Bondarenko won the song prize- does that mean he’s more or less likely to win tonight? I note he hasn’t cut his hair, so he is obviously not keen to sleep with my flatmate. WOW! J Di-Do is on pundit duty, that’s a coup and she’ll have interesting things to say, so long as she isn’t too hung up on being nice- she might be too generous an individual for this job, although I suppose this five won’t need any special pleading. Cabell is the other pundit, and I’m not going to say anything rotten about what her career says about the quality of the competition’s winners (I’ve never got her, I’m afraid).
A quick run down of the judges (Old! Old! Old! Marilyn Horne is a little white haired old lady and that is just WRONG) reveals that the mystery Russian is a conductor, which makes him even more mysterious, because I’ve never heard of him. Kiri weighs in with some stretched-to-the-limit sporting metaphors and then we get a rundown of the finalists (for once, Petrova is represented by her best rather than worst moment). In fact, the rundown makes me want them all to win, apart from Raval, who I like but don’t really see as a finalist. Her Josie interview reveals, again, a thoroughly energetic and likeable woman.
Ah. Now then. She’s starting with ‘D’Amor sull’ali rosee’ which is interesting in light of the fact it was sung wonderfully in the final heat by the absent Crocetto. Raval’s voice is too thin for the recit, I’m afraid- ‘pressa e la mia difesa’ is really too wimpy. Still, her quiet singing is her strength so perhaps the aria itself will fare better. She launches the aria with a couple of little wobbles- nerves, no doubt. Frockwatch: she’s wearing a Violetta Act One special in a disconcerting shade of ketchup. Her breathing has settled down now, and she pulls out a nice legato, but this is the wrong voice for this music. The second arching phrase on ‘le pene’ (ie the one that isn’t the top C, I don’t have a score to hand) is absolutely gorgeous- it’s the reason she’s chosen the aria- but I can’t help thinking she would have done better to open with something a little less spinto. Ends it beautifully- she really is shimmering when she sings soft and high. She doesn’t essay a ‘Tu Vedrai’, which is probably for the best. Joyce says nice things without actually praising the performance. Oh, now, this is ridiculous- ‘Sola, perduta, abbandonata’? Really? I don’t see how this will be a good fit for her at all, apart from the fact that she’s a decent actor. She KNOWS this isn’t right, too, if the way she’s forcing the first phrase is anything to go by- pushing the voice into sounding bigger than it is? As predicted, the acting is excellent but what a dumb, dumb choice. She should be wowing us with Gheorghiu rep, not underwhelming with Tebaldi stuff. She throws in a bit of parlando on ‘tutta e finita’ which may have been necessity rather than choice. She gets through the aria all right but why stretch the voice to the limit in this way? She’s finishing with ‘Beim Schlafengehen’, which ought to be a better fit, but unfortunately seems still to be stuck in forcing mode- it’s overwrought, lacking the legato she showed in the Verdi and surprisingly unlovely. The ‘Und die seele’ section really shows her voice at its least impressive I’m afraid. She could have come out, sung Liu and ‘September’ and Pamina and ravished us. Instead she’s doing everything she can to force out tone, to the extent that in some phrases, here as in the Puccini, the breath control is compromised. Disappointing. I wonder if Hagegard is disappointed too- he sure ain’t clapping. Cabell calls her ‘confident’, ‘refreshing’ and ‘impeccably trained’. Petroc asks Joyce a question which suggests that he agrees that her rep choices were strange, and she gives a diplomatic answer about ‘hearing her future’ and it being a big sing.
Petrova is up next and starts with The Tsar’s Bride, and this is very good stuff indeed. She’s much more connected to this aria than in either of the ones we saw in her heat, no hint of that placid complacency which is bothersome for Dalila or the Princesse. She finds some smashing chest tones for the end, which she’ll need now for Ulrica- another potentially excellent choice. Yep, this is terrific and she’s transformed dramatically from the other night. I can see her shortish top causing her problems in future though (I am talking about vocal range, not a skimpy garment, for clarification). I’ll stop banging on about rep soon, I promise, but Raval should take note of what can be achieved with an aria which is securely, safely and solidly in the voice. That really was terrific. Cabell calls her a star in the making and advises caution around big Verdi, which is fair enough. She’s ending with ‘Voi lo Sapete’, which is owned in my personal pantheon by Obratszova, Troyanos and Suliotis, although I suspect she’ll be more lyric and less desperate than any of those three. And so it proves- the start of the aria has that almost reflective quality which marred her Dalila. This is excellent vocalism but Santuzza is on the edge and we don’t really get that from Petrova’s performance, which ends rather abruptly on ‘io son dannata’. Now then, this should be interesting; she’s not at her best when singing in French or being sexy, so of course we’re getting the Habanera. This really can’t afford to be as formidable as some of her other performances. The ‘pas aujourd-hui, c’est certain’, delivered with a beaming smile, is adorable, not dangerous; she’s too nice for Carmen. The aria itself is delivered with a slight frown and, as predicted, no real sense of seduction. Her French is… Russian. She’s sung wonderfully but the other three competitors must be thinking that this competition is winnable. Petroc asks another loded question- this time about ‘sunshine and the world of Carmen’. I think Petrova is a little disappointed, judging by her Josinterview.
