovers in the Cardiff area – the Met Live in HD Broadcasts are returning for another season at Cineworld Cardiff. The first broadcast is scheduled to be Mozart’s Don Giovanni (29th of October), starring Mariusz Kwiecien – a former Cardiff Singer of the World finalist.

There are ten broadcasts in all, spread over the coming months, with the likes of Bryn Terfel, Anna Netrebko, Jonas Kaufmann, Natalie Dessay, René Pape and Joyce DiDonato singing for your pleasure.

Tickets cost £15 for adults and £12 for children, seniors and students.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a blog post without a moan, and this time it’s the news that Anna Bolena, starring Anna Netrebko and Ekaterina Gubanova, is not scheduled for broadcast at Cardiff. I’ll dig a little deeper and see if I can clear this up.

The Cineworld Cardiff broadcasts in full…

Don Giovanni – Saturday, 29th of October (6pm)

Siegfried – Saturday, 5th of November (4pm)

Satyagraha – Saturday, 19th of November (6pm)

Rodelinda – Saturday, 3rd of December (5.30pm)

Faust – Saturday, 10th of December (6pm)

The Enchanted Island
– Saturday, 21st of January 2012 (6pm)

Götterdämmerung – Saturday, 11th of February (5pm)

Ernani – Saturday, 25th of February (6pm)

Manon – Saturday, 7th of April (5pm)

La Traviata – Saturday, 14th of April (6pm)

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Boomerang 'Burgs Are Back - Mariinsky Opera Returns to the WMC


Feeling like a cad* with a spiffing moustache, my first post-summer post has yours sincerely drawing your attention to the return of the Mariinsky Opera to the WMC next year.

In keeping with its last appearance, St. Petersburg’s finest opera company blasts a bit (or more frankly, a lot) of Wagner, with a full concert performance of Parsifal on the 31st of March. The following day sees Mahler’s Symphony No.8 being given an outing. No word yet about the soloists, but both concerts will be conducted by Valery Gergiev.

Judging by the fact that a libretto will be available from the WMC website in February of next year, it appears that surtitles will once again be absent from the concerts – a significant gripe among concert goers after the previous visit by the Mariinsky.

Tickets are now on sale from the WMC, with prices raging from £18 - £49 for Parsifal, and £15- £39 for the Mahler. The usual concessions are available, including a generous £10 selected seat offer for beings aged 26 and under. For those of you who want your tickets to arrive at the speed of light I’m afraid that you will have to wait until March 2012 for them to arrive.

* WNO blogging will resume shortly.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Haute Couture Papageno

Birds on Street Corners by Ani Stafford-Townsend

A bear has interrupted my summer recess with the following message about WNO's milliner extraordinaire, Ani Stafford-Townsend...

To vote for Birds on Street Corners click here! But hurry up – voting closes on the 18th of August (Thursday) at 6pm UK time!

If you are reading this at a later date the competition will have finished, but you can still visit Ani-Stafford Townsend's website to see other examples of her work.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

WNYO - The Sleeper's About to Wake Up

WNO (Image - David Massey)

With less than a week to go preparations are in full swing for The Sleeper, a Welsh National Youth Opera commission, written by poet Michael Symmons Roberts (The Sacrifice), and composer Stephen Deazley. Set in a future where sleep is a thing of the past it promises to be an opera experience with a difference.

The performances, which take place within several venues at The Coal Exchange, are designed to give a Total Opera experience and involve a bit of promenading from the audiences’ point of view – so you’ll have to leave your heels at home, whoever you are.

The Coal Exchange is a stone’s throw from WNO’s home and directions can be found by visiting its website. But if you’re feeling too lazy to click on the last link the satellite photo below will show you how close it is if you’re umming and ahhing over going.

The Sleeper runs from the 15th of July until the 18th of July for eight performances. Tickets cost £11 and £6 (Under 30s) and are only available by ringing WNO on 029 2063 5030. There's a free post-performance talk after the Friday 9pm performance, to attend ring 029 2063 5030 to book your place. Performance length is approximately 75 minutes.

