Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Trafalgar Trav/ Squillo Square.

I'll apologise for those poor quality puns later, and I hope you'll understand why.

So, earlier today, I was having a friendly disagreement about tennis via the internet. Not one of those adrenalin-fuelled 'I can't go to bed, someone on the internet is WRONG' deals, just a lazy, easy-going difference of opinion. A pal of mine was saying that the reason he dislikes tennis is the way this country goes mental for a fortnight, paints its face with a union flag (or, nowadays, a saltire) and screams about whatever Brit just about makes it into week 2. His point was that this was a lot of people who aren't interested in tennis for the rest of the year, and it was a good one. My point, which was better, was that tennis is ace and why shouldn't they have a fortnight of fun?

Anyway, as I sat in Trafalgar Square (yeah, you're beginning to get the puns now, hey? They're no worse than 'Henman Hill' anyway) I began to think about this. There is no doubt that the vast majority of the ten thousand people who sat in the sun, glugging Sauv Blanc, snacking on identical M&S or Waitrose party food, and watching Fleming, Calleja and Hampson in 'La Traviata' (final bit of pun slips into place) weren't all that interested in opera.

But, like the Henmaniacs, they were interested enough to give up an evening to sit and look at some people doing fab things on a screen. I'm ambivalent about the Traf Square audience- they talk too much, mainly- but as a fan of a minority interest I do get a thrill when so many people turn up for what I'm constantly told is something rarified and inaccessible. It's worth remembering, today of all days (more later) that 'high art', whatever that means, ought not to be anything to do with wealth, class, or age. I was encouraged by the mass media when I was a kid to know all kinds of songs off by heart. They were mainly by Stock, Aitken and Waterman, and I still know them off by heart. I also, thanks to some records my grandad left me in his will, was encouraged in a different way to listen to something called opera, and with the obsessiveness of the pre-adolescent learned all that stuff off by heart too. In those days, I couldn't really see a difference: I just loved what I loved. Now I still love the throwaway music of my youth, and the throwaway music I listen to now in my (*ahem*) early middle youth- but I know what's better. Look, on the tube home there was a nice girl opposite me who had just seen 'We Will Rock You'. She was bubbling about it. I don't mind the songs of Queen, as it goes. But I know that if she knew Traviata as well as she knew Bohemian Rhapsody she would have had a better night in the Square than at the Dominion. Does that make me elitist, patronising? So I'm told. I have a sneaking suspicion that my conviction that everything should be for everybody makes me the exact opposite.

So, Mrs Lincoln, the performance? Well. I should start by saying how wonderful Calleja and Hampson were, both as singers and actors (to my surprise, in the case of the former, as I'd heard he was a stick. He isn't. On a big screen the intensity of his facial expressions more than complement the extraordinary sound of his voice. It's been said, and it's not fair, but i'll say it too- he reminds me of Bj*****g). So yes, they were great. And Park-from-Cardiff was good, and Anina looked like David in his Mrs Danvers drag, which was unfortunate, but was good also. Yada. You want to know about herself, and I want to tell you.

A lot has been said about Renee Fleming, and I'm not about to add to it. Is she the greatest Violetta there has ever been? No. But she GOES for it. There is not a moment in which she isn't thoroughly committed, vocally and dramatically, to portraying the character as best she can. Now, I come to opera from an actor's perspective, I know. And the thing about some singers is that they don't. And that will always, always, annoy me. La F wants to play the part, and wants to sing it gorgeously at the same time, and goes all out to do so. Give me that over a canary any time.

I liked her in act one, a few silent-movie moments aside. I had been led to believe that she was going to blues the whole thing up, and she really really didn't. Stylistically it wasn't great, but it sounded like what she is- one of the most purely vocally gifted singers in the world. Even the scoopy moments seemed less egregious when you could see her- she wasn't just doing something vocally vulgar, she was interpreting the character by her lights.

