Something a little different for heat 2 of Cardiff. Those of you who frequent opera websites (and hello, both of you!) will have come across the 'IM conversation' approach to opera criticism- two people, watching and listening to the same thing, and chatting away about it before your astonished eyes. Since my friend J (not his real name, his real name is longer) and I had both missed last night's heat, I thought it might be fun for us to harness the power of iplayer, Sky Plus and the internet to bring you our thoughts on the- mildly disappointing, as it turned out- second heat of this year's competition.
I should point out that J's real name isn't 'Dame Gwyneth Jones' either, although that is the name under which his posts appear below. However, it might be fun to read or sing his observations in the voice of that redoubtable soprano, so do feel free to do so if it pleases you.
"me: First observation: They seem to have borrowed their title music from 'Eggheads' or similar.
damegwynethjones: Yes, and Petroc is doing his best impression of the gravelly voiced Americn who does the film trailer voiceovers.
me: They should have swirling 360 degree cameras like on X Factor. Oh look, they do. The judges look so OLD.
damegwynethjones: Kiri, especially, seems to be teetering on the edge of suddenly turning into an old lady. Who is that judge who doesn't get any kind of descriptive tag? Sort of Russian sounding name, with no indiction of what his mandate is.
me: OK, Meeta Raval from England is first. She is down with the kids, follows urban artists, and wants to collaborate with Tinie Tempah. Sigh.
damegwynethjones: Oh God. At least she has some sort of personality and a natural manner.
me: Yep. 'Signore Ascolta' first. (I have to do this descriptive stuff for my PUBLIC, you understand) Hmm. A bit metallic, no? Not sure I like her vibrato.
damegwynethjones: Nice-ish dress. Wouldn't have advised lace for her though. Touch metallic yes, but I basically like it. Natural and free.
me: She's lovely with the quieter stuff, but it gets that 'balloon plastic' sound under pressure. Does that make sense or have I come down with synasthaesia? The end was beautiful.
damegwynethjones: Generous phrasing, lack of inhibition -not usual in one so young. Not completely following the balloon plastic thing tbh.
me: Haha, I'm not surprised. I think I know what I mean but I don't see why anyone else should... What about this then? Walton's Troilus and Cressida must be a new one for this competition. Someone's had a word on rep, I think, after all the endless 'Je Veux Vivres' last time.
damegwynethjones: Yes, but she isn't the only one singing it this year! She does remind me of De Niese up top, which isn't really a compliment.
me: She's singing this very well though, in general, I think. Pouring out lots of tone, to use critical cliche #1.What she is not going to do, however, is win. You're right, the top is iffy. She's good and passionate though.
damegwynethjones: I really like her, I think. Complete command of her voice, good musician, seems like she could probably act. Final high note was lovely.
me: She can act all right. This Vespri aria has every drop of the individuality it was missing in the first heat. She's very immediate.
damegwynethjones: Exactly, good word. Just a bit closed in the lower top (stupid expression but you know what I mean), otherwise, attractive and fab.
me: I'm not entirely in love with the actual voice itself, but she uses it wonderfully.
damegwynethjones: Top E on the cards?
me: Yeah, I reckon she will. She has a glint in her eye.
me: So much for theories...
damegwynethjones: Oh well. Kiri liked it.
me: So, if you were Tinie Tempah, which aria would you want to urbanly remix with her?
damegwynethjones: Oh the Verdi fo' shizzle.
me: She has personality to burn, judging by her chat with Josie. Mary thinks she's singing heavier rep than she should be.
damegwynethjones: Maybe, but I didn't hear anything too worrying. Top does def need to open up though, that's true.
me: MYSTERY RUSSIAN JUDGE SIGHTED!
damegwynethjones: Do you think they even know who he is?
me: Maybe he just strolled in confidently. Wang Lifu next, Chinese baritone, and the first singer so far this year to make me really sit up and take notice just on the rehearsal clip- it sounds like a GORGEOUS voice.
damegwynethjones: Remember Guang Yang?
me: He's her PUPIL. She can't be teaching, she's only twelve.
damegwynethjones: He's goood!
me: This guy is having intonation problems in a RECIT, which doesn't bode well.