For those of you in the London area the production transfers to Riverside Studios in Hammersmith for two performances on Saturday the 13th, and Sunday the 14th of August. Tickets cost £6 (£4 concs) and can be bought by clicking here, or by ringing the Box Office on 020 8237 1111.

If you’d like to learn more then click here to visit WNO, or if you feel like contributing your own take on sleep you can visit WNO’s digital arm (WNO///3) at The Archive of Sleep.

Librettist Michael Symmons Roberts chats about the opera with glimpses of the set designs and rehearsals in the video beneath these words.

Friday, 8 July 2011

And so it begins...

Following last week’s take on La Traviata, this week sees the unveiling of my, as yet untitled, work / novel / story / yarn in progress. In a shameless effort to attract more readers to this post I will now type Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch, News International, Rebekah Brooks, News of the World, David Cameron, exclusive, the truth, tap dancing monkeys and free bacon butties if your name is Smith.

To read Chapter One click here you phone hacking sexy things. Seriously you can.

Coming soon... an actual post about WNO!

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Hot Off the Press

Apart from WNYO’s upcoming The Sleeper things are generally winding down for the summer at WNO (or at least they are for me) so I thought now would be the ideal time to announce a new sideline from Hairman Enterprises®™.

After two years of offering uninformed, vague, quite often embarrassing and wayward criticisms of singers, conductors, orchestras, directors and other audience members I felt it only fair that the tables were turned and I faced the music, which is why I am announcing the creation of two ugly sister blogs to the one you are currently reading. Collected under the titles Hairman Writes a “Proper” Story and Hairman Does a Bit of Poetry they’ll subject readers to examples of the finest writing money can’t buy, because no-one will publish them.

Hairman Writes a "Proper" Story will be published once every two weeks, taking in a chapter of Hairman’s new (circa five months) work in progress, a story with no title but a “fluid” plotline.

Hairman Does a Bit of Poetry will also be published once every two weeks, taking in Hairman’s stab at poetry – but with a slight difference. Shelving odes to hair curlers Hairman will re-imagine (and update) famous, and not so famous, opera characters. He might even take requests, but as this is poetry it could get a bit downbeat.

For those not too taken with swearing Hairman does drop the odd **** and ******* here and there in his writing. And no, his characters aren’t representative of his outlook on life.

Your reading shall begin with...

Sunday, 26 June 2011

WNO's Le Nozze di Figaro Available on S4/Clic

Rosemary Joshua (Susanna) and David Soar in the 2009 production - photo

In the build-up to Cardiff Singer I rather irritatingly missed S4C broadcasting WNO’s 2009 Le Nozze di Figaro starring David Soar, Rosemary Joshua, Rebecca Evans and Jacques Imbrailo. To make matters worse I even managed to miss the repeat broadcasts, and the behind the scenes documentary. Fortunately S4/Clic have got the whole caboodle to watch, although it will vamoose in twenty days or so. Click here for a crazy day and here for the documentary.

English and Welsh subtitles are available, and while the streaming quality isn't up to BBC iPlayer standards it's watchable enough. Although, just like the iPlayer, I'm afraid it's only available to view in the UK. Lluís Pasqual's inventive, if uneven, production returns to the WMC stage early next year with Soar and Evans reprising their roles and Elizabeth Watts (Susanna) and Dario Solari (Count Almaviva) joining the cast.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Lock up your Sons & Daughters! Artists of WNO Live and Unleashed...

You tell them the time, but a few will still insist on missing the bus - photo

Just a tad late in the writing, this post is here to let you know all about the World’s Best Chorus™ current tour to, in the immortal words of East 17, "the North, to the South, to the East to the West" of Wales. They'll be offering up bits and pieces from the worlds of opera, operetta and musicals. You can groupie to your heart’s content at the following venues (all concerts start at 7.30pm):

William Aston Hall, Wrexham 24th of June
Coliseum, Aberdare 25th of June
Galeri, Caernarfon 29th of June
Taliesin, Swansea 1st of July
Torch Theatre, Milford Haven 2nd of July

But that's not all. WNO, currently gigging in Wrexham, begins a celebratory residency at RWCMD to mark the opening of the college's new recital hall. The concerts run from the 28th of June until the 6th of July. Tickets and further information can be found here.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Hey, Sucka's! The Plan's Come Together!