In Act Two, her dramatic limitations became noticeable, and her vocal ones faded. An actor I once worked with told me that certain performers will never make it because, and I quote, 'they don't go to the dark'. Fleming acted up a storm in Act II, but her eyes were always looking at sunshine. It made me realise why I love this act the best, and why I love my favourite interpreters of it: their voices (ie Callas) or their eyes (ie Cotrubas) should tell you that to give up Alfredo is to look into the abyss. RF gave us beauty, sadness, melancholy- and that's ok, but it ain't enough.

Where she scored for me was in Act III. The letter is fine. Hammy, but opera hammy. Certainly not the disaster other folk would have you believe. 'Addio del Passato' was gorgeous, if again generalised. 'Parigi, Oh Cara/o' was ace- she and Calleja played it to and about each other, rather than cheek to cheek and staring at the conductor. But what I really loved about this Violetta was her raging against the dying of the light. I guess one of the stylistic annoyances people have mentioned is her propensity to go into a big Leontyne chest note at the drop of a hat, but by GOD it worked in 'Gran Dio, Morir si Giovane'. It's a rare Violetta who can get you with that bit, and she more than did with the rage and despair she got into the voice. Interestingly, the following 'Se una pudica vergine' section, where you would have expected her to have scored big time with lovely lyric floating, was- well, lovely, but left me dry eyed.

I've written too much now, but I wanted to make it clear that we probably shouldn't moan about Renee. There's such a voice there- SUCH a voice- and an artist who is giving her best in the service of the work, which if it sounds like faint praise shouldn't, because she is so often accused of the opposite. And we should treasure and look after Calleja, because he is major. And Hampson is Hampson, and that's also cause for celebration. And- one last shot on Traviata- in the 1850s they had to put in a dull chorus/ballet about matadors or something to keep the crowd interested. In 2009, we want it to go away so we can get the story back. That interests me. We have bitten the bullet and cut Shakespeare, after all- do we really have to sit through any more half-hearted skirt swishing or campy matadors? Cut it.

So, yeah, I enjoyed the tennis and I enjoyed the opera. So did a lot of other people, here and there, and that can only, basically, be good news.


There's no arch, flippant way to segue to this, so I won't bother. Today would have been my father's 73rd birthday. If you would like to find out how ace he was, you can do so here.

Happy, happy birthday, daddy. I love you. I miss you more than language has the ability or the need to express.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

On hitting and missing.

Well, I'm on a train with magical free wifi, so I might as well use it. It's rather unreliable though, so don't be surprised if I suddenly

Heh, did you see what I did there? I done a joke. And of course some other jokes that I done are being broadcast on tv at the moment, to what is a so far a satisfyingly positive response. Of course I hold in my mind the excellent advice my late father gave me- 'never take any notice of the bastards, even if they praise you'- but for this particular series I was interested in what the critical response might be, since David and I had written a sketch about it (from a table idea from, I think, Toby- but I may be wrong about this). Anyway, most previewers and reviewers neatly avoided the trap-for-heffalumps which was 'Behind the scenes- Hit and Miss' (the only one who fell squarely in was of course the doltish Sam Wollaston of the Guardian, who is beginning to approach pathological hatred for R and D. Did one of them push him off his bike or something?).

It was fun to write and the boys clearly had fun performing it, but on reflection we missed one trick. It strikes me that the response to any sketch show from Python to Horne and Corden is so subjective that it's kind of pointless to opine that one liked or disliked any particular sketch. Take Sir Digby- there are as many people who can't stand those sketches as there are people clamouring for one every week. If one hadn't seen the show, to read all the reviews, not to mention the internet scuttlebutt, would leave one unbelievably confused about what was and wasn't funny.

So, yeah, reviewing sketch comedy is so very subjective as to be a waste of time. Got that, critics? Off you pop, then.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Fysga Bennau

Google translator tells me that this is the Welsh for 'loose ends', but then google translator, as the Armstrongs will tell you, can be unreliable. 'Do a lot of people in France have music academies attached to their houses?'

