Thursday, 16 June 2011

Cardiff Singer of the World - 3rd Concert, "Better than sex in chocolate wellies!" says excited punter...

Captains log, star date 1506.2011.

I am currently floating in the troposphere around a planet called Utopia, a by-product of tonight's mission to the Bloody Great Music Nebula. Star Fleet had received reports of dangerously addictive music making taking place in the region and dispatched the USS Sloth to investigate and I, the commanding officer of the one-man crew, duly slumped out of bed in time to beat the pesky galaxy wide menace known to all as Take That groupies to a parking space in John Lewis.

Memorising the basic combat manual written by Capt James T Kirk, including the definitive Star Fleet guide to Maraca-Do – the ancient art of Klingon barroom fighting – I left the safety of my reconnaissance shuttle and headed out into the maelstrom of female groupies, making sure that the words Take crap are That stayed firmly within the confines of my mind. Then I...

...simply dropped the egotistical vein of writing and got on with telling the tale of a wonderful night, beginning with...

Susanne Braunsteffer (Germany)

Il est doux, il est bon (Hérodiade) – Massenet
Temerari ... Come scoglio (Così fan tutte) – Mozart
Un bel di vedremo (Madama Butterfly) - Puccini
Mercè, dilette amiche (I vespri siciliani) – Verdi

Hearing a fifth soprano in less than 24 hours (circa) could seriously damage your appreciation of the voice, unless you happen to run into a singer like Susanne Braunsteffer. From her first notes the audience settled in an oooh state of mind. Mixing culinary metaphors we were treated to a creamy, full-bodied voice with a homely top. It was difficult not to be reminded of another German soprano who'd competed here over a decade ago, and chances are she could be heading in the same direction careerwise. If there was one tiny drawback it was with her relative lack of low notes, most noticeable in the Mozart, but as I'm trying to remind myself, sopranos make their living in clouds, not on mountain tops. Glorious.

Helen Sherman (Australia)

Sta nell'Ircana (Alcina) – Handel
How can I sleep? ... At the haunted end of the day (Troilus and Cressida) – Walton
Una voce poco fa (Il barbiere di Siviglia) – Rossini

The unenviable task of following Braunsteffer fell to the Australian mezzo, Helen Sherman. Surefooted as an elegant, fire juggling, Olympic gold medal winning mountain goat in the boxing competition she took on Handel and more than lived to tell the tale. Her Walton served notice of her dramatic abilities, which ended with a much deserved pin drop hush. And to finish off she revealed yet another sphere of her repertoire with a spiky Rossini. Applause galore.

John Pierce (Wales)

Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön (Die Zauberflöte) - Mozart
Una furtiva lagrima (L'elisir d'amore) - Donizetti
Lunge da lei ... De'miei bollenti spiriti (La traviata) - Verdi
Je suis seul! ... Ah! fuyez, douce image (Manon) – Massenet

Next up was the endangered species of the opera world, a tenor. But just not any tenor, the home crowd's tenor, in shape of John Pierce. This is the third time I’ve seen him sing, so I already knew what to expect, a sweet voice full of character. One of my private reservations about his voice has been a lack of power (only by a few tenths) when the orchestra cranks up to 11, but tonight there was a noticeable change in this area, without losing the sweetness in his voice. His best moment came with the Donizetti, a role that appears to be well within his grasp as a performer. If there's one thing I would love to see him do more it would be to relax a tiny bit more when he's onstage, and to simply sing his character.

Valentina Naforniţă (Moldova)

Egli non riede ancora ... Non so le tetre immagini (Il corsaro) - Verdi
Glück das mir verlieb (Die tote Stadt) - Korngold
Amour, ranime mon courage (Roméo et Juliette) - Gounod

The Commandments of Hairman.

1) Valentina Naforniţă should be allowed to develop at a natural pace.
2) She shouldn’t be saddled with the “Next Netrebko” tag.
3) Peter Gelb should not be allowed to sign her for the next twenty years.

Unfortunately, with the exception of number one (she’s based in one of the meccas of soprano singing, Romania), the next two commandments will probably be broken at some point in the very near future. Going all Vogue magazine, the moment Moldova’s Naforniţă stepped on stage looking like Audrey Hepburn wearing Marilyn Monroe’s Seven Year Itch white dress, there was a palpable sense that she could be something special and I, along with the rest of the audience, sat for three unbelievably beautiful arias. Big sound. Delicate sound. Pure tone sound. She has it all. Judge for yourselves tonight on BBC4. I wonder if she likes Milk Tray?

Andrei Bondarenko (Ukraine)

Hai già vinta la causa ... Vedrò mentr'io sospiro (Le nozze di Figaro) - Mozart
Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen (Die tote Stadt) - Korngold
Vy mne pisali ... Kogda by zhizn domashnim krogdom (Eugene Onegin) -Tchaikovsky
Quella è una strada (Le maschere) - Mascagni

As emotionally exhausted as a eunuch in a Miss World competition, I applauded the Ukraine’s Andrei Bondarenko to the stage, and a sense of no more please! erupted within me as his booming, tailored baritone brought Almaviva to life on stage. Korngold was dispatched with romantic ease, Tchaikovsky the same, finished off with Mascagni’s Quella è una strada, probably not the most sensitive of aria’s to be written but one which allowed Bondarenko’s effortless comic skills to be added to his more dramatic acting abilities. If there’s one tiny criticism I can make, is that his fast, flickering vibrato, which I noticed (strangely enough) most of all in the Onegin, might not be to everyone’s taste. But ****, what a performer!

Time for my meandering thoughts as the jury go off to pick a winner for the evening. Tonight’s thoughts revolve around audience members. Particularly ones who decide to wear jewellery that makes you think a herd of opera loving reindeers are in the hall with you. This type of jewellery would be okay if you had your arm in a sling, or had covered it with three scarves and a winter woolly, but loud and proud on your wrist the sound carries. A lot.

Another thought is for audience members who like to WHISPER. Again, this type of behaviour is great if you’re in a pub discussing the whereabouts of sunken treasure or your career as an investment banker (ooh, look at me, so topical by a year!), but in a concert hall your WHISPERS aren’t VERY QUIET. In fact, they’re BLOODY IRRITATING and might garner you a visit from an Aeronautically Challenged Programme. But less of my moaning. Forward to the winner!

The heavy mob, led by Kiri D, make their way onto stage and with a few brief words in Welsh and English (peace out to my Welsh brothers & sisters for taking my words into consideration) Jonnie F says, “And the winner is, Andrei Bondarenko!” Cheers, applause galore, very happy baritone waving a crystal mug about onstage.

Was it the correct decision? Veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery hard to say. Wild west fistfights could have taken place on the stairs out of the hall if sardine tin mode wasn’t in effect judging by some of the conversations that were taking place. I’d say what probably clinched it for Bondarenko was the make up of his programme. It took in many facets of his character as a singer and showed him at his best. However, as I write this I can still hear Naforniţă’s Amour, ranime mon courage in my ears and I would be very shocked not to see her in Sunday’s final, and perhaps even one more from this evening’s concert.

Musical heaven.


  1. enjoyyyyy, and i am enviouuusssss, sniif sniffff :-(( i hope i get at least the catch ups on iplayer.. uuff!1 but really glad it's good!

  2. It's not been a bad few days :)) You'll be able to catch-up as long as you're back in the UK - the iPlayer, despite claims made earlier in the year, is still, infuriatingly, locked.