Friday, 17 June 2011

Cardiff Singer of the World - 4th Concert & Fab Five Announcement

I miss Take That. There, I've said it in public. I miss those daft lads and their enjoyable tunes. I miss their hordes of fans. Most of all I miss the giant kick up my backside they’d given me over the past two days, because without the terrifying thought of being stuck in traffic trying to find a parking spot I'd been in situ with plenty of time to spare. Tonight, with little worry in nabbing a parking space, I was just a bit late in getting to the hall, nearly missing the opening contestant.

But got in, I did, and so it was another night, with another new seating preference – but one with an obscured view of the big screen and I had to settle on using my own pesky eyesight for the final preliminary concert.

The singing was brought to the hall tonight by...

Enzo Romano (Uruguay)

È una cosa incredibile (The Italian Straw Hat) - Nino Rota
Non più andrai (Le nozze di Figaro) - Mozart
Bottom's dream (A Midsummer Night's Dream) - Britten
La calunnia (Il barbiere di Siviglia) – Rossini

Looking like David Villa’s older brother, Enzo Romano from Uruguay is that most unappreciated creature of the opera world, the character singer. His opening Rota was a shuffling, wise cracking character (or at least he seemed that way from my perch on high) from an opera I know absolutely nothing about, but after Romano’s performance I think I’ll try and track down a copy of it. While there is plenty of character in his singing, it lacked a tiny bit of strength, especially with his Figaro. And, as much as I enjoyed his acting, I felt that this strength was also a weakness. By this I mean that as his performance continued I didn't get a sense of differentiation between the characters he was singing, with his hunched shoulders and swivelling head on show for all numbers. Reading through all of this again you may think that I didn't enjoy his performance, but actually I did – I found him to be an engaging performer, and if he can tweak little bit here, and a little bit there he, could progress into being a more rounded performer.

Máire Flavin (Ireland)

Nobles seigneurs, salut! (Les Huguenots) - Meyerbeer
Parto, parto (La clemenza di Tito) - Mozart
Cara speme, questo core (Giulio Cesare) - Handel
Sein wir wieder gut (Ariadne auf Naxos) - R Strauss

Máire Flavin was the second of this year's competitors I'd had the opportunity to hear beforehand, with good impressions made that had me looking forward to her set. I’m not sure if nerves got the best of her to begin with, or if I was just a bit listless, but I didn’t catch on to her until the Handel when my attention was fully engaged. I’ve heard quite a bit of baroque rocking this week and this was up there with the best interpretations. But the topping on the cake came with her Strauss. Wonderful diction and carried easily over the orchestra to where I was sitting. And more on voices carrying later on in this post.

Leah Crocetto (USA)

Che il bel sogno di Doretta (La rondine) - Puccini
Sombre forêt (Guillaume Tell) - Rossini
Hear ye, Israel (Elijah) - Mendelssohn
Timor di me? ... D'amor sull' ali rosee (Il trovatore) - Verdi

The last competitor before the interval was the strongly fancied American soprano, Leah Crocetto. I will now utter the stupid comment of the day, so look away now if you don't like to see someone making a fool of themselves. Crocetto's voice struck me as being one of the most emotional I've heard all week. Not that other singers haven't touched me, but I had the impression the music she was singing meant a great deal to her, which will sound strange when I now go on to say that it wasn't until the Mendelssohn that my ears settled to her voice, an agile and burnished quality to it, almost with a hint of jazz to it. If there’s one thing I’d like to happen, it’s for her vibrato to straighten a touch, not much, just a tiny bit.

