(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.