DING DING DING! PUNDIT BINGO! Joyce just referred to ‘singing on the interest, not the capital’.
Now we have Lee, who I suspect will win if she brings her best form. ‘If I win this competition, I will be flying like a bird, because I will be in a dream’. Bless her. She’s starting with ‘Tornami a Vagheggiar’- odd to do something so very much easier than the arias she sang in her heat, I wonder if she’ll firework it up? Oooch, dodgy start- thin and pitchy. It improves, but she’s nowhere near the standard she set as Zerbinetta and Mme Mao. We get some pin-sharp sparkly stuff at the end, but she’s not done herself justice I’d say. Joyce felt it lacked playfulness, and Joyce is right. Ophelia’s mad scene now, which has the quite low bar of ‘can she do it better than Marlis Petersen’? Second aria syndrome- this is much, much better. She’s got a lot of ground to make up though- I’d say the Handel was weaker than anything Petrova sang. Hagegard appears to be asleep in a cutaway to the judges’ table, and who can blame him? Newsflash: the music of Amboise Thomas is, in the main, dull, and if she was going to insist on singing him, she should have gone for ‘Je Suis Titania’. But really, she could have rocked the place with ‘O Zittre Nicht’ or the Proch variations or Olympia’s aria or ‘Quando rapito’ or just ANYTHING would have been a better choice. She’s singing it prettily but not flawlessly enough to justify its presence, and went badly sharp at the end- another casualty of pushing. She was much, much better in the heat and I think has probably blown her chances tonight.
So, that would mean it boils down to Nafornita v Bondarenko, and the scoreboard on that one is currently running at Moldova 0 Ukraine 1. Bondarenko, wearing my M&S blue linen shirt, discusses his chances of winning with a suddenly flirty Josie. He’s starting with ‘Rivolgete’ which, even though Cosi is on some days my favourite opera, I’ve always found a bit of a slog. Much more dramatic and comic possibilities in ‘Donne mie’, surely? Still, this plays to a lot of Bondarenko’s strength and he attacks it with the confidence of someone who already has one prize under his belt. He’s undoubtedly a very exciting prospect but even this vocally unimpeachable and charmingly acted performance doesn’t quite have the thrill of a prizewinner about it. Now, however, he’s setting himself a challenge- Posa’s death. And it’s beautiful- the long breathed lines wonderfully controlled and with a legato which would be the envy of many more experienced and established singers- shame we didn’t get ‘Per Me Giunto’ as well. He ends it terrifically, giving a look to the heavens and a great gulp of air as a neat solution to the dilemma of a death scene in concert. Champagne aria now, aka the aria which nobody ever, ever sounds good singing. I suppose it’s a calling card- ‘cast me as Don Giovanni’ please- but he sounds every bit as out of breath as everyone who has ever sung this. An odd choice. Twitter is nonetheless calling it for Bondarenko, and we all know that Twitter is always right, hem hem. He ends, perhaps, inevitably, with Tschaikovsky, and it’s quite gorgeous. I think he might win, you know- although my spies in the hall tell me that he has audibility issues, but sounds better downstairs, and downstairs is, of course, where the judges sit.
Nafornita is going to start with ‘Regnava nel Silenzio’, which is spooky as I nearly sort of mentioned it earlier (although I doubt we’ll get the cabaletta). Slightly pitchy start but she’s into her stride by the second phrase. She sings it well, but she’s yet another singer who was better in the heats- there’s nothing as special as the frisson (pun intended) she brought to Juliette’s aria. Cool, we ARE getting ‘Quando rapito’. And it’s absolutely terrific, as the stadium-style cheers from the house reflect. That puts her in touching distance of Bondarenko, I’d say- it depends on her other arias. The first of which is Rusalka, so my tear ducts are in danger. She starts it beautifully, but as I said with regard to Leese in heat 1, it’s all about THAT phrase, which Leese didn’t quite nail. Nafornita does, however, in all its aching beauty. This is singing of very, very high quality indeed. We are ending- wry smile- with Je Veux Vivre. I have heard enough of this aria but there’s no doubt that Nafornita sings it well. Some people are kvetching about the Lucia, but I think her choice of rep has been very clever in both rounds. This is lovely, vibrant, expressive singing. I suspect, though, that Bondarenko has it by a nose.
Good GOD, Joyce di Donato failed to get past the audition stage. In the year that Guang Yang won. Just ponder on that for a moment while we wait for the result.
Audience prize comes first, nicely rechristened the Joan Sutherland audience prize. Bondarenko for this too? But no, it’s Nafornita, which judging from the response in the hall should have been easy to predict- and maybe it’s because people thought she should have won her heat? And- well, that’s a turn-up- she wins the main prize too, to the obvious astonishment of Bondarenko, who is the Arsenal or Chelsea of this competition- talk of trebles followed by disappointment. He wasn't as good in the final as in his heat, which is reflected in the reversed result, which might also have reflected the audibility thing.
I’d have given it to him*, but she’s a worthy winner nonetheless, of what has been a variable but largely excellent competition. But, you know what? Nobody sang Largo al Factotum.
*the prize, I mean. I'm not my flatmate.