Anyway, having spent so long on the Cardiff heats I thought I ought really to dot the tees and cross the eyes. So- I didn't see the song prize, but Martinik won it. I'm glad about this, I like him. As even the stupidest person alive could have guessed, young Luca won the audience prize, despite being one of two singers (Nakamura being the other) who didn't quite cut it in the final. Martinik did a good job, but it became clear that this was a two horse race between Mynenko (a bit of (dull music, nicely sung) Broschi, the Serse aria which belongs to judge Ann Murray, and Tanti Affetti) and Scherbachenko (a good but not stunning Jewel Song, a heartrending and beautiful 'Signore Ascolta', and a rip-roaring 'No Word From Tom' (hurray!- oh, and while I'm at it, Nakamura did Cacilie, so finally, finally we had some Strauss). I would have been happy had either won- and Scherbachenko did, which on balance was probably right.

Now then, if you want to hear Mynenko sing the queen of the night to a disco beat, pop over to parterre where you can do exactly that. It's not a recording which does much to disspell the idea that all counter-tenors are gay*.

And yes, I know you now have permission to shoot me. So shoot me.

*usual disclaimer- apart from Andreas Scholl

Friday, 12 June 2009

Diffcar (anag)

I hope we get some Strauss tonight. Ridiculous that there hasn’t been any. Other surprises- no Rusalka, no Lauretta, no Violetta, no Cherubino…

Mary King again, with Hazel/Rebecca. I suppose I’ll have to chance my arm tonight and predict my final five while the judges are deliberating. Well, Nakamura will be there, and Scherbachenko, and probably the Ukranian male soprano, which leaves two more places to be fought for by Park, Lucic, Martinik and tonight’s five.

First up tonight we have New Zealand bass Wade Kernot. He restores vintage cars. This is more interesting than singing. Everyone loves vintage cars, right? Sigh. Reminiscent of Jon Favreau (the actor, not the speechwriter). Kicks off with Madamina. His Italian isn’t great but he brings a lot of character to it and- heavens- actually gets laughs. Voice sounds ok, but it’s hard to tell in this, which I would categorise as a personality aria rather than a voice aria (categories: writer’s own). However, he fills out the ‘maestosa’ stuff nicely. Now he’s going to do something serious, apparently, which this year means Fiesco. Much more of a true bass than last night’s winner, nice rich dark chocolate sound- and the first of our three Fieschi really to nail the last note. Very good start. Mary will love him, she loves a bass. But no- both King and Evans think he’s better up top, and he’s forcing a register break. Can’t say I felt that.

Helen Kearns- Irish Soprano. Talks about singing, and hey, it’s interesting. Josie please note. Another coloratura, another Regnava, so she’ll be in direct competition with Ivanova, who as promised I haven’t stopped banging on about. But no- she’s a lyric, not a coloratura soprano, richer and maybe more varied of voice than Ivanova. Not as agile, though, nor as pure of tone, but still this is very very good and hey, there’s room for both in the world, if not in the final. She’s good enough to win tonight on this evidence, but then so was the kiwi bass. If I’m honest she finds a lot more in this aria than Ivanova did, but isn’t as reliably lovely of tone or precise of noodle. Does some nice things at the end. Now for some Stravinsky- the Rossignol. Question- why hasn’t someone done ‘No Word From Tom’? In fact, why isn’t she doing it now? Because this is lovely, lovely singing of a number I’ve always found a little arch and annoying. Yeah, she’s better than Wade.

Giordano Luca- Italian Tenor- youngest competitor at 21. Born 1988. Are you kidding me? Che Gelida Manina, of course, and very nice it is too. Sappy and youthful. A larger gentleman, his gestures remind one of another slightly overweight Italian tenor of recent memory- one doesn’t imagine him to be an electrifying actor. But this is lovely swoopy romantic Puccini singing, even if he doesn’t quite bloom up top as he ought to. Can’t resist forcing a bit on ‘la speranza’ so no doubt he’ll be singing Radames next year and things will go all Villazon. Follows it with a gorgeous, light but impassioned version of the Lombardi aria. He’s going to win tonight. Finishes with a pretty unimpeachable ‘Pourquoi me reveiller’ and this is a part I would love to see him play, if I were the type of person who went to see people play Werther- and not yet. There are bags of potential here.

