Monday, 24 June 2013


So, work got in the way. A four-show weekend for OTHELLO means that I'm two shows behind when it comes to events in Cardiff.

By now, you know who won, I know who won, and we both know it was who we knew was going to win when the competition was announced. But I'm sure there will be a few exciting things I've missed along the way.

It would be an impertinence, though, to blog 'as live' several days after the event, wouldn't you say? Information is so up-to-the-minute that I have just received an email reply timestamped before the original was sent (truefact: I'll screengrab it if you don't believe me...) and I have no desire to be the digital equivalent of a poor knackered carrier pigeon arriving just as the newspaper is thrown away.

So when I eventually get to see the two missed concerts, I'll opt for the impressionistic rather than the thorough. I expect my first impression will be 'THOSE are the finalists? Srsly?"

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Gassing Mit Ein Gast

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.
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.
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!

A Good Fair Creature, If It Be Well Used...

This might all go horribly wrong. I was out tonight having some drinks with pals, and fully intended to write up tonight-slash-last-night's heat tomorrow morning (probably this morning, by the time you read this. It's a pointlessly complicated timeline. Call me Stephen Moffatt). However, I've arrived home *just* before midnight and, what with having actual paying writing to do tomorrow, it makes sense to give you my thoughts on tonight's contenders before I go to sleep.

Warning, though: I've had a couple of pints, so if I say that any of the contestants are my best mate, or challenge them to a fight, you'll know why. I've also had tonight's heat slightly spoilered for me, but in quite an exciting way; apparently tonight's winner is reminiscent of a controversial singer I like rather a lot, so when SPOILER ALERT a soprano comes along singing Lady M or Minnie with reckless abandon oddly white tone, and a cavalier attitude to pitch, that will be our winner. You can add your guesses to the soundalike in the comments, if you've nowt better to do.

So, here we go. Titles are still a chase scene, but in my more grown-up (read: slightly drunk) mood, they feel less Harry Potter, more Crimson Tide. Someone should totally do an opera set on a submarine; it could be a sequel to Klinghoffer. Too soon?

Jokes in dubious taste aside, these titles are PROPER SILLY. It's a singing competition, not an episode of 24 (or Harry Potter, or Crimson Tide. The comparisons are going to keep on coming). Seriously, though, there really isn't this much jeopardy. 'Will I get the B flat in Abscheulicher' just isn't as tense a question as 'should I cut the blue wire or will that blow up the orphanage?'

Lovely Katerina Karneus is one of the judges tonight, which is ace as she's one of my favourite ever Cardiff winners. We get a little moment of the 'Non Piu Mesta' where she zinged joy into the room in a red frock. Mary K is excited because the singers marked in the dress rehearsal. Is that exciting? I wonder if it's more sort of commonplace. Petroc, meanwhile, is excited because we're getting the Habanera and Yeletsky's aria. I am wondering why that is particularly exciting. Maybe it's the same singer doing them.

We get a rundown of the singers: Gala El Hadidi, a mezzo from Egypt who must be, given that voice and nationality, resigned to a lifetime of intoning 'Pace t'imploro' over people's graves. Loriana Castellano is an Italian mezzo, which is sort of a shame because what the world needs is a cracking Italian soprano. WAIT! I am doing national determinism. For all I know they'll both be treating us to some Korngold. Alexei Bogdanchikov, baritone, is from Russia, so maybe the Yeletsky? I'm not prepared to guess that, see above. Luthando Qave is a South African bass baritone, which in this competition means he'll be a baritone having a crack at Fiesco,  and kicking us off is Maria Celeng, a Hungarian soprano. And for those of you who may have baulked at me gaying it up over Mr Croatia last night, it's only fair to add that, by the look of her mugshot, Ms Celeng is hawt and knows it.

Oh. Oh. Oh. Regular readers (as if) will know that I have a special relationship with the Rusalka aria, because it's all bound up with things about my dad and him dying and all that shizzle. And I am totally excited, because the few seconds we get of Celeng in rehearsal singing said aria are time-stopping. Totally gorgeous. They're interrupted by Josie asking her if she wants to win when she plays chess. I'm beginning to feel sorry for Josie.