The briefest of posts to let readers outside of the UK know that all the performances from BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2011 have now been uploaded to You Tube. And my laptop has pulled a groin muscle in the process.

Hope you all enjoy!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Digitally Replastered Director's Cut

Over the coming days, in response to the many requests I’ve had from distant shores, I’ll upload all of the competitors performances from BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2011 to my brand new, and more than likely soon to be neglected, You Tube channel. Unfortunately, for reasons beyond my technological ken, you’ll have to put up with my box like uploads, which you can stretch with that arrow sign thingy on the bottom of the player. They don’t don’t call me George Lucas for nothing.

Monday, 20 June 2011

BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2011 - The Grand Final

Meet the finalists - Meeta Raval, Valentina Naforniţă, Andrei Bondarenko, Hye Jung Lee and Olesya Petrova.

Final day is a funny old thing at BBC Cardiff Singer of the World. For the past week you’ve left reality behind and entered your own magical kingdom where music is all that matters, the nitty shitty gritty of the grown-up world a grey Otherplace where dreams go to wither the moment they are dreamt. And then comes Sunday. You’re aware that your idyll is about to become dreamland and that Otherplace will soon become reality, but you ignore the unavoidable future and cling for a few hours more to your singing pie in the sky land.

Apart from the bittersweet emotions there is another tell-tale sign that it’s Grand Final day, and that’s the increase in audience numbers. Having trotted along to the preliminary concerts I can say that the hall was roughly nine tenths full every night, with only the upper winged tiers not in full occupancy, which I didn’t mind as it gave me ample opportunity to roam around in – there are benefits to be had in being less flashy of the cashy, although whoever designed the hall obviously thought little of the little people as you have to abseil down to the previous floor for the loos. But come final day and suddenly the hall is bursting at the seams, even the iron bladder pauper section. Hardy folk we be.

Another handy aspect of being strapped into the heavens is that a) You get a wonderful balance between voice and orchestra b) You get to nose in on the rest of the hall, including the BBC presentation area manned by Petroc Trelawny. Apart from eye-spying his guests (tonight it was Nicole Cabell and Joyce DiDonato) keeping an eye on PT’s spot was also very handy for knowing when the singers or jury would be about to appear, as after he’d done his duty he’d speak into his mic and hey presto – action would break out onstage. Oh, and there’s also a c) You can spot the competitors turn up throughout the week to watch their fellow combatants when they’ve got free time, and then en masse for the final. I’ll now get a tiny bit sentimental. It’s a funny thing, but at the start of the week you hardly know these singers who come from all over the world, but by the end of the week you can recognize them from three levels (and much plumbing) away. And whatever your sex, you even begin to develop maternal feelings for them, and it’s at this point I’ll move quickly on…

Meeta Raval (England)

Timor di me? ... D'amor sull'ali rosee (Il trovatore) - Verdi
Sola, perduta, abbandonata (Manon Lescaut) - Puccini
Beim Schlafengehen (Vier letzte Lieder No 3) - R Strauss

It’s fair to say that the first finalist, Meeta Raval, was the surprise choice of the jury for the final, with some (at times) (overly) impassioned debates raging online about the worthiness of her inclusion that could only have heaped a lot of unwarranted pressure on the shoulders of a young singer. Saddled with this burden (I’m not sure if she knew about it, but for the sake of drama jump on board my train of thought with me) she was loaded down with yet another heap of responsibility, opening the final as she did the second concert. Now, personally speaking, I’d have been a bag of nerves and would have squeaked and squawked my way through the experience, but thankfully Raval isn’t me. Her performance in the final was an impressive step up from the Tuesday concert. The first thing that struck me immediately was how more at ease she seemed with her characters, drawing the audience in to her performance. Her Verdi was superb, deploying her big voice to great effect before paring back for the quieter passages all done with a great security and confidence. The same could be said of the Puccini, although she sounded dangerously close to over singing at a few points, although not on the marquee moments of the aria which were weighted with great precision. Her final choice, one of Strauss’ final songs, was a brave one considering what she had sung before. This really is glorious music, and she did it justice, though on occasions it felt as though she was losing steam as words were gripped instead of caressed. All in all it was a magnificent start to the final, and shows just what this singer is capable of doing now, with plenty more years in the tank to hone her skills.