And now a new country. Ha, Andorra. Well, he’ll put 10 men behind the ball and commit little niggling fouls behind the ref’s back. Mark Canturri, a baritone. He’s starting with Gounod’s R&J, because although I missed the memo there’s a new law that everyone must sing it all the time everywhere. It’s ok, nothing special. I am beginning to get slight singer fatigue, to be honest, it’s all becoming a bit of a blur. He’s neither the best baritone in the competition (IS there a best baritone in the competition?) nor the worst. Next is Deh vieni alla finestra, which is better than the Hungarian chap’s (but then so was my father’s funeral) while not being particularly special. He sounds a little ragged up top, if we’re being hyper-picky. And finally- oh, please. Korngold twice and no Strauss? I suppose it was the responsibility of the sopranos to give us a bit of RS but it seems a little mad that we’re getting Tote Stadt for a second time when we haven’t had any Ariadne. He sings this nicely enough, but he’s faceless. Ends it beautifully.

So, the last of 25- Dora Rodrigues, Portuguese Soprano. No doubt she’ll do Mein Elemer, Da Geht er Hin, and Es gibt ein Reich, just to make me look stupid. Nice and bubbly in interview. Donde lieta usci. Don’t like the first phrase- sounds careful and music boxy. Nope, Luca’s won this, and this before Dora has got to the word ‘fior’. She’s a polished enough singer, and emotes nicely, but the tone isn’t quite to my taste. Has an odd tendency to coy, pecky little staccati, as if she were a particularly 15-year-old Butterfly. Giuditta next, which should give her a chance to show what kind of stage animal she is. Ah, sideways glances and eyebrows, is the answer, like someone who has had the word sexy described to them by an inarticulate person. Other than that, she’s good. There’s nothing wrong with this, just doesn’t blow me away, that’s all. And in fact that’s something of a theme of this evening, and why Luca will win it- other than his performance it’s all been a little safely unspectacular. I’ll look out for Kearns though, she’s got something.

So, time to put my neck on the line. The finalists will be Luca, Nakamura, Mynenko, Scherbachenko and Ivanova. If not Ivanova, Lucic or Martinik or, at a pinch, Kearns, or a pincher, Park.

Now lets see if I’m right *bites nails*

1) Luca wins
2) Finalists are the five heat winners. So I am going to give myself 4 and a half out of 5, and now I’m going to have my dinner.

I won’t be around for the song prize tomorrow night, as I shall be out doing young person things, or the final, as I shall also be doing young person things. So you’ll have to fend for yourselves from here on in.

And if you see me blogging on opera again in the next month or so, you have permission to shoot me.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

I went for an audition there in 1995 but it went badly because I dried

(I'm running out of Cardiff-themed clues. Tonight's title has the virtue of being true, if not that of being interesting)

Night the fourth. Tonight’s heat is of course very much of a curtain raiser for the first episode in the new series of THAT MITCHELL AND WEBB LOOK on BBC2 at 10pm. And there is tonight’s plug dealt with. I’ll stop doing that now.

Mary King is back, which is good news on the evidence of previous nights. And look- Gerald Finley. There’s real star-gathering clout.

So Catherine Teare kicks us off- Aussie mezzo. Let’s hear from Josie how she actually wanted to be a lion tamer or a psychic juggler or something. No- crikey- maybe she actually wanted to be a singer. She’s starting with ‘Dopo Notte’ which is nowhere near the quality of Stephany’s from the other night, technically or tonally. She’s also come as Christine Baranski, for some reason. This is not an attractive voice- plummy at the bottom, shrill at the top. The voice is much, much better suited to ‘Im Treibhaus’. This is clearly her rep, and it’s demonstrating something of a theme in Cardiff this year- people singing stuff they think they ought to rather than stuff that suits them. She really oughtn’t to have gone anywhere near the Handel. But even the improvement in the Wagner doesn’t hide what for me is an unspectacular voice. I suspect she has a lot of Siebels and Lolas and Mercedeseseseses ahead of her- well, and Lene and Erda and all that stuff, especially as her post-show interview reveals that she has a touching and gibberingly bonkers admiration for Wagner.