Celeng starts with some Alcina, and it ought to be gorgeous but isn't quite. I can't quite put my finger on why; there's some smudgy ornamentation, I guess, but it's not that. She's maybe giving more vib and more voice than we're used to in this kind of music, but it's not that either. Maybe it's just that it's a bit overdone. Too much voice, too much grimacing, just a bit troppo. It's obviously a smashing voice though, so let's wait.

Come Scog! The aria that made me fall in love with opera, mefans. I confidently predicted that one Suzanne Braunsteffer would make a big career on the basis of this aria last time (because winners such as Mattila and 'Yes I'll be there no I can't make it' Harteros had sung it previous competitions) and Celeng is giving it a good old go, but again I'm finding that distance from her. Nothing to fault in the singing, I promise, and interpretatively she's giving it socks

Stopped typing because actually I'm warming to her more and more. The last part of the aria is very impressive. She has an immediacy to her performance which intially put me off but which is melding into an exciting intensity. Doesn't have the bottom for 'non vi renda audaci ancor' but hey, who does since Carol? She eats up the ending and I'm beginning to worry I may have misjudged her.

Karneus is sold, and now we get the Rusalka. Before it starts: I'm not crying, it's just dusty in here, ok?

Whoa, this is interesting; she opens the aria with such intensity that the voice becomes less lovely. Having thought she was someone with a great instrument who didn't communicate, I now find the opposite happening. No, this is gorgeous. She opens up the big tune beautifully (someone shoot the conductor; STOP RUSHING HER).

She makes me cry at the end. Just lovely, vocally and dramatically. I am seriously conflicted about this singer, had you noticed? I think she's basically ace, but there was something- until the Rusalka- which stopped me from entirely loving her. Karneus loved everything; Mary didn't like the bottom of the Fiordiligi either (so to speak). I wish I knew what I thought of this singer, but I just can't decide.

KLAXON KLAXON KLAXON. Petroc is announcing an aria which introduces 'a real wheeler-dealer' and saying, heavily, that Mary has 'combed' the archives.

You know what this means, kids. Largo Al FactheFacoff. Please, baritones, stop.

I've fastforwarded the video of Mary giving us all the people who have done it before. I'm tempted to fastforward the performance too, but that wouldn't be fair on Alexei Bogdanchikov. He's starting with 'O Carlo Ascolta', which is also overdone, but I don't mind because people don't mug the living shit out of it.

Husky start to the big tune on 'Io morro', and again some breath issues, here. Also, a personal bete noire of mine: he takes the line 'Ah di me non ti scordar' by showing off his big rich top on the 'Non', taking a massive breath, then going down to a whisper on 'ti scordar'. I know everyone does it, and the music sort of demands it, but the good Rodrigos are aware that this is, you know, the middle of a sentence rather than a chance to show off your technique. He deals with the end well enough, but he's not the answer to the Verdi baritone problem: he's a lyric pushing it, rather than one of those massive dark forces of nature that seemingly were born in every Italian village circa 1915.

And, as if to prove it, he caresses his way through some Tote Stadt.  Sumptous singing, but I am getting worried about the men in this competition- the women are leaving them at the starting gate when it comes to powers of expression. The words of the aria are, Korngoldly, all perfume and sensuousness. All Alexei gives us is Sincere Face and the Isokoski Frown. When he smiles at the end it's a reminder that mouths can do more than sing.

Ok, here we go. Figaro qua, Jonathan a long way over la.

Well, he's not mugging. But he's not speaking to us, either. If you're going to roll this one out, you have to FLATTEN us with personality, and he isn't doing so. Needs to watch his Italian, too (I have a degree in Italian, so screw you, people who were about to call me pretentious). The 'lalala's have a very Russian heaviness, and 'fortunatissimo' becomes, unfortunately, 'fartunatissima'. Poor lady.

But: it seems I'm grumpy tonight. There's a real voice here. And he gets MASSIVE points for not going into falsetto on the last 'Figaro', although he does that squawky 'LOOK! I'M BEING A WOMAN!' thing elsewhere in the aria.

Petroc has just told us that this was the first Largo of the evening. I'm going to get another beer. Meanwhile, what did Mary say? She totally agreed with me, again. I may marry her, if Croatian Marko says no.

