Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Cardiff Singer of the World - Round 1

As some of you may have noticed I haven’t been posting for a while, this is due to an old hairdressing injury that’s being a bit of a bugger. Unfortunately I’ll have to put the blog into long-term hibernation, but I thought I’d go out with a tiny bang and do some waffling about goings on in deepest, darkest Cardiff. However, please be aware that these ramblings may be cut short without any notice. And they’ll be even rougher than usual. But less of me, and more of…

The football season has finished, so has the rugby, the NBA finals have concluded and the Stanley Cup Final might well be about to finish if the Canucks can see off the Bruins in six, which leaves your average sports fan with a gap in the calendar. Usually this void until the Tour de France begins would be filled with flirtations with fitness, but thankfully this is the year of the odd (number) and so attention turns towards Cardiff, and their Singer of the World competition.

In attendance at the competition will be agents, and representatives of the big houses throughout the world, all on the lookout for future opera stars. Also in attendance will be a judging panel will know a thing or two about singing. As will the audience.

And then there will be me.

Or I should say, and then there was me, because I've just got back from St Davids Hall and I'm busy writing this with the aid of a bowl of cornflakes and a mug of Horlicks. So, the first night – what was it like I’m hearing you say as you sense a lot of meandering words coming from my keyboard. The answer, unsurprisingly, was very good. Very good indeed Mr Ambassador, because with these singers you spoiled us.

Tonight, the runners and riders were...

Anna Leese (New Zealand)

Song to the Moon (Rusalka) - Dvorák
Donde lieta uscì (La bohème) - Puccini
L'altra notte in fondo al mare (Mefistofele) - Boito
Mercè, dilette amiche (I vespri siciliani) - Verdi

First up Anna Leese. Let’s face it, who wants to open a singing, or any other competition? The audience is at the start of a mammothish week, your nerves are going to be playing havoc with you and by the time the 20th singer has sung you’ll be “What’s her name, the one at the beginning…” Oh, and you’ve just opened OHP’s Euegene Onegin the night before. Fortunately for The Leese she should be well remembered by the audience. The key, apart from a beautiful clean, clear soprano was her well-balanced, and slightly brave programme. I say brave because if you want to stamp your mark on a competition and announce your arrival most people would be inclined to go for a HELLO I’M HERE kind of number, but the choice of the Dvorák demonstrated a singer confident in her ability to take an audience with her, which she did with ease. My only tiny quibble would be that the lower part of her voice wasn’t quite enough to carry some of the lower passages, especially at the end of the Russalka.

Okay, I fell asleep and it’s now Tuesday. And I’m in a bit of a rush…apologies for the munchkiness nature of the following reviews.

Vazgen Ghazaryan (Armenia)

Il lacerato spirito (Simon Boccanegra) - Verdi
Son lo spirito che nega (Mefistofele) - Boito
Ves' tobor spit (Aleko) - Rakhmaninov
Studia il passo ... Come dal ciel precipita (Macbeth) - Verdi

Second up was Armenian bass, Vazgen Ghazaryan, with a mouth watering programme of some highlights in the bass repertoire. Owning a deep end of the pool bass he had a wonderful range, coupled with a chocolate chewable texture. An expressive performer he took well to the characters he had to perform, although his stunt whistling needs some looking at. Overall a very enjoyable singer, and one with lots of promise, but I would have liked a touch more variety in his programme to showcase his undoubted talents in a way more beneficial to him.

Olesya Petrova (Russia)

Adieu, forêts (The Maid of Orleans) - Tchaikovsky
Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix (Samson et Dalila) - Saint-Saëns
Acerba voluttà (Adriana Lecouvreur) - Cilea

I’m not one to shy away from making a fool of myself, but I think the winner may already have stepped on stage in the guise of Russian mezzo soprano, Olesya Petrova, the last competitor before the interval and the traditional breakdancing throwdowns took place on level 99. I’m going to bang on a lot about programme choice this week and Petrova’s was a master class in making all the correct decisions before a competition. That said, she could have sung the Spice Girls’ B-sides and still sounded sensational. For voice aficionados my quick breakdown – 20 Tog voice, breadth of range like the Veldt (low notes to mmmmmmmmmmmm for) and a voice so effortlessly natural it could get you arrested in Scotland. Any quibbles? She could have sung for another hour.

Maria Radoeva (Bulgaria)

Agitata da due venti (La Griselda) - Vivaldi
Bel raggio lusinghier (Semiramide) - Rossini
Quando m'en vo' (La bohème) - Puccini
Alleluja (Exsultate, jubilate) - Mozart

Once the block rockin' beats had died down it was time for Bulgaria’s Maria Radoeva to strut her soprano stuff. And strut it, she did. If I was to name her programme I would have called it Coloratura Mashup. Her breath control during the Vivaldi had me looking for an oxygen tank at the back of the stage and she’ll certainly be baroquing at a place near you in the future. My Negative Comment from Talentless Critic moment would be that I would love to see a touch more relaxation in her shoulders, which could allow a greater freedom to her sparkling voice – although this could understandably be put down to nerves.

Şerban Vasile (Romania)

Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo (Così fan tutte) - Mozart
Vien, Leonora (La favorita) - Donizetti
Vy mne pisali ... Kogda by zhizn domashnim krogdom (Eugene Onegin) - Tchaikovsky

Closing out the evening was Şerban Vasile, a Romanian baritone, from…Romania. I don’t know if he's a betting man, but if he is I hope his luck is better than it was last night. On most nights he would have been the winner, as he gave an assured and entertaining performance. His programme choices fitted him like a glove, especially the Donizetti and I would have no quibbles in dipping my hand in my pocket to see him on stage. Quibbles? His luck.

And so, as the jury went off to have a cheese and onion buttie and a flat can of Strongbow, the crowd sat and waited for the judgement. This interlude will allow me to point out a new development for the audience in the hall, and that's the introduction of a whacking great screen behind the orchestra, allowing you to see the competitors in close-up during their performances. This is good in one way as it’ll save a lot of neck craning and give you an idea of the performers acting skills. Buuuuuuuut, on the other hand, this could be a disadvantage to those singers who aren’t as clued up in the acting stakes as some of their fellow competitors. Just a thought.

But, lo and behold, the jury are now out on stage. John Fisher’s doing his bi-lingual bit*, now he’s bringing the house down with a short story about a vicar, a lion tamer and a stripper called Johnny Tripod, and now the percussionist is drum rolling with his kettle drums Roman galley stylee…the winner, is…, …, …, Olesya Petrova!

Not much guess work needed really. Despite the great performances of the other competitors there was only ever one name to be called out. You can catch her performance this evening on BBC4, or you can catch her now on the iPlayer with BBC 2 Wales’ nightly highlight shows, live from level 3 – the sea level level. Unfortunately for folks outside of the UK the iPlayer still isn’t available to you (I know), although you can (I assume) listen to a delayed recording of Friday's Song Prize Final on Saturday (and catch the Song Prize concerts on BBC Radio 3 beginning with the first concert) as well as listening to the final live on Sunday.

*Please, please can Welsh speakers not clap after every bit of Welsh. I’m a Welsh speaker but I’m aware that an English version will appear straight away, and it’ll save a lot of bulging bladders if we all applaud together instead of separately.


  1. Thanks for that. And one hopes the hair is back in tip-top form sooner rather than later.

  2. You're welcome, and the hair thanks you as well.