Javier Arrey- Chilean Baritone- like the Russian soprano the other night, Javier doesn’t get a chat with Josie before we hear him sing. He’s starting with Rodrigo’s death scene from Don Carlo, but I’m sure we’ll hear him roaming the streets of Seville before too long, telling us about his cucagnas. This isn’t good, in the same ballpark as the Hungarian who gave us this aria last night, before we gave it back. Arrey is similarly choppy, similarly undistinguished of tone, and on a couple of phrases suffers from a big old attack of smoker’s breath. Ahime! he says as he dies, Monteverdianly. A Dvorak psalm reveals only that his voice isn’t any lovelier when it’s less forced. Sorry, son. Stick to- I’m trying to think up a lazy cultural stereotype for Chile- um, stick to being somewhere where planeloads of Uruguayan rugby players crash land and eat each other. That’ll do. He finishes with ‘Vedro, mentr’io sospiro’, which is better tonally, but still dullish- until a bunch of triplets which end up more like twins. Ha ha ha indeed.

Help, what’s going on? King and Finley love him. Really, really don’t get that. At all.

Blimey, the welsh contestant is 22. I didn’t know people were allowed to be 22 any more. Natalya Romaniw, late of Guildhall, about to head to Glyndebourne as a cover. ‘Padre, Germani, Addio’ a nice unhackneyed choice to start. Does a good job with what is, if I’m honest, not the greatest recit accompag Mozart ever wrote. She’s technically strong (at least during the recit), and is feeling the words without overdoing it. I prefer a richer voice than this in Mozart, though- she’s a little thin of tone for my taste, and purely beautiful moments are few and far between. Well, actually, there aren’t really any. There are a couple of moments, too, when it feels as if the sound isn’t the one she intends to make which shows that HA HA PEOPLE IN THEIR THIRTIES ARE BETTER. Sorry about that. Tuning is a little awry towards the end, too. I don’t want to harp on about the age thing, but she just doesn’t sound ready to me. She follows this up with yet another Gounod Juliette. Better, and again nicely animated, but still thin of tone- more like Deanna Durbin or Jeanette McDonald, or someone like that, that 30s Hollywood soubrette flutter. A few unlovely shrieks at the end, and then a bit of a write-off at the finish.

Mary King has turned into Elizabeth Watts, who ought to have washed her hair if she knew she was going to be on telly. That’s the only criticism of la Watts you’ll hear from me, however, as I love her to bits. Finley is enrolled in a different charm school from Tom Randle- he manages to avoid praising Romaniw without slagging her off either. Backstage, the singer herself isn’t happy, which is honest of her and I guess encouraging.

Now the American entrant, Vira Slywotsky, who is going to be singing ‘Non mi dir’ by the sound of the rehearsal clip. She’s full of personality. Fuller, turns out, than of voice- they’ve cut straight from her charming Josie into the middle of ‘Non mi dir’ and it’s an unlovely sound. Am I grumpy tonight, then? I thought I was last night, but tonight here we are at singer 4 and I haven’t heard anyone I like. Slywotsky isn’t entirely comfortable with pitch, the tone quality is acid, the coloratura a little like that famous Elinor Ross clip, and although she’s bringing her personality to bear on the aria and really, really selling it, someone needs to tell her she’s playing Donna Anna, not Mame. Not good at all, and it’s sad because on the basis of her interview I really wanted to like her. Plus all the best Donna Annas are American anyway. Oh, a segue has presented itself, and it’s Steber-based- Vira’s giving us some Vanessa now, and it’s much, much better. Reminiscent, actually of Steber, in a way the Mozart never, ever came close to being. She used to be an actor apparently (didn’t we all? Mustn’t get bitter…) and it shows in this selection. The tone still curdles unpleasantly under pressure, though. She’s met Sondheim. Bitch.