Olesya Petrova (Russia)

Nyet, bit' ne mozhet! (The Tsar's Bride) - Rimsky-Korsakov
Re dell'abisso, affrettati (Un ballo in maschera) - Verdi
Voi lo sapete, o mamma (Cavalleria rusticana) - Mascagni
Habañera (Carmen) - Bizet

Luscious voice, with range aplenty Olesya Petrova had the audience in the palm of her hand in the opening concert, and so it proved again in the final. Being my personal favourite for the title I was relieved to see that my ravings of a few days ago hadn’t been blown out of all proportion, she really was this good. The opening Rimsky-Korsakov was a superbly sung introduction to her programme, bathing the audience with her substantial, yet lyrical mezzo. The thing I find so appealing about Petrova is that she’s so comfortable throughout her voice, from top to bottom and in her Verdi she showed off her chest singing to great effect. The Mascagni continued the great dramatic vein Petrova had decided on for her programme, and in lesser lungs cracks would have been appearing, but Petrova’s effortless technique was holding more than firm. Her final aria, chosen as something of an antidote to the angsty nature of her programme was sung with panache – never once did you fear she’d topple off her thoroughbred of a voice. But I was hoping for something else. Something more akin to her Saint-Saëns earlier in the week that would have allowed her to sing with freedom. But it was a glorious performance from start to finish.

Hye Jung Lee (South Korea)

Tornami a vagheggiar (Alcina) - Handel
A vos jeux, mes amis ... Partagez-vous mes fleurs! (Hamlet) – Thomas

The midway point of the final greeted Hye Jung Lee, performer of possibly the best performance of any aria throughout the competition with her take on Adams’ Mdm Mao. The last of the singers to cement her place in the final she must have had an action packed few days. She took on Handel with sprightly ease, her voice as precise as a sparrow navigating the canopy of a beech tree. Pleasant enough, I felt that it was more of a holding pattern of a programme choice before she tackled the Thomas, a reverse of her heat when she started off big and ended up small. I’ll be honest and admit that Thomas doesn’t appeal to me as a composer so I was less disposed towards her second choice of aria. But my likes and dislikes aside she was fearless once more in her approach, living very high in the air and it was only at the end, when tiredness began to creep in with the odd curtailed note, that her form dipped, not greatly, but enough to take her out of the running after what had been a week of extraordinary singing from her.

Andrei Bondarenko

Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo (Così fan tutte) - Mozart
O Carlo, ascolta ... Io morrò - (Don Carlo) - Verdi
Fin ch'han del vino - (Don Giovanni) - Mozart
Ya vas lyublyu (The Queen of Spades) – Tchaikovsky

The Song Prize Winner, Andrei Bondarenko, was the next to perform and an eager audience greeted him, Bondimania is going to be around for a long time. For many he has been the most complete package in this year’s competition, his acting and singing balanced wonderfully in service of the characters he plays. His first take on Mozart was what we had come to expect of this enviably talented 24 year-old and soon the hall was under his spell once again with Verdi, sung with his now customary intelligence and a voice that seems to do whatever he wants it to do. Before popping off for a quick drink he dropped in a sparklingly sung Fin ch'han del vino. The audience were suitably impressed and he left and returned to the stage with huge applause. Now, there is one thing that I didn’t take to with his singing on first encounter, and the same thing reoccurred again and that’s an exaggeration of his flickering vibrato when singing in Russian. It didn’t really put me off his Tchaikovsky but it did make itself aware to me. At this point I had him neck and neck with Petrova.