BRILLIANT Josie moment. She smilingly asks him if he enjoyed it out there and he gives her back the full Uncle Vanya Doing A Degree In Computers. I'm definitely beginning to feel sorry for Josie. She is so charmingly upbeat, and she's getting a hell of a lot of reticent gloom in return.

Runthrough of the judges: you know who they are.

Miss Egypt now, and there's a smashing Joserview about the politics in Egypt and how it affects her as singer of 'Western' music. Could have seen more of that, particularly since she seems to have a fiery, witty personality. Rehearsal footage gives us a Baltsaish, Bartolish Habanera, and that's what she starts with- a lightish voice whose personality reveals itself in a rich, glassy chest voice, and in performance. I like this singer a lot: the voice is on the ok side of great, but she knows what she's doing, and she'll delve into chest at the drop of a hat. I'm clearly in a perverse mood tonight: as an instrument, she has nothing like the first two, but she engages me more than either of them did. She's in trouble careerwise, though; the bottom of her voice suggests Carmen and Eboli, the middle and top veer closer to the -inas. Some Stolz now, and it's not an aria I know, but it's his attempt to have a piece of the Gypsy song action and therefore sounds like the exact midpoint between Saffi's aria and that Noel Coward song. El Hadidi gives it all the 'Hey ha heia ho' with some gusto, and luxuriates below the stave, but she's not going to win. I think she's smashing, but I can't see a rep for her; she'd tear herself apart as Amneris or Azucena, and I don't think she has the middle or top for the lighter mezzo rep. The most immediate performer of the night though, by a country mile. Karneus- who is as utterly lovely and sweet as you would have guessed from that Non Piu Mesta- is utterly lovely and sweet. Mary is a bit damning; too damning. We're no longer friends, Mary and I, especially after El Hadidi proves as much of a bundle of fun in her post-show Joserview as she promised to be in her VT.

Now, the Italian mezzo. I was hoping for a new Cossotto, but she's doing 'Svegliatevi nel core' in her rehearsal so I guess we have to wait. I'll spare you the painful football-related VT with Josie. As someone who loves both opera and football, I should have been the core audience but... no.

Ooh, Parto Parto to start, and already you can tell she's good. This is a hideously overcrowded fach, though- she's up against Bartoli and Fink and Garanca and DiDonato and Connolly and and and. She has a lovely basic sound, and is a communicative performer, so it's all up to the twizzles at the end. She nails number one... sails through number two... and although number three sounds and looks effortful, it's all there. And she ends it with a brilliant blue steel look, intense as anything. I don't think she'll win- I don't think she'll even win tonight- but she'll work.

Another Sesto next, and PLEASE, BBC editors, can we NOT start in the middle section of a da capo? It makes no sense musically and does no favours to the singer. Not that Castellano needs it, because this reveals that her role models are more on the Bonitatibus side of things. Like I said, she'll work. She's already a fully formed Baroque mezzo and you'd be more than happy to find her as your Sesto (either) or Ruggiero or Amastre or, I dunno, Ercole sul Termodonte.

She's finishing with Cenerentola, which is interesting- I wouldn't have had her down as a Rossinian, because she didn't toss off the end of the Clemenza aria in the manner of people like Murray or Berganza who are on their way to bel canto. (Yeah, Murray and Berganza. Bite me). And, so it proves. The fireworks at the end are accurate but careful, and who wants fireworks to be careful? Bit of a panic first time she gets to the top, too, but she makes up for it subsequently. She gave a smashing account of herself in the Rossini, but I want to hear her sing loads and loads of Handel and Viv, please.

Karneus found the coloratura to be too effortful, which is the first even slightly critical comment she's made all night.

And now a bloody smashing Joserview- with our South African bass, who is studying at the Met, and sings a stunning Yeletsky in his VT- but he has a real story to tell; watching Cardiff in his township changed his life. Josie lets him tell his story and hey, that's what those VTs should be for.

And then he ruins it all by- sigh- singing You Know What. Although he is MUCH better than Mr Russia earlier, I.. I just... PLEASE DON'T DO IT ANY MORE. Apart from anything, it's not much of a test of a voice. It's solely a performance piece, and it belongs in its opera where it works very nicely; anyone who sings it in concert ends up trying too hard. Qave shows every sign of being proper ace, but then we get to the 'jokes' and although he doesn't do anything wrong, everyone in the known world wants to shoot themselves a little bit. And you know what? All you find out from the end of the aria is whether someone's diction is any good, which is way down the list of criteria for a great actor-singer. Anyway, all moaning aside, he did it very well. But STOP, EVERYONE.

