Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Cardiff Singer of the World - Ding! Ding! Seconds out, round two!

Due to popular Pre Middle-aged Manband Take That playing the Millennium Stadium for two nights, I arrived in Cardiff at 4am to avoid the crush for parking places, armed with a few Paul Henry books, a traditionally stale batch of New York Bakery bagels, two bananas, a litre of water and a set of maracas to do some busking with.

Fifteen hours later and I lumbered into the hall, carrying the books, one stale bagel, a teensy-weensy bit of water, one maraca and £7.59 in busking royalties. I'd had to fend off a pack of profoundly inebriated Take That fans who’d mistaken me for Gary Barlow in Boots and lost the other maraca in the process. I wouldn't have minded if it had been Howard…

With the weekend crowds staying away there was room enough to do some limited roaming and I settled on a new vantage point for the second concert, this time with the Orchestra of WNO providing the backing tracks for the night, with Lawrence Foster at the helm.

Plying their for the evening trades would be…

Meeta Raval (England)

Signore, ascolta! (Turandot) - Puccini
La mamma morta (Andrea Chénier) - Giordano
How can I sleep ... At the haunted end of the day (Troilus and Cressida) - Walton
Mercè, dilette amiche (I vespri siciliani) – Verdi

Singing for her supper first of all Meeta Raval brought an array of characters to the stage, backed up by that most wonderful of things, an infectious personality. Her opening Signore, ascolta! was as daring a choice as fellow soprano Anna Leese’s the previous night. Mess it up and she’d be playing catch-up for the rest of the evening, but she negotiated it with aplomb, including the shrinking money note. And it was this sense of control that impressed me most about her performance, she was never tempted to sing beyond her voice, which would have been an easy thing to do in the circumstances.

Wang Lifu (China)

Hai già vinta la causa ... Vedrò mentr'io sospiro (Le nozze di Figaro) - Mozart
Der Tamboursg'sell (Sieben Lieder aus letzter Zeit No 2) - Mahler
Per me giunto ... Io morrò (Don Carlo) – Verdi

Waving the flag for China, and more importantly, for masculinity!!, Wang Lifu was the sole baritone blokey competing amongst a sea of hysterical sopranos. A wonderful tone to his voice he set off well with the Mozart, but then undid his good work with the Mahler. Yep, I’m going to talk about programme choices here. I can understand the temptation to sing the piece as the opportunity to sing it won't come around as often as a Marcello or a Figaro, but in a competition you need to keep good vibes going and I felt that he shot himself in the foot choosing the Mahler. Having said that he got back on track with the Verdi. Overall I enjoyed his performance, and think that with experience and more age in his voice he'll be a singer to look out for in the years to come.

Sasha Djihanian (Canada)

Da tempeste (Giulio Cesare) - Handel
Ach, ich fühl's (Die Zauberflöte) - Mozart
Me voilà seule ... Comme autrefois (Les pêcheurs de perles) – Bizet

The second soprano of the evening brought a broad programme to the stage, and the nicest dress of the competition so far I was told (eavesdropped) by a fellow audience member. Now, I come to most of these singers never having heard them before and I base my thoughts on what I hear onstage, which I guess is as it should be, so I found it curious to see Sasha Djihanian singing a Handel piece that I felt didn't suit her voice, making her sound quite lethargic. The Mozart was a different thing altogether, and I felt quite drawn to her full(ish) rich(ish) voice at this point, as I felt did the audience as a whole. However, the Bizet never caught fire for me, which was a disappointment as Djihanian quite obviously possesses a beautiful voice given the right material.

Olga Kindler (Switzerland)

Dich, teure Halle (Tannhäuser) - Wagner
Il est doux, il est bon (Hérodiade) - Massenet
Ritorna vincitor! (Aida) – Verdi

The third soprano of the evening was also the competition's Wonder Woman as until last week she wasn't penned in as a competitor, but due to Poland's Szymon Komasa being taken unwell she came to the rescue, and has done more than make up the numbers by progressing to the Song Prize Final on Friday. How would she fare on the big stage? Her Wagner was clean and direct, her Massenet wandered slightly – although this may well have been due to the fact that I wasn't overly familiar with it. Her Verdi was probably a mixture of the previous two arias. I'm not sure if nerves, an understandable lack of preparation or a running out of adrenaline after the past few days took hold but I felt that Kindler was a level or two beneath what he can be.

Marcela Gonzáles (Chile)

Bel raggio lusinghier (Semiramide) - Rossini
Crudel, l'immergerò pria nel tuo seno ... Barbara! (Alcina) - Handel
Je veux vivre (Roméo et Juliette) - Gounod

Blingtastic with a necklace that blinded me from 99 levels away Marcela Gonzáles, the last competitor of the evening, took to the stage with a slightly large handicap in that she was soprano number four and, worse still, very much under the weather having had to pull out of the Song Prize competition. So it wasn't unsurprising that her performance was a notch or two below that of the others, as she pushed her voice in compensation for her illness. I understand that this is a competition, and that judgements have to be made on what is heard on the evening, but it would have been a nice touch if the organisers had announced to the audience beforehand that Gonzáles was singing whilst unwell, after all this is what is done for singers in the opera house when they sing with infections. This wouldn't have had an effect on the overall outcome as the judges are far too experienced to be swayed by audience behaviour, and would have allowed the many audience members unaware of Gonzáles predicament.

And so that was it. Off went the jury members, and the audience began their own deliberations. I was stuck between two of the singers, Miss England and Miss Switzerland. Not sure of who I thought would win I began to do some star spotting in the audience below, catching sight of Gwyn Hughes Jones, Wynne Evans, Llŷr Williams and (I think) Nigel Kennedy, or someone who looked like him. Okay, so they might not be Beonce or Rihanna but they’re stars to me and if you disagree I'll take you on in a Permathon Challenge.

Anyway, also in the house was WNO’s new Grande Fromage, David Pountney as a guest alongside Mary “Hand me a Hankie” King for BBC4’s coverage. Future guests include Mark Padmore, Gerald Findley, Sir Thomas Allen (Song Prize Final) and 2005 Winner Nicolle Cabelle will be joining forces with Joyce DiDonato for Sunday’s final. (In case you're wondering I've decided to only bold the competitors, as it's the 20 singers who are the stars of the competition after all.)

After gleaning all this from the programme I pricked up my ears at the sound of applauding as the jury made their way onstage. John Fisher got straight down to the all-important announcement, “The winner of tonight’s concert is…Meeta Raval!” Cue cheers and applause and a visibly delighted Raval hitting the stage. It was, on reflection, the correct decision in my eyes as I trundled out of the hall, because, of all the competitors on the evening she was the one who gave me that most precious of things…sheer enjoyment.

Time for me to pack my maraca and bagels. Take That Pt II is on again this evening.

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