Valentina Naforniţă (Moldova)

Regnava nel silenzio (Lucia di Lammermoor) - Donizetti
Song to the Moon (Rusalka) - Dvořák
Je veux vivre (Roméo et Juliette) - Gounod

The final competitor was the soprano who I thought had won the third concert but who had been overtaken, in the ayes of the judges, by Bondarenko. For those of us lucky enough to have been in the hall that evening we sat with bated breath as it felt as though everything was going to come down to the wire, especially with her opening Donizetti. If I was going to parachute from outer space I’d at least do a few warm up jumps, but Naforniţă made a bold choice and started off with her toughest sing of the competition. As I’d said before her purity of tone, allied to a seamless transition made her something special in the first concert and she was in the same vein of form here once more. Her Dvořák was sumptuous, though not as sumptuous as I hoped it would have been. She ended with the Gounod, and like the previous two arias she appeared to be perfectly at home. In her first appearance on St David’s Hall’s stage she had bewitched through beautiful singing, and she had done the same again, but his time with a lot more variety in her programme. I had a three way tie in my head.

Off went the judges, and so did the flood alert call in Cardiff’s sewerage system when slightly large queues built up for the toilets – well, someone has to mention this side-effect of TV on the live studio audience strapped to their chairs for over two hours. Wandering around the bars I was hardly surprised to hear the same three names cropping up time and time again. I was running through a plethora of possible outcomes, secretly preferring it if either Petrova or Naforniţă were to win as Bondarenko had already pocketed the Song Prize. Then the Moment was upon us. Called back to our seats we had a fairly chunky medium sized wait until the jury made their way onstage. After a brief flirtation with one of those rambling speeches that can derail the best of parties the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize was awarded to Valentina Naforniţă. No sooner had she left the stage than John Fisher raised heart rates throughout the hall by saying, “And the winner is...” pause, “Valentina Naforniţă!” I don’t think there was a gasp of amazement in the crowd, as much as a slight gasp of welcome surprise at the result, not because that she wasn’t a worthy winner, but because sometimes being a bit good looking can go against you on times. No, I don’t speak from personal experience.

Then the bit you never get to see on TV – the singing of Hen Wlad fy Nhadau, which the BBC always want to pretend doesn’t happen. It’s one of my favourite moments in that for a few minutes the audience gets to sing for the competitors who’ve given so much throughout the week. It never fails to warm my curly locks to see the singers smiling (I assume) in appreciation at the sound of a few thousand voices aimed towards them, and knowing the kind of flower power gal that she is I guessed that Joyce DiDonato would as well, and sure enough, she had a rather large smile on her face.

Anthem done, it was time to leave, and after the customary log jam on the stairs, where we were treated to a close-up appearance of the winner (yes, she’s as jaw droppingly beautiful as she appears to be on TV) I made it out and headed back home in the Hairmobile, a mixture of happiness and sadness swirling around my bouncing curls. The week had been the oasis of joy it always is, made so by my fellow audience members and, of course, the singers. I was still mulling over the decision as the sun hit the mountains away in the distance (I’m going to get all sentimental from here on in) wondering how they had chosen between the three standouts in the final. And then, avoiding a lumpy looking pothole something that Mary King mentioned earlier in the week about not breathing when listening to a singer came to mind (not sure if it was Naforniţă) and I had a brief flashback to a moment during Naforniţă’s performance when I realised that I had been holding my breath for a while and it was then that I think I understood why it was the judges went the way they did. I would gladly listen to Bondarenko, and especially Petrova many times over, but on the night, for a few seconds, Naforniţă didn’t have me listening to her, she had me believing in her and the music in a way that I was no longer consciously listening, but simply feeling, and experiencing what it was she was doing.