He's got that Rad thing where his vibrato takes him off pitch. Smashing basic voice though.
damegwynethjones: Much better than his teacher, anyway. I think he'll calm down.
me: (note: 'Rad' is being used here as an abbreviation for 'Radvanovsky'. I am not trying to be as down with the kids as Meeta Raval. Dude.) He reminds me of- and how obscure can you get?- Jorma Hynninen.
damegwynethjones: Um, ok. I'm rapidly going off him actually. It's like it's all vibrato and no core.
me: I sang this (count's aria from Figaro) at a school concert when I was 17. I held the F at the end far too long, because I could.
damegwynethjones: A born diva, clearly. This tempo for the Mahler is a piss take, no?
me: I kind of tune out when Mahler comes on. He gets in trouble at the top, doesn't he? A couple of actual shouts.
damegwynethjones: Yes. It's all rather over-weighted.
me: There's talent there but I'm not sure he's ready for competition at this level yet.
damegwynethjones: No Mary. I agree. I think he's on the wrong track technically I'm afraid. It should all be easier.
me: Haha, are you going to call me Mary King every time I get pompous and categorical? Because I warn you, I'm going to do that a LOT. He's very emotionally connected to this boring dirge, I mean masterpiece of the orchestral lied, isn't he? Interpretatively good but all kinds of problems with the actual, you know, singing.
damegwynethjones: He's got the whole Birgit 'lean back and drop your jaw' thing. Slightly different result though.
me: Mary agrees with me AGAIN, by the way.
damegwynethjones: I take that song at least twice as fast, btw. So does Hampson, fwiw.
me: Advice for singers from Mary King. Do you do yoga before you go on stage? Mary thinks you should. AVOID ALCOHOL, she says. I'm sure we can all relate to that. Canada now, soprano Sasha Djihanian. She has ‘a passion for belly dancing’ and is ‘not afraid of fun’. I hate all those people who are afraid of fun. Sounds as if she's going to do Da Tempeste from Giulio Cesare by Danielle de Niese.
damegwynethjones: Gorgeous dress!
me: It is yellow, fashion fans. Why do this aria if you can't do coloratura?
damegwynethjones: Where is the Bollywood dance routine? She needs something to distract from the singing, as you say.
me: Nice stage presence. But all these noodles are * stern face* NOT. GOOD. ENOUGH.
damegwynethjones: I cannot believe she is one of the 20 best singers under 30, even in Canada. Better than Bulgaria but come on- not anything like the standard expected.
me: I think Miss Bulgaria did a better job than this. She has been both sharp and flat and not one run has come out cleanly.
damegwynethjones: I think Bulgaria's coloratura was better, but for me the basic production of this girl is healthier. Dreadful rep choice, may yet do something nice and lyrical quite well.
me: Well, we'll find out- here's Ach ich Fuhl's. Yep, this is much more the kind of thing she should be singing.
damegwynethjones: Better. Still exposing some weaknesses though.
me: It's just as hard in a different way, isn't it? * pundit face* And there she goes, totally ploughing the one small piece of coloratura in the whole thing. STEP AWAY FROM THE SEMIQUAVERS.
damegwynethjones: Coloratura comes down to facility, IMO, so I never really take it into account as a measure of a singer's technique or a piece's difficulty. So I'd say this aria is harder than the Cleopatra.
me: She redeemed herself at the end, which was lovely. But no, not really good enough. Still, she's gorgeous and moves well, so she'll be singing Abigaille at the Met before you know it /parterre
damegwynethjones: Yep. She'll be depriving Matos, Meade AND Hong of gainful employment.
me: Josie's right to call her expressive- everyone so far has been right inside the music. Nobody's sung it all that well, though.
damegwynethjones: What is Mary on about??
me: Too much gesture, apparently. I kind of know what she means. David Pountney's saying Miss Canada does a sort of 'ta-da!' at the end of each coloratura passage, which bugged me too.
damegwynethjones: No, I meant where she said the coloratura was good and suited her!
me: Bloody hell, I missed that. Now then. Einspringer time. Olga Kindler from Switzerland, replacing someone who fell ill. Olga is VERY Swiss, judging by her interview with Josie. Fuck me, she's doing Aida. Ah, I see. She's Ukrainian really. Swukranian.
damegwynethjones: Potentially very exciting...Finally some Wagner!
me: Dich Teure Halle is one of the three or so bits of Wagner I allow.
damegwynethjones: Because Gundula did it?
me: Well, Gundula helps. But mainly because I like the end. I note you haven't mentioned the frock, which it might be kindest to ignore.
damegwynethjones: Too distracted by the poodle hair-do.
me: Are you old enough to remember Crystal Tipps?
damegwynethjones: Doesn't ring any bells...
damegwynethjones: Spitting image!
