I am suffering for you tonight, dear readers. The flatmate’s home and in order to buy myself 90 minutes of primetime opera-watching, I promised him he could watch what he liked between 6pm and 7.30.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with ‘Storage Wars’ at all. It’s an American show wherein people buy storage units whose owners have lapsed with their payments. Once they’ve bought them, they get to see what’s inside.
Waiting for the payoff? There isn’t one. That’s the whole show. The flatmate loves programmes where people buy things. Me, not so much. In fact I’d rather hear Gabriele Fontana’s Zdenka on a permanent loop than watch another episode. But I’m doing it for you. For YOU. And I’m missing Spain v Tahiti in the football, too, which should be as hilarious a mismatch as Fontana v Zdenka.
(Apologies to Ms. Fontana, by the way: she was the first example that sprang to mind when I tried to think of a really bad recorded performance. Feel free to substitute your own)
Not only am I watching- even as I type- someone unwrap a secondhand mattress in the name of entertainment, but I’ve done something else for you. I have persuaded our beloved friend-of-the-blog to repeat 2011’s livechat experiment. He knows even more about singing than I know about premium lager, so you’re in for some added expertise.
In order to preserve his anonymity, he will again be appearing under his nom de guerre, the rather splendid ‘damegwynethjones’. It’s not her though. He’s far less squally.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: So, we get Wales tonight. And Gerald Finley.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I saw a FB comment yesterday from somebody who was in the hall, and they said it was a very exciting round. Mary agrees.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: But she has promised us an exciting night! Last night, that meant that they had been DOING REHEARSING, though. Josie has rechristened backstage 'The Holding Area' to make it more dramatic.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Dame Felicity seems kind of serious and tough.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: You wouldn't mess, would you?
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I'm not sure we've discussed Petroc's beard. I'm rather liking it. Maybe he discovered the look in that Zimbabwean prison.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: So: Susana Gaspar Gary Griffiths Olena Tokar Yuri Gorodetski Egle Sidlauskaite. That was FAST typing. Egle first, off of Lithuania. She sounds proper deep and mezzoey. I like Petroc's beard too. He is heading towards silver daddy status.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: He is rather nice these days. My money is on Lithuania already. You're so good at making an effort with their names! I just keep saying 'the Egyptian girl' like some old buffer who was in the war.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Cool! Princess of Stock Cube first (I've made that joke before)
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Everybody has. Shame we missed the totally barnstorming opening. This editing is just ridiculous this year.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: The editing has been weird this year. Ha! Jinx.This isn't as abandoned as I'd like.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Maybe it was at the beginning. But she's not really carrying the momentum through the rests.And that top wasn't too secure really, was it.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: No. Pulls off the end though. Remember that Russian mezzo who was ace but they kept showing her cock up that bit?
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Yes. On the tiny bit we've heard, the lady from 2 years ago was more exciting.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Bit of an anodyne response from Finley, who I don't think was that impressed.This Dalila is already better.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: And maybe we're going to get the whole aria - unusually, they started at the beginning.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: She looks a bit like Garanca, doesn't she? Or am I being Balticist?
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: No, I think she sort of might. This is a bit plummy and manufactured, to my mind. I suspect the voice is HUGE and she's controlling it a tiny bit from the jaw because she's scared of how much noise she can really make. Yes, this is pop psychology/projection hour.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Wow, that's slow. Will she have asked for that, to show off her (impressive) breath control?
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: My impression is that these conductors do everything they're told, whether they agree with it or not, so yes. She kind of looks like something off a Greek vase. Very beautiful lady.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Oh, she didn't make ANYTHING of the big tune on 'Ah, verse moi'.Only one verse, so there must have been a big edit in the middle.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Has Dame Kiri cut up a curtain or something?
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: She is not the snappiest of dressers, our Dame K. Now then: direct comparison with Barton, although this is a Favorita not a Favorite.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Just nothing like as anchored. Although I hate that word.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: I think my big obsession this year might be Generic Frown Singing.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: She's tentative in what should be a comfortable low passage.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: I think you're right. When she opens up, she loses control, so she's kind of reining everything in. She's pitchy ('PITCHY' KLAXON) too.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: This is just nothing like as accomplished as Barton. Beautiful warm timbre in itself though. Mangled Italian vowels, vague consonants.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: There's something about her vib which tends towards flatness.*very carefully doesn't mention Rad*
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I think maybe in a different way? I think this lady is just a bit low energy. Rad has an excess of it!