We finish with Czech Bass Jan Martinik, and he’s better be good because otherwise nobody wins. He is apparently seventeen feet tall. Fiesco again. Nice enough, but not for me up to the same standard as the Croatian who sang the same aria last night. The voice seems to me a little light for Verdi at this stage- there are plenty of phrases which, if you strolled into a room and heard them out of context, you would assume were coming from a baritone. And lo, it comes to pass that the end of the aria reveals that his weakness is at the bottom of the voice. Now we’re getting ‘Vecchia Zimarra’. I’m a sucker for a correctly aged Boheme, so he gets points right away for this. The lightness helps, here, of course, and he makes a lovely job of it- catching just the right sense of melancholy in the chromaticisms (a musicologist writes). He should probably win based on that alone, since it’s the only entirely successful performance of any single piece all evening. He’s finishing with Rachmaninov’s Aleko, a work I of course know from nave to chops. Again, lovely singing, again very very baritonal. He gets oceans of emotion into it, too- or rather, this being Rach, rides along on what’s there. If I were a judge (and I am, I’m Giacomo Aragall, I reckon) he’d win tonight, but would be pipped to the final by Ivanova from night one, and no, I’m not going to stop going on about her.

The judging gap is filled by Josie talking to lovely Rebecca Evans, who is standing in a trench, or teeny. In fact, she looks unsettlingly like Hazel Blears. Finley and King go for Martinik, so I hope that whole Chile thing was a blip.

Hurrah, Martinik wins. Now I must dash, as I have various things to do before 10pm, when I shall be settling down in front of BBC2, and so will you.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

FA Cup Finalists 2008

A smashing day in the studio today. People who like Elizabeth Gaskell, or people who like the Radio 4 Classic Serial, will be in for a right old treat in August. That's all I can say at this point but watch this space.

And while we're plugging, there's episode 1 of series 3 of That Show I Work On tomorrow at 10pm.

But, those of you who are clever will have parsed the title of this post. So here are my reactions to tonight's heat.

Tomislav Lucic- Croatian Bass- Another looker. Is careful to tell us how he didn’t want to be an opera singer- that’s actually getting annoying now. Starts with Fiesco, and shows up the Argentinian from the other night by having as mellifluous a sound, but getting real intensity into it. Follows it up with Madamina, which is a wee bit earnest to start with but develops into a very characterful performance with a nice vein of sleaze to it. Yep, like him.

Izabela Matula- Polish Soprano- Wanted to be a dancer. Sigh. Starts with Pamina, which is brave, I reckon. Horrible green dress but lovely lyric soprano. Ooops, makes a hash of the first high arching phrase on ‘Ewig hin der liebe gluck’, and is a bit worried and careful thereafter. Pulls something out of the bag for the end but I think the damage may have been done earlier. This is what I meant by ‘brave’- ‘Ach ich fuhls’ is one of those pieces of simple beauty which has to be basically perfect. Follows it up with ‘Herodiade’. Nice enough but still a little careful; good legato line and pleasant basic tone but doesn’t excite either vocally or interpretatively.

Csaba Szegedi- Hungarian Baritone- Does a cheeky adjustment of his bow tie in the little ident, doing all but wink. Figaro is the only role he has ever sung with an orchestra, which would suggest we are to be treated to ‘Largo al Factotum’ for the third time in three nights. Josie tells us that he’s actually a very good salsa dancer so gets him to demonstrate. Has anyone told her that they’re here to FUCKING SING?

You. Will. Not. Believe. This. There is now a little film insert of people who have sung ‘Largo al Factotum’ over the years. Just in case we haven’t heard it enough. This seems like a good time to switch over to the football. I’ll watch the rest later.

So, back to Szegedi. You can guess what he’s singing. He chooses to start offstage, like the South African guy did last night, and, also like him, comes on and overdoes it. Lots of twinkling and smiling but equally quite a bit of subpar singing. He almost sounds out of breath. His Italian is a little Budapestish. Hmm, no. The voice itself is charmless, and all his bells and whistles can’t hide that. And a DOUBLE falsetto in the ‘Figaro, Figaro’ bit, which ought really to be a red card. Perhaps I’m grumpy tonight, reading back what I’ve written about these first three singers, but I really think the standard is significantly lower than the previous two nights. Things don’t improve with ‘Deh Vieni alla Finestra’, which is equally overdone, equally charmless, and (I’m about to use a proper grown up opera word for the first time ever, so pay attention) a little pitchy. Rodrigo’s death scene was better because he stopped ‘performing’ and engaged emotionally with what he was singing. Still not a fan of the voice, mind.