Then we get to see what a good singer he is- his Yeletsky has legato for days, even though a bit of phlegm finds its way in here and there, and the breath isn't all it could be. Agh, as I typed that a crack came in, which I think may have been a breath/phlegm combo. Like Mr Croatia, he's hugely promising but not ready. Oops, more phlegmy cracks at the end. I think we may have a smoker here. Karneus calls him elegant, which is true, but we get more phlegm at the beginning of his last aria (Maravilla? I claim ignorance, shamefacedly) and it continues. Lovely tone, legato, but rattles and husk behind it all. He's talented, but he ain't ready.

Oh: he's ill. Discard the above. What rotten luck.

Filler again, before the results. Even though we're not live, we're having filler again. Please don't do this all week (they're going to do this all week). As Petroc wraps it up, he reminds us that tonight's winner may not make the final. I kind of have to agree. I can't see a winner here; of the whole thing, I mean. Celeng will win the heat.

Pointless recap, then we're told that Celeng has won, which she deserved. I still have that odd reticence about her, though. And I'm going to do a big divface to the person who (remember the potential spoiler?) told me she was like Zampieri.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Blogged myself, have you?

Well, if anything was going to get me back to this blog, it was Cardiff, wasn’t it? It’s the one ‘tradition’ that seems to have sprung up round here (yes, I know that ‘twice’ doesn’t really count as a tradition, but shut up and leave me alone, you’re not my real dad). Anyway, I blogged the last two Cardiff competitions ‘as live’ and since I’ve not been here for a bit, tonight’s first round (which actually took place last night) seems a good time to return.

I mean, I doubt there’s anyone still here. It was October the last time I put interpen to cyberpaper. I’m not really sure why the gap has been so long- I’ve been busy dahn the Nash and that, but I don’t think that’s the only or even the main reason for radio silence. On occasion I’ve felt sufficiently hyped-up about something to start a blog post, and then almost immediately have felt a kind of resignation about it. ‘Do you really think someone hasn’t already said that better?’ says the anger-or-devil-I-haven’t-decided on my shoulder as I start to spout off about equal marriage or food banks or online etiquette or whatever it is I’ve started to type. The result is that I tend to find myself halfway through some tortuously made point and then give up and go off to make a pie* or something.

But no pie here tonight, no siree. Tonight we have the sacred responsibility to blog-as-live the first heat of a competition which has genuine starmaking potential- after all, our last two winners, Valentina Nafornita and Elena Scherbachenko are never off our screens, right? They are so world famous that they dine solely on swan and whole airports are cleared whenever they even ponder going anywhere.

Heavy-handed sarcasm aside, it is tempting to wonder if Cardiff still has the clout it once did. Scherbachenko has certainly made a career on the back of her victory- singing at the Met, La Scala, and as an apparently disappointing Mimi at Glyndebourne- but may not be quite where she’d have imagined, four years on. Nafornita has been even quieter (by which I mean I’ve not heard what she’s up to: she could be alternating Turandot and Siegfried somewhere) and even trusty old Operabase can’t tell me what she’s been doing, although someone on Parterre mentioned something about a Mimi somewhere. It’s this kind of rigorous research that keeps people flocking back here, I know.

At any rate, it seems to me that this has become more of a rubber-stamp for singers already on their way (Scherbachenko had sung Tatiana at the Bolshoi before entering, ffs) than the opportunity to uncover untried youngsters that it was, or at least felt like, back in the day. That I have heard of at least two of this year’s entrants- and one, Jamie Barton, is doing well enough to need the boost of this competition precisely not at all- may be a sign of the times. Or just a completely unsubstantiated theory, but hey.  Barton’s certainly someone I’m looking forward to hearing and seeing. A friend-of-the-blog has also had encouraging things to say about another Katherine Broderick, the English entrant who has been the last two Donne Anna at ENO (check THAT out for a precious compound plural) so hopes are high where she’s concerned.