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Flatmate, from the sink: “Doesn't have much personality”. And he's right.The bottom of her voice sounds like a lyric struggling through Vitellia.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I thought with a programme like this she'd be awesome. Mary will probably have something to say about repertoire.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Oooh, can we all say register break? Not equalised at all.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Thing is, she'd probably have sounded quite nice as Dorabella. There is a lovely warmth to the sound. But basically, not ready for this.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Half-hearted opera arms at the end! 'Shall I? Shall I? Oh, go on then'
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: You've got to get those arms in the air Grace, like a princess would!
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Disappointing. Petroc seems to have liked her though. And sorry, 'phenomenal strength at the top and bottom'? Was Finley listening?
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I bet it was loud. But no, not assured at the top or the bottom.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: They all seem so SWEET in the offstage interviews. Now that I'm past 40 I get all avuncular and protective about them. Susana Gaspar now, Portuguese soprano. Pretty. Good expressive face.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Very nice in this rehearsal. And totally unflustered by that long high note at the end of stridono lassu.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Depressing that the Lisbon opera theatre might close. Was that the end of 'Stridono lassu' I heard? Ha, I guess it was. But she’s starting with Bellini’s Juliet.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Hard to start with long bel canto lines. But this isn't as good as I want it to be.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: She is wearing a frock of two halves, ladies and gentlemen. A lovely deep green skirt, with a kind of washing-day bra top.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Hahaha! Yes.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: I like her voice a lot, but she needs to not be slightly sharp on every nore.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: She's reminding me every so slightly of Zeani/Soviero - slightly stressed sounding. Which I kind of like in a lyric
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: (a nore is like a note, but mistyped) Zeani I can hear. She hasn't got that Leontyne smokiness that makes Soviero so special though.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: (every is similar to ever, but mistyped)
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Bloody hard, this. And she didn't quite get there. Promising, though. Mary finds her classy and dignified, which are things you say about The Queen, not about an opera singer.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: One thing I'll say for Dame Kiri - she smiles warmly at every single one of them when they finish a number. It's really lovely.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Yes, I'd noticed that. Janowitz did that too, the year she judged.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Dame Gwyneth didn't. She just looked non-plussed.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Ah, the Enfant Prodigue aria. Or, as I call it, 'If it ain't Cotrubas, I ain't listening'. This is very pretty singing but it's such dull music.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I thought we weren't even going to mention it because it's Debussy. The one time I saw Kate Royal in recital, she did this as an encore, which was a kicking way to liven things up and send us all out on a high.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Hahaha! 'I will now sing Kindertotenlieder'
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: She is doing a good job of this though. She is a lovely lyric with a decent bit of individuality.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: If we're right about the Leoncavallo, though, she's chosen well. Three different styles. She sounds stressed here, (the cries of 'Azael') but it's dumb writing for the voice.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Yes. Could have been better. Pity. Nice singer, not a BBC Cardiff Singer Of The Known Universe though.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Oh, I love the big sweet smile before the Nedda! Bringing the house into the hall.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I really like this.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Me too. Stratas-y, before Stratas just started screaming her head off.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I quite fancy that beardy flautist too, have been thinking that all week. It's all about beards these days. I really only know Stratas as Salome, Despina and Santuzza.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Ha, the usual parts...I have missed the beardy flautist. I shall watch out. She looks like Juliana Margulies circa ER, but sweeter.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: She has a lovely face. She is quite endearing in general.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Oh yes. STORMED the end. That's actually one of the best versions of that aria I've ever heard.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: It was brill. Christ, Cabell won in 2005?! It only seems like the other week. That's a gorgeous voice.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: I don't know much about her. People seem divided. So, Mr Wales. Gary Griffiths, which sounds like a made-up name for a sitcom. He's brought his own choir!
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Teeny bit camp? Or is that just Welsh accents?
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: He's got a beard. Haud yersel' back. Ok, he's really really good.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Yes. I was going to say terrible choice of piece (Finch’han dal vino’)for a competition, but actually he's managing to show off a very beautiful timbre in something that normally turns into frantic bawling.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Yes, it's nearly always badly sung by not Thomas Allen. Did he corpse himself as he started the Onegin aria?
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I hear a frog. Bit less comfortable here?
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Really? I think this is lovely. Much better than Mr Russia, who you like, wrongly.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Seems a bit unsettled to me. I bet he can sing the pants off this, but I don't think he is here. Brilliant voice.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: He's not cold and condescending enough for Onegin, but I suppose that would be a brave choice in concert.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Going for a top f? You're right. More of a jolly fuzzy bear. No top f, let the record reflect.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: LOVELY at the end. Just lovely. And yes, there were husky moments, but he's my favourite so far. Oh joy unconfined, the universe has heard my plea for some Amboise Thomas /sarcasm
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Of all the things he could have sung.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: He's stopped acting! He doesn't know what to do! Oh that's better. He's back.Interesting fact: he's kind of hot until he's shot in profile, when he isn't at all.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Don't mention the trill.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: What trill, etc etc etc. I'm a little teapot arms a little unfortunate at the end. Don't like the mimed drinking. Winner so far?