Someone didn’t tell Tom Randle the rules- he’s the first expert summariser to dare some genuine criticism of a singer- he kind of gives Szegedi both barrels.

Now then, excitement. We have a counter tenor. Yuriy Mynenko, from Ukraine. Starting with Va Tacito, which is a pleasing (although on reflection, unsurprising) choice. Lovely bit of horn playing. This chap has charisma- first of the night that you actually sit and watch, as well as listening to. Technically very good. Not the most refulgent counter tenor but an interesting tone quality. Very musical, lovely legato, elegant ornamentation, smack in tune. We like. I’d say at this point it was between him and the Croatian bass, which is appropriate since England have just won as I watch this and both Croatia and Ukraine are in England’s group. There. Opera AND football. Anyway, back to the Handel- this is really very very good indeed. The hall likes him, too. He’ll need some fireworks to get through though, I recOH MY GOD HE’S DOING PARTO PARTO. I have never heard a man sing this before. And it is BRILLIANT. Beautifully phrased and more impassioned than I can remember this aria in a long time. If he nails the tricky stuff at the end he’ll bring the house down. Which he does, and he does. Wonderful. Randle compares him to Troyanos and Horne, and it’s a comparison which comes close to holding up.

Claire Meghnagi- Israeli Soprano. Father a cantor. Immensely likeable in interview. Starts with ‘Deh, vieni’, another one of those simple arias which has to somehow engender rapture. She’s bright, responsive, charming. The tempo of the aria is a little rushed for my taste, which makes it hard for her to engender the right kind of magic. She has a good go at it though. Like Mynenko, she phrases beautifully, and the tone quality is lovely, too. The first ‘incoronar’ is nearly lovely, but goes a little awry. She finishes the aria very nicely but there’s no moonlight. Yay, we’re getting some Poulenc! Mamelles de Tiresias, to be precise. Hurray for Miss Israel. This gives her personality full rein and she lets rip- she’s more imaginative and daring vocally than she was as Susanna. She’s really projecting the character, too, you wouldn’t need sub or sur or any other kind of titles. I’d still give tonight to the counter-tenor, although it does emphasise the whole apples v oranges aspect of this kind of competition. Probably let herself down with some serious squall on high towards the end, too.

King and Randle reckon it’ll be our male soprano, too- and good, because it is. Would be nice to see the bass in the final, but I suspect that he’d be pipped by both of the winners of the first two nights. This is fun!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

It's Shirley Bassey, isn't it?

Watching TV after a hard day of rewriting about three jokes, it suddenly struck me that I had sky plussed the first heat of 'Cardiff Singer of the World' last night. I became mildly obsessed with this competition in my adolescence, in its bi-annual appearances. I remember (ok, this is where you decide I'm weird) that I read a nice article in the Guardian once about how they all had fun and went out drinking together between concerts, really just a puff piece, and for some reason I covered said article in sticky backed plastic and blu tac'd it to the wall next to my bed. Perhaps everyone's quite weird at 14, but really, it's no wonder I used to get beaten up, is it?

So, anyway, I love CSOTW, and thought I'd write a bit about it on here. I'm aware that this is turning into more and more of an opera blog, which was never the intention. There are other people who do that much, much better than me, for one thing. But, what can you do? The football season is over, I haven't got anything to plug (that's Thursday, when That Mitchell And Webb Look returns to your screens with more material of mine than ever before. Oh look, I did have something to plug) and none of my neighbours have played Afroman loudly late at night for a few weeks. We have a new floor in the hall- should I tell you about that? Besides, BBC4's coverage of Cardiff is a great way to get into opera. Just don't laminate anything.

When I was rambling on about Cosi and Trov, I was frustrated that I couldn't remember half the things I'd thought at the time. So tonight, watching last night's heat, I just typed as I watched. It may not be coherent but it's immediate. Or something. And now tonight's heat is starting. Balls. I'm falling behind. Anyway- last night's mob.