Where hopes aren’t high: The Joserview, if she’s back. It’s not her fault but I’ve banged on before about how Josie d’Arby is always determined (or briefed) to get contestants to say that they never had any interest in being a boring old opera singer and they’re only here because their dream job of space astronaut/ ice-skating trampolinist/ porn fluffer etc etc etc fell through for some reason. It’s always time which would be better spent seeing a bit more of their actual performance.

Where hopes also aren’t high: that young girl from Verona, who wants to live in this dream, per M. Gounod. If I hear one more ‘Je Veux Vivre’ I’ll give her the bloody poison meself. Having said which, that was just 2011’s irritant. Maybe there will be an irritating glut of a different aria this year (last time, the Vespri Bolero was getting close). It could be that, by Friday, I’ll be saying ‘If I hear ‘Ich sah’ das kind’ or ‘To this we’ve come’ ONE MORE TIME... Except that won’t happen.

Final worry: someone, one night, will attempt some coloratura they have no business going near, in the manner of the crazed Chilean Semiramide of 2011. To be honest, I’m not dreading this one, so much as secretly hoping for it.

Also, I hope the judges are sat on big red leather swivel chairs, have to press a button to turn round for any singer they like, and join in the arias showoffishly in the manner of Jessie J and Danny The Nodding Irish Twat.

So, preamble over, here we go!

…with a heat which has already been spoilered for me. I will attempt to keep things tense and unpredictable but could quite easily lapse into ‘grumpily sulky’ at any moment. I hate it when it’s not a surprise. Humph.

Titles: the music is seemingly borrowed from one of the darker chase scenes from a later Harry Potter- stabbing chords, mumbling chorus, you know the deal. We are flying around Cardiff on our Quidditch sticks, while MASSIVE OPERA SINGERS are projected onto public buildings, SINGING. Soundlessly, of course. Drama! Excitement! No Actual Opera!

Nice intro with Dame K and- look!- there’s Nafornita, telling a sweet but slightly random story about how when she won, her sister told her she had won. So that’s nice. Then we cut to Petroc Trelawny, with a salt-and-pepper beard like a footballer who has just taken the decision to become a manager. He introduces Mary King, always a worthwhile panelist, and David Pountney, who was Killing Opera with Big Machines when I was a teenager, if you believed the press (he has since handed over the job to Robert Lepage, I hear). Then a quick Josie before we meet the panel and I cry a little over how old Neil Shicoff is now.

And there are going to be some competitors! Chinese tenor Yi Li, the aforementioned Broderick and Barton, Marko Mimica from OH HELLO HERE’S MY PHONE NUMBER, um, I mean Croatia, and, starting us off, Kiwhan Sim, a Korean bass with hipster specs.

Oh, babies! I had forgotten the bit where the competitors show Josie their babies. Last time it was on their phones, this time on iPads. In 2015 we’ll just get snaps of opera singers’ babies beamed into our heads by the power of holograms and thought.

He’s giving us ‘Non piu andrai’, which is close to being on the forbidden list, but he’s got a lovely rich voice and a certain amount of personality- although ‘smiling and hands in pockets’ isn’t quite enough for this most misleadingly playful of arias. Yep, as the aria goes on I have found myself checking the earlier part of this post for typos, which isn’t a great start. I think he’d probably make a decent job of the whole part, but he was just a little dullish in concert.

Bit of Bizet, now. I’ve been to Perth many times, which has affected my take on his opera about the Jolie Fille therefrom. I always picture her in the grim shopping centre, flicking chips about outside River Island. Anyway, this is a nice piece of singing, and yes, I said nice, and yes, that’s double-edged. He’s not doing anything wrong, and really the voice is lovely, but he doesn’t compel. He’s in a wee bit of trouble at the bottom of his range, too.

We are now getting La Calunnia, which Petroc informs us is sung by Dr Bartolo. I’m sure there’ll be some kind of ‘spot the deliberate mistake' competition, later, right? I mean they wouldn’t get something that easy that wrong in an actual written link, would they? Personality again from Sim, but that equates to the same twinkly smile and relaxed body language we had in Non Piu Andrai. His Basilio (you’re welcome, Petroc) and his Figaro are the same person. Shame he doesn’t manage the ‘…far crepar’ section in one breath, but then we can’t all be Giorgio Tozzi. In fact, hardly any of us can.