Davide Bartolucci (Italy)

Di Cupido impiegio i vanni (Rodelinda) - Handel
Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo (Così fan tutte) - Mozart
Bella siccome un angelo (Don Pasquale) - Donizetti
Una voce m'ha colpito (L'inganno felice) - Rossini

After the interval Davide Bartolucci took to the stage, in what appeared to be his big brother’s tails. It’s hard not to warm to Bartolucci, as even from my pigeon nest view he came across as an affable performer. He’s penned in as being a baritone, but I think that could be suffixed with bass as well as he struck me as having depth to his voice. Sticking strictly to Italian language operas he didn't do himself favours in the language department, but then other singers have done the same in the past so it wouldn’t have counted greatly if he had the lungs to make up for it. Unfortunately, tonight he didn’t quite have it. Pleasant to listen to he was missing that spark that make’s you really sit up. But give him, like many other singers in this year’s competition, a few years and he should develop into an interesting singer.

Hye Jung Lee (South Korea)

Grossmächtige Prinzessin ... Als ein Gott kam Jeder gegangen (Ariadne auf Naxos) - R Strauss
I am the wife of Mao Tse-tung (Nixon in China) - John Adams

The act of closing out the preliminary concerts fell to South Korean soprano Hye Jung Lee. With echoes of last year's eventual winner, Ekaterina Scherbachenko, Lee gambled on a lesser program quantity wise, although not as much as the Russian. What to say about the Strauss? Superb. She tackled the notoriously difficult aria with a light, laser like voice, but without any of the shrieking that can come with such an instrument. But for me, the highlight came with her Adams. While the Strauss had been stratospherically soaring, her Adams was a punchy, defiant piece of singing that never once wavered in her attack. The house was duly brought down.

Off went the jury to do their deliberations, this time with the extra weight of having to choose not only the night’s winner, but also the make-up of the final, with all 20 singers, regardless of if they had won their concert, or not, eligible for the final selection.

It's at this point I will now wander into the field of idiocy. Reading comments on Twitter and other blogs, I've been struck by the sheer dumbness of a few quotes aimed at some of the singers, and I thought I'd draw attention to the fact that watching on the TV and in the hall are two separate things entirely. Watching on TV you get to hear the singer in minute detail. Flaws in techniques, or simple mistakes are magnified tenfold, but what some TV viewers don't appreciate is that a TV audience aren't hearing a faithful representation of the performances, as the singers have a whacking great big orchestra right behind them. Watching concerts on TV, which I’ve attended in the flesh, I've been struck time and again by how quiet the orchestra are on the box, when in the flesh they are naturally playing far louder (not that they’re making gargantuan noise), which the singers have to contend with. In addition there is the obvious fact that nerves will undoubtedly be playing a big part for some singers. And lastly, these are young singers who are competing, not singers with twenty or thirty years worth of experience to call upon and to criticise them for failing to produce faultless singing is liking asking a 12-year-old athletics fan why they can't run a marathon faster than Geoffrey Mutai. As my old mentor, June "Touch my Curling Tongues and you Lose a Fingernail" Peters, used to say to me whenever a client criticized her cutting technique, “If they were so bloody great at cutting hair I’d be knocking off banks for a living.” I haven’t seen June in a while.

But back to announcement time. After a long delay, during which the eighteen competitors present (Anna Leese and Vazgen Ghazaryan were gigging elsewhere) were brought on stage and presented with a crystal bowl / vase, the jury returned with John Fisher saying, “And the winner is, Hye Jung Lee!” A fair result on the evening. Up until she sang I had Leah Crocetto in the lead but Lee’s performance was superb.

And then, without much further ado John Fisher announced the following names as finalists for Sunday’s big day…

Olesya Petrova (Russia)
Valentina Naforniţă (Moldova)
Meeta Raval (England)
Hye Jung Lee (South Korea)
Andrei Bondarenko (Ukraine)

I have to admit that I, like quite a few in the hall, was extremely surprised not to see one of Anna Leese (New Zealand), Şerban Gheorghe Vasile (Romania), Susanne Braunsteffer (Germany), Helen Sherman (Australia) or Leah Crocetto (USA) make the final, but as it always says in the fine print, the judges decision is final.

Best of luck to all five finalists for Sunday!

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