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Not sure. I wasn't as convinced as you were by him. But I guess probably, on balance. Need to get a glass of charders, hang on. So Dame Kiri's pearls were stunning, in that clip.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: A reminder while you were away that Nafornita didn't win her heat. Then a bit of Je Veux Vivre,
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Hadn't realised that about Nafornita. Re this next lady: People who feel the need to tell you they have a big voice are always suspect, IMO.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Olyana from Ukraine now, showing off her Big Voice with, um Handel. This is lovelyish, yes?
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I know! They always offer me unsuitable roles for my big voice! So I'm going to show them my... Cleopatra! Yes to lovelyish. She's not making it easy for herself with all this delicate piano stuff. But she's mostly managing it.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Winner, if she carries on like this.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Agree. Massive audience reaction.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Another crazy edit. Oooh, Come Scog. Promising the way she changed the set of her face before beginning: actor. Oh well I mean this is brilliant.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Yes it is. Far better than last night.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: (apart from one unfortunate breath, but we'll let her have that) Flubbed the C a bit, but not unacceptably so.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: (and a slightly unfortunate passage through the high c) Oh, snap. It was just a bit out of line. It's a stupid c anyway.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: She wears a red frock damn well, too. Very castable. YOU LEAVE THAT C ALONE I LOVE THAT C
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Yes. Dubious taste when it comes to the hair style, but she can get help with that. Sorry Jon. I love it too. It just doesn't love others. She has a very complex and rich sound.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Great ending. She's way out in front. 'Totally sensational' says Mary. I love love love 'Gluck das mir verblieb'. Too bad they’ve jumped a verse. She's already the finished article, isn't she? Kind of pointless to edit the way they did. Thirty seconds of singing and a long orchestral playout.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Pretty much. I'd actually like her to sing out more. But she's very clever to have learnt how not to.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Only 26!!!!!
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Did not fall foul of Mary's bête noire! Oh, and maybe she was right about the big voice bit. Still don't see why she feels the need to point it out though. Josie understands Ukranian!
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Look!This man can juggle! How important and relevant!
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: But Jon, it's just like being an opera singer.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: This guy is smashing. Sounds like Calleja. A little nasal, but otherwise lovely. In DESPERATE need of having his barnet chopped, mind.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Yeah, I'm not loving the way it goes via the nose to the top. I'm not loving the timbre generally actually, but I think he's so impressive, probably carries amazingly in the hall (like Calleja does, as you say), and he seems to be able to do exactly what we want. Very employable indeed.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Oh, sorry readers: we are talking about Yuri Gorodetski, Belorussian tenor, singing Una Furtiva Lagrima.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: The boy needs to have some sandwiches though.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Every one of these singers is better than every one of last night's. Apart from maybe the mezzo.Yes to sandwiches and cake and pie. His cummerbund is all sad and skinny.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: That c was a real shame.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Oh dear. Gounod tripped him up. That was a hell of a crack at the top. C is killing all the tenors this year.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I guess the most recent soprano has it - no comparable flubs in her performance. Had he not had that disaster I'd have been unsure how to call it.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: ANOTHER clumsy edit in the lensky aria. This is vvg though. Yes, he's superpromising, but she was so solid and secure she has to have it. And actually I think she is just better than him anyway. He's lovely but he can only really do 'soulful'.. And it's not just the C, his top is a bit wing-and-a-prayer generally.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I'm kind of getting bored of his timbre. Is that a really horrible thing to say?
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: No, me too. He's unvarying vocally and interpretatively.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I think it's cut and dried then.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: So since he seems to sing Mozart everywhere, why did he try to sing bigger stuff?
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: You read Mary's mind!
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: I think we should mention that Finley said 'squillo'
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Gerry agrees with me on the Welsh bloke - not in his comfort zone.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Anyone you'd put in the final apart from Miss Ukraine?
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I would still hope to hear Barton, Broderick and Miss Ukraine.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Yeah. Still no men. Wales and Belorus came close though. So, Ukraine wins. Ben Johnson tomorrow, who didn't blow me away at ENO. But we shall see. Thanks for chatting! I had better make the flatmate some pasta now.
So there you have it, readers. Ms Ukraine is very special, Ms Portugal is just lovely, I made my flatmate some pasta, and if anyone ever asks if you want to watch ‘Storage Wars’, run like your life depended on it. See you in Round 4!