‘Lovely voice, not enough character’ say Pountney and King, agreeing with me, because I’m right.

Eh? What? There are going to be two South Koreans? That hasn’t happened before. I mean with any country, not just SK. Seoul singers!

Katherine Broderick now, who by the sound of her VT has a slightly stressed dramatic soprano and a glorious folk voice. She’s starting with ‘O Sachs mein freund’, which is a canny choice for a baby dramatic and gives her the chance to impress on the first phrase, which she duly does, opening up to a slightly unlovely but very secure top. She’s an impressive actor too, doing less externally than Sim ever did but inhabiting her character more fully. She means it.

Now we get (some of) Tatiana, courtesy of a rather brutal edit. I know it’s too long an aria to show in full, but we did crash in a little ( at ‘Drugoi!’). For once, I’d be tempted to edit shorter on this one, and just give us the ‘guardian angel’ bit- an easier in. Wait, I’m supposed to be talking about the singing, which is rather lovely. The slight glinty edge on her tone which wasn’t quite radiant enough for Eva is very suitable for Tatiana. It’s a rather Russian-sounding voice all round, in fact, I’d say. And again, her acting is very touching. Look, I’m not going to say ‘innig’ because I’m not a tosser, but you get me, yes? And as the climax of the aria proves, she can open up the throttle when she needs to be, um ‘outig’, too. She gets a huge ovation and a justified one, and certainly puts Sim’s performance into perspective when it comes to the overall standard. I knew I’d like her, because friend-of-the-blog does, and he’s right about everything except Scotto. King and Pountney agree with me AGAIN. Buy an opinion of your own, hey, guys?

Quick break to interview Karita Mattila, looking not unlike a lively Come Dine With Me host, about what it was like to win 30 years ago, and then a few moments of the spectacular Or Sai Chi L’Onore she won it with. You just sit back and think DAMN, she’s good.

The next competitor is Chinese tenor Yi Li, who stands at the piano as Josie sits at it. He should call her bluff and ask her to play Erlkonig. Anyway, we get a double Joserview whammy as they talk about how he likes basketball and has babies. So, he’s doing Pour Mon Ame, which could be fun. Can we all count to nine?

His French is… well, it nearly is, anyway. And we’re not at the Cs yet but his top is already sounding like it could do with a little WD40. Ok, here goes- 1 and 2 ok, 3 worrying, 4 consolidatory, 5 and 6 all throat and hope, 7 dangerous, 8 carcrash/falsetto, 9 ok but pulling a great deal of husk into the voice as he gets off it.

I mean, call me cheap for focusing on the Cs, but really, why try a freak show with 9 when you could impress us with the one or two you actually have in your locker? Petroc consoles with the ‘he was great in rehearsals’ thing, which  may be true but is, of course, in the last analysis no help.

‘E la solita storia’ now, which is not necessarily the kind of rep I would have expected from him (although a snatch of ‘Werther’ in the rehearsal VT suggests that he may be undecided too) and this is much more successful, plangent and sweet. He’s an uninteresting performer, though, when he’s not attempting the circus tricks. Broderick’s way in front so far.

Oh, here is the Werther. As you can tell, I wasn’t exactly clamouring to hear another aria from this guy. But this, as with the Cilea, just serves to show what a batshit crazy choice the Fille aria was. This is a pleasant, mildly sappy lyric tenor. If he’s going to do Donizetti, he might want to check out ‘Una Furtiva Lagrima’ for the time being. There’s a reason Juan Diego gets all the Florez. (I’m here all week).

Petroc is unusually hardline about the daft rep choice, and Pountney points out how nervous the climax of the Werther was- still worrying about the Fille aria. Backstage, Li beamingly tells Josie that he thought it went well, then lets out a bubbly giggle “Some notes not good”.

More Harry Potter drama music as Mary King tells us where some singers come from, and then we’re onto Barton, who I have been looking forward to hearing as much as I’ve been looking forward to seeing that Croatian fella. Barton’s established enough to get a one-shot to camera rather than a Joserview, and she comes across as likeable and intelligent. There’s some pretty exciting rehearsal footage- this is A Voice.

*presses button and turns round*

Oh. Agh. Jamie’s frock is… gowny. She’s a good looking woman but she’s fallen into that fatal way of thinking that if one is a larger lady, One Must Wear Grecian Draperies. A belt detail from the Katie Price Diamonique Collection doesn’t help.