me:She sang that very very well but not very nicely, I'd say. I think Aida is going to suit her better. Tone was a bit squally for Elisabeth.
damegwynethjones: Again, stuff to work on, not terribly exceptional a talent.
me: Beginning of 'Ritorna Vincitor' is exciting though. Chest voice!
damegwynethjones: Got her chest out for the lads there...
me: The top is IDENTICAL to Freni in heavier rep. Although Freni was over 50. OH MY GOD TRAIN CRASH OCTAVE DROP
damegwynethjones: I think this may be the same girl I heard ruin some songs in the Lieder round on R3 today. This is the best thing she has done. OMG yes!
me: Very good recovery though- she's produced some of her best singing since that calamity.
damegwynethjones: WTF was that? I'm not sure she's quite exactly like Freni, up top or anywhere else... she has got better though, you're right.
me: It's that slight leaning in to the top notes from below which was a trick of Freni's Aida/Tatyana/Elisabetta She's had to drop an octave again, poor girl.
damegwynethjones: Don't understand why. Poor thing. She didn't sound like she was in trouble. Mary will blame rep choice, yes?
me: She will. Maybe someone will say something about singing on the interest, not the capital. Josie did well there- asked about the flub then kindly reassured her. I can't really see her pulling that octave trick in, say, Naples and escaping with her life.
damegwynethjones: Ha! No. I think a wobbly hot mess up there would be preferable.
me: So- singer 5 to win, whoever he or she might be?
damegwynethjones: I think Meeta could win the round.
me: Now a summary of round one. BBC- please stop playing us Petrova cocking up the end of 'Acerba Volutta'. Thanks.
damegwynethjones: They're obsessed with the one duff note in her whole programme!
me: Marcela Gonzalez from Chile. Who loves basketball.
damegwynethjones: Rubbish coloratura in the rehearsal clip.
me: Bloody hell, is she doing 'Bel Raggio'?
damegwynethjones: Any top Es in this one?
me: After the first couple of phrases I kind of hope not.
damegwynethjones: Oh God she's really not up to it is she.
me: Nowhere close. She should be singing maybe Lauretta.
damegwynethjones: G&S might work.
me: She has a spread on her voice which shouldn't happen until the farewell Bolenas in 2040.
damegwynethjones: Quite. And it happes on the e on the stave, which is a dreadful sign.
me: Ha, I wonder if anyone has ever done 'Coppia Iniqua' in a competition. That would be sort of cool. (Not this lady though, pls)
damegwynethjones: Yes it would. I wonder if Leah Crocetto could be persuaded at this late stage.
me: Miss Chile's actually not bad at some of the runs, it's the Scotto-in-trouble high notes that are her downfall.
damegwynethjones: Yes, they were better than the preview indicated.
me: BZZZT! JE VEUX VIVRE KLAXON. I'm thinking of banning this aria when I'm Prime Minister.
damegwynethjones: It's exactly the same skills set as the Rossini, which makes it a doubly bad choice.
me: She's making a better fist of this, actually.
damegwynethjones: Meeta has to win.
me: Yep, but possibly not get to the final. Don't think she's as good as Vasile, for example.
damegwynethjones: Maybe. There is something about her that I really liked though.
me: Miss Chile's Gounod is much, much better than her Rossini. What a mental choice that was. Also, we should mention her looks, for she is muchly pretty.
damegwynethjones: Yes, but still not good enough. Pretty though, as you say.
me: Ah- she's dropped one of her arias and pulled out of the song prize. None of this should be happening at 24. Disturbingly, according to her post-match interview with Josie, she thinks it went really well.
damegwynethjones: Hakan [ED’S NOTE: Hagegard, one of the judges] is being a bit cryptic.
me: Look at that tubby elderly man who was the beautiful boy in the Bergman film of Zauberflote. Sigh. Time. The recap just makes it absolutely clear that Raval should win, doesn't it?
damegwynethjones: Yes. The others all had significant problems
me: And lo, she wins, despite the balloon plastic vibrato. Ha, I love her holding up the crystal bowl like it was the FA Cup.
damegwynethjones: I do think she's really good, and deserves success. Disarmingly free of any sort of artifice. Would be ever so nice if she did slow down the career and fix the transition to the top. Don't suppose she will though..."
Back to just me for heat three tonight, as J/Dame Gwyneth will be singing for a living when it's on. I'll hope to be able to update tonight, it's just a question of persuading the flatmate to allow 90 minutes of opera onto our telly, on the eve of his birthday... wish me luck.