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!