And so it’s all over for another two years. A great week of singing, and making new discoveries, new points on the map to follow as careers take shape over the coming years, new bits of music that will blossom into new operas to be sought out and all thanks to the twenty fantastically gifted singers who flew into Cardiff from all over the globe. As I write the weather is closing in (again) and a steady drizzle is falling on the garden. Summer looks as though it’s taking another year’s leave of absence. But if I close my eyes and think back over the past week, catch threads of voices, remember a phrase turned this way or that way then the drizzle can meander as much as it likes, because thanks to what I’ve been given over the past seven days I’m singing in the rain.

BBC Cardiff Song Prize Final

It’s more than likely you’ll know the result of Friday’s Song Prize Final, but in case you don’t, here's a condensed version of the concert for your perusal, including the all-important decision. As (ill) luck would have it I couldn't make it on the evening, but you can pop over to Intermezzo to see what her reader, Carole, made of the final. And very soon, connection willing, I’ll upload bits from the Grand Final coupled with my thoughts on events.


Saturday, 18 June 2011

Who's your Money On?

The five finalists; Olesya Petrova (Russia), Andrei Bondarenko (Ukraine), Hye Jung Lee (South Korea), Meeta Raval (England) and Valentina Naforniţă (Moldova)

It goes without saying that my Cardiff Singer post today is lacking in something, a review of last night’s Song Prize Final, which I contrived to miss – short story, not worth going into at this moment in time. I’ll be settling down to watch it on BBC4 tonight at 7.30pm, but if you prefer to get (what I assume to be) the full version then BBC Radio 3 are broadcasting the final from 8pm, running a whole hour longer than the TV broadcast.

But it’s tomorrow’s final that I know endow with my slapdash attention, and sentence structure. As is custom, the final is shown live(ish) on BBC 2 and BBC Radio 3 from 5.30pm to 8pm UK time. TV viewers, and Petroc Trelawny, will have a trio of musical divas on hand dispensing wisdom and thoughts on the proceedings in the shapes of Mary King, Nicole Cabell and Joyce DiDonato. Radio listenes will have the double act of Donald Macleod and Iain Burnside.

In a rare act of You Tube bravery I’ve uploaded all the broadcasted performances of the five finalists from the preliminary rounds, this is for the aid of opera folkies outside of the UK who will be listening to the BBC Radio 3 broadcast tomorrow to give them some idea of what to expect. But it would really be handy if BBC considered making the competition available to followers outside of the UK. One look at my blog stats for this week would convince the Powers that Be of a huge potential audience away from these Sceptered Isles, or as I like to call the place, the Humpbacked Pig, for BBC Cardiff Singer of the World. In these days of global communications it’s odd that the last word in the title isn’t as fully embraced as it should be, but perhaps it could be by the time the next edition rolls around – the 30th anniversary of its inception. In order not to have BBC lawyers geting in touch I'll be taking the videos offline in a few days time, so catch them while you can.

Anyway, before I fall off my soapbox and fracture a follicle, here are your five finalists hailing from Russia, England, Moldova, Ukraine and South Korea. I hope the sound quality
does the singers justice since stuck, as I am, with my laptop speakers for company, I can't really tell if the sound is bravo! or buffo!

Who’s your favourite? I’m up in the air. At the start of the week I felt that Petrova would take some beating, and even though I still think that, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or two others pip her to the post - but it'll be some pipping to the post!

Friday, 17 June 2011

Brrrrrrring! Brrrrrrring! Time to Get Out the Vote!

Telephone lines have opened for UK viewers who want to have a say in who is their favourite singer at this year's BBC Cardiff Singer of the World. Renamed the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize in honour of the competition's late patron calls cost 15p from BT landlines, with a voting limit of five votes per household. Lines are now open and will close on Sunday at 11am. The winner will receive £2000 and a trophy. You can find the numbers for each competitor below, and full t&c here. To refresh your memory I've embeded the clips from the BBC website below. Who's your favourite?

The embed function isn't working on Meeta's video, so click here to see it.

The embed function isn't working on Susanne's video, so click here to see it.

Yup, the embed function isn't working on Helen's video, so click here to see it.

The embed function isn't working on Hye's video, so click here to see it.