Josie D’Arby doing backstage interviews- wtf? Still, she was an unexpected addition to ‘Look Around You’ and she was great in that, so I’ll keep an open mind.

Etienne Dupuy- Canadian Baritone- words that cause the heart to flutter with adolescent memories of Gino Quilico *reverie*- This one is full of personality, lovely voice but nothing to make me sit up and take notice. I’m kind of allergic to Papageno, though, especially out of context. Oh look, he’s finishing with Largo al Factotum. I’m so pleased. Slightly odd Beatlemania screaming from the audience at the end.

Dana Bramane- Latvian Soprano- apparently inspired to be a singer by hearing Whitney Houston aged nine, which makes me feel old. She doesn’t think she’s going to win, likeably enough. Sounds nice in the rehearsal clip of ‘Donde lieta usci’ which is her opener. Oooh yes, I like her. Very Slavic sound, but of the light, bright, forward, Vishnevskaya- type, rather than the ‘please stop clouting me with your vibrato and go and sort out that samovar’ type, which can get wearing. Cor, it’s ‘Mi Tradi’ next, which is brave, and unexpected. Very nice it was too, although she chucked in a vulgar high note at the end. I liked her a lot, though, and she’s certainly first in the field of two at the moment. Mary King’s talking about a register break, which I didn’t hear, but hey, I’m not a voice teacher.

Fernando Javier Rado- Argentinian bass- cuteish (‘opera cute’ to borrow a savagely accurate phrase from someone else) He’s doing Philip II, which is a brave choice when you’re like twelve*. I suspect, by the way, that age will be a running theme in these notes. This is the first Cardiff where I’ve been conscious of being older than the singers. But in this case it’s relevant- he’s singing beautifully but all we’re getting facially and vocally is ‘I think this man is probably sad’. Followed by ‘Non piu andrai’, which was finely sung but again dullish. So, if he swiped his card, he’d see for voice: ten, for oomph, three.

More high pitched screaming for him from what seems to be an almost entirely female audience. What do gays do in Wales, then? Rugby maybe. Oh, and there was that one in Steps.

Wow, Kurt Moll’s on the panel. And Gwyneth Jones. Cool.

Emiliya Ivanova- stunningly beautiful Bulgarian soprano. Coloratura by the sound of the rehearsal clip. Initially wanted to be a pop star- hmm. She’s doing ‘Lucia’- Regnava nel Silenzio. If you can carry this off, love, you’ll probably earn more of a crust than most Bulgarian pop singers. Oh, and sack your stylist. Now, this is lovely singing. She can act, too. Easy winner so far, you’d be happy with this in a major house. Although I have to go to sleep for a moment now because it’s Donizetti. Seriously, so far ahead of the rest it’s not funny. Confirms this with a lovely version of Juliette’s Waltz Song. Would be lovely to hear her sing something, you know, interesting.

Eri Nakamura- Japanese Soprano. Josie D’Arby is completely redundant, by the way. She just asks them one by one ‘how did you decide to become an opera singer’, and then grabs them as they come off to ask ‘How did that go?’ since she patently has no idea. More Donizetti.- the Don Pasquale aria. Overdoing the soubrettish laughs- looks and sounds sinister. Good though- plenty of personality, strong technique. The voice doesn’t do as much for me as Ivanova’s does, although I have a sneaking suspicion she’s going to pip this as she’s more extrovert. And now more Juliette- but ‘Dieu, quell frisson’ this time. No doubt she’s impressive, but I don’t actually like the tone quality. And she went a little sharp on the last note. Pick pick pick. She’s super-dramatic facially and gesticulatively though, which will go down very well live. King and Neal Davies are big fans.

Josie D’Arby- ‘this is a bit like the Olympics, isn’t it?’. Now she’s talking to Connie Fisher, who is telling us that eyes are more important than voice. Chew on that, parterre.

Nakamura wins. There’s still hope for Ivanova, though, as the finalists aren’t necessarily the heat-winners. Hope she gets through. Now for tonight’s lot. I'll put all the subsequent heats in as comments, so people don't have to wade through them. And so I can decide not to bother if I feel like not bothering.

*Oh gawd help us, he's 23.