But it matters not a whit, because this is real singing. ThemezzoariafromGiocondawhichisn’tasgoodastheotherone isn’t my favourite aria in the repertory, but she just EATS it. This is by a mile the most finished, polished, secure and glamorous singing we’ve heard tonight. She’s following it with something from I HATE ELGAR’S VOCAL MUSIC HATE IT HATE IT HOW CAN A GREAT COMPOSER BE SO FUCKING STODGY? Sea Pictures which she does an equally sumptuous job with, although- and you may not know this- I’m not a huge fan of Elgar’s writing for the solo voice.

So, this woman has essentially blown me away with two pieces of music I don’t like, while wearing a dress nicked from the TOWIE production of Antigone. I think that means she’s good.

‘O mon Fernand’ to close, making her three for three on rep I’m not wild about, but again this is lovely. And- other competitors take note- the three pieces she’s chosen require different tone colour, different interpretational choices, different vocal personalities from each other. This is how to impress. Sounding alternately like Horne and like Verrett doesn’t do any harm, either. That good. But I want to see her work with a provocative, encouraging stage director- she has that School of Isokoski tendency to stand and sing with an unchanging slight perturbed frown, so I’m not sure how much of an actor she’d be in-house. Clear winner, though, even before she ends the aria with a ‘you wanna know if I’ve got a top? I’ve got a top’ moment. And she’s just so charming and so sweet in her interview and basically I love her.

So, speaking of people I love, here comes Marko from Croatia and he’s really rather a good looking fellow. There’s a weird ‘Look Around You’ style opening to his interview with Josie (to be fair, she was damned good in that, which is what probably reminded me) where she says ‘lights, camera, action’ into different cameras because he likes acting or films or something. He lives in Berlin. Hey! Marko! I LOVE Berlin! Let’s go for a drink in Berlin sometime!

A ropey start for Attractive Marko, though- some nervous Handel where he’s not in control of his breathing at all- ends of lines are being puffed out with the hope that some sound will come with them. It’s a beautiful voice but all he’s really conveying is worry.

Good LORD, he’s doing Tu sul Labbro next, because nothing follows Handel like Big Verdi. He does a good job here- it really is a lovely sound- but he’s not a true bass so it’s compromised a little and the end is more a low hum than anything else. And, alas, the worried expression has hung over from his Handel.

And indeed, we get it in his Semiramide aria too, but it’s otherwise much more successful. He wants to be careful of clasping his hands so hard in front of him though- surely that amount of upper-body tension can’t be helping. But this is very good, nuanced, shaded singing and at the end of the aria proper, he reveals the top of his voice to be totally, unequivocally baritonal- and a rather good baritone at that. Once again, poor rep choice has skewered a good singer. But we’ll hear more of him: he’s only young. I’m not going to say how young because I’m in denial about the age gap and I’m on hold to Berlin Registry Office.

‘I wouldn’t mind having that in my company. In my ensemble.’ say the judges, and my euphometer explodes. Twice. They also found the Italian rep more successful than the Handel. Backstage, Marko broods handsomely over how badly he thinks he did.

A brief chat with Dame Kiri before the results, doing the ‘thank you all for coming, the orchestra was lovely, the singers were terrific, let’s have a round of applause for the bridesmaids’ bit. Then we have a pointless ‘recap’: pointless because we get about ten seconds of singing, which we can’t hear because Petroc and Mary are talking over it. I don’t really understand what this filler is for: THIS IS NOT LIVE.

Everyone is unanimous that Barton should win. I’m saying nothing, because I already know, remember? Thanks a bunch, twitter. Barton duly wins, although I’d say Broderick has a chance for the final. The men didn’t cover themselves in glory, but Marko is a real prospect for the future (quiet at the back), and might have been better off waiting for Cardiff 2015.

A good start, then, and we might have seen the winner tonight. But she’s already booked to do loads of cool stuff at the Met and elsewhere, so is that really all that exciting? Fingers crossed we get some extraordinary 18 year old from a tiny village or something in one of the next heats. Well, not that, but you know- maybe split the difference?

*funnily enough, in between watching the show and typing this blog, I have also made a pie.