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.


David said...

Only caught the end last night, in time to hear Josie wassername pick up on a term and start talking about 'inhabitation'. Liked Nakamura's full top notes.

But...there's a bit of an ideal to get excited about tonight - no prizes for guessing what? Over to you...

jondrytay said...

Tonight’s expert panelists- John Mark Ainsley and, um, Penny Smith of GMTV.

Dawid Kimberg. SA baritone, 28. Gives D’Arby the standard, Apprentice-style ‘I want this so badly, they don’t want it as bad as I do, I’ve really worked for this.’ Interview with only a flicker of irony. Guess what? He’s opening with Largo al Factotum. Don’t like his voice much. It’s not just his interview or his choice of aria, he just sounds forced and centreless. He’s overdoing the acting, too, by which I mean he’s mugging like a bitch. Lordy, now he’s doing Korngold, I hope James Lark isn’t watching this. He’s a lot better in this, is Dawid. Not trying so hard to impress and consequently the voice is a lot easier on the ear. Can’t see him winning though.

Ji-Min Park- South Korean tenor- someone else who could have been a pop star, so Josie gets him to go to the piano and accompany himself in his favourite bit of Korean pop. Ok. Cool. What? Starts with yet more of Gounod’s R&J, which I can only take in small doses at the best of times. Nice fluttery lyric tenor, smashing on the top. Contender, although he needs to resist the temptation to croon. Ah now, a nicely left field choice- Rinuccio’s little aria from ‘Gianni Schicchi’. This fella has charm and knows that it’s in his interest to exploit it. Did a lovely, lovely job with that. Now we’re hearing him in ‘Dein ist Mein Ganzes Herz’. Only singer to get three arias so far, plus Petroc Trelawny said there is ‘a real buzz’ about him- I wonder if these are all hints that he’s going to win tonight?

Anna Stephany- English Mezzo RAH RAH C’MON *waves flag of St. George*. She apparently does more concert than opera work and wants to change this. She’s starting with L’Heure Espagnole, which isn’t Largo al Factotum. Odd. She’s acting away but it doesn’t quite seem to be reaching the voice somehow. No English victory this year, I suspect, to go with all the other years. Following it with Romeo from Capuleti. I make that Bel Canto 7, Strauss/Wagner/Verdi 0. Mad. She’s better in this. Nice voice, well used, nothing special. Ooh, she’s getting three as well. Dopo Notte, the first Handel of the competition. Best she’s done, is this, but I can’t get past a kind of Dame Granite stolidness in her singing.

Octavio Moreano- Mexican Baritone. Always wanted to be a Mariachi singer. I wonder if any of them will actually admit to wanting to be opera singers? This chap apparently decided to be an opera singer after hearing Bugs Bunny singing ‘Largo al Factotum’. I’m not making this up. Starts with Yeletsky- beautifully sung but lacking personality- just a kind of all-purpose sincerity. Bugs would have put more into it, I reckon. Likeable, but stands rather nervously, like a novice presenter who doesn’t know what to do with his hands. Second aria was Valentin, and he came to grief at the top, which is worrying.

Ekaterina Shcherbachenko- Russian Soprano- Doesn’t get to speak to la Josie, she must be gutted. Still, having the names ‘Bach’ AND ‘Cher’ in her name must be a good sign. Yikes, she’s starting with a very squally, oldskool Russian ‘Come Scoglio’. And it’s not very nice. At least not in the recit. The aria improved considerably. The basic voice is rather lovely- but there are several versions of it. There’s a not very special clarion sound pushing towards the heavier end of the lyric rep, and a much nicer and more interesting rounder tone when she allows things to get more lyrical. The triplets were a bit 1950s. She’s following it with- what else?- Tatyana, which ought to suit her a lot lot better. And guess what, it does. Suddenly the voice makes sense, and she turns in a beautiful performance. Absolutely glorious singing, and real, proper acting which nearly made water be in my eyes. So hurrah for cultural stereotypes. Man, that Mozart was a mistake though, and will give Park victory in tonight’s heat. Or will it? Stadium cheer at the end of the Onegin, and much deserved for her star performance.

jondrytay said...

Judging time. While we wait, Ainsley diplomatically tells us that ‘one might quibble with some of the stylistic choices’ in Scherbachenko’s Mozart. No kidding. She still wins though. I can’t see that Park won’t be in the final, which is bad news for last night’s Ivanova.

David said...

OK, now paste that up in the main bit or some folk might miss it (such fun). 'Fraid I rushed excitedly to add a postscript about our Tatyana to the Lulu stuff.

Just had to share the frisson. Now I'll leave you in peace.

jondrytay said...

David- please don't leave me in peace! I always enjoy your comments.

I won't paste tonight's effusion into the blog just yet though, lest it overkill the thing...

Lauretta said...

What you didn't hear is that Park also sang L'arlesianna - really poor choice. He's a great singer, but almost inaudible in the hall :-(

I am much too professional to put any store by an opera blog, however, so I would ignore this :-)

John Woods said...

Well. I agree with your every word about the South African baritone.

Ji-Min Park turned out to have a far better voice than I'd imagined based on quite a bit of experience of his ROH work, but I'm afraid I really only like the top of it - the rest feels a bit vapid to me, and a little bit insecure. He is great on stage and that came through, but I'm not as keen on the voice as you are.

I was at university with Anna Stephany and it is quite amazing to see how her voice has changed - 10 years ago one could barely hear it across the other side of the room, and it was colourless and dull - none of us ever imagined it had professional potential, let alone Ferrier-winning, Cardiff-entering potential, but here she is. Anyway, I still found her kind of worthy and boring, but have a funny perspective on it because of what has emerged from the unpromising mewling she used to do in chapel choir.

I rather liked the Mexican, I thought there was something kind of lovely about him, with the potential to be a pretty significant Verdi baritone. He is overweighting it from the upper-middle upwards at the moment, hence the trauma on top, but I reckon that if he drives it less he'll be pretty easily sorted. Really liked his platform manner too, even if everybody else thinks he just looked nervous.

I was so pleased the Russian won. I found her Mozart boring, and not particularly technically secure as you noted, but I am pleased everybody pretty much just decided not to mention it following her jaw dropping letter scene. She reminded me a bit of Fleming in a way, except I think this lady has a fuller fundamental instrument. I hope the high c in the Mozart was wirey because of context, rather than because she can't do them any other way - if she can do them in Verdi like she did the B-flat in the Tchaikovsky, and connect with the characters the same way she did with Tatyana, I think she'd turn out to be a really major find.

Completely agree on the laughter in the Don Pasquale the night before, it was horribly arch and stagey, but she made up for it.