Thursday, 20 June 2013

A Good Fair Creature, If It Be Well Used...

This might all go horribly wrong. I was out tonight having some drinks with pals, and fully intended to write up tonight-slash-last-night's heat tomorrow morning (probably this morning, by the time you read this. It's a pointlessly complicated timeline. Call me Stephen Moffatt). However, I've arrived home *just* before midnight and, what with having actual paying writing to do tomorrow, it makes sense to give you my thoughts on tonight's contenders before I go to sleep.

Warning, though: I've had a couple of pints, so if I say that any of the contestants are my best mate, or challenge them to a fight, you'll know why. I've also had tonight's heat slightly spoilered for me, but in quite an exciting way; apparently tonight's winner is reminiscent of a controversial singer I like rather a lot, so when SPOILER ALERT a soprano comes along singing Lady M or Minnie with reckless abandon oddly white tone, and a cavalier attitude to pitch, that will be our winner. You can add your guesses to the soundalike in the comments, if you've nowt better to do.

So, here we go. Titles are still a chase scene, but in my more grown-up (read: slightly drunk) mood, they feel less Harry Potter, more Crimson Tide. Someone should totally do an opera set on a submarine; it could be a sequel to Klinghoffer. Too soon?

Jokes in dubious taste aside, these titles are PROPER SILLY. It's a singing competition, not an episode of 24 (or Harry Potter, or Crimson Tide. The comparisons are going to keep on coming). Seriously, though, there really isn't this much jeopardy. 'Will I get the B flat in Abscheulicher' just isn't as tense a question as 'should I cut the blue wire or will that blow up the orphanage?'

Lovely Katerina Karneus is one of the judges tonight, which is ace as she's one of my favourite ever Cardiff winners. We get a little moment of the 'Non Piu Mesta' where she zinged joy into the room in a red frock. Mary K is excited because the singers marked in the dress rehearsal. Is that exciting? I wonder if it's more sort of commonplace. Petroc, meanwhile, is excited because we're getting the Habanera and Yeletsky's aria. I am wondering why that is particularly exciting. Maybe it's the same singer doing them.

We get a rundown of the singers: Gala El Hadidi, a mezzo from Egypt who must be, given that voice and nationality, resigned to a lifetime of intoning 'Pace t'imploro' over people's graves. Loriana Castellano is an Italian mezzo, which is sort of a shame because what the world needs is a cracking Italian soprano. WAIT! I am doing national determinism. For all I know they'll both be treating us to some Korngold. Alexei Bogdanchikov, baritone, is from Russia, so maybe the Yeletsky? I'm not prepared to guess that, see above. Luthando Qave is a South African bass baritone, which in this competition means he'll be a baritone having a crack at Fiesco,  and kicking us off is Maria Celeng, a Hungarian soprano. And for those of you who may have baulked at me gaying it up over Mr Croatia last night, it's only fair to add that, by the look of her mugshot, Ms Celeng is hawt and knows it.

Oh. Oh. Oh. Regular readers (as if) will know that I have a special relationship with the Rusalka aria, because it's all bound up with things about my dad and him dying and all that shizzle. And I am totally excited, because the few seconds we get of Celeng in rehearsal singing said aria are time-stopping. Totally gorgeous. They're interrupted by Josie asking her if she wants to win when she plays chess. I'm beginning to feel sorry for Josie.

Celeng starts with some Alcina, and it ought to be gorgeous but isn't quite. I can't quite put my finger on why; there's some smudgy ornamentation, I guess, but it's not that. She's maybe giving more vib and more voice than we're used to in this kind of music, but it's not that either. Maybe it's just that it's a bit overdone. Too much voice, too much grimacing, just a bit troppo. It's obviously a smashing voice though, so let's wait.

Come Scog! The aria that made me fall in love with opera, mefans. I confidently predicted that one Suzanne Braunsteffer would make a big career on the basis of this aria last time (because winners such as Mattila and 'Yes I'll be there no I can't make it' Harteros had sung it previous competitions) and Celeng is giving it a good old go, but again I'm finding that distance from her. Nothing to fault in the singing, I promise, and interpretatively she's giving it socks

Stopped typing because actually I'm warming to her more and more. The last part of the aria is very impressive. She has an immediacy to her performance which intially put me off but which is melding into an exciting intensity. Doesn't have the bottom for 'non vi renda audaci ancor' but hey, who does since Carol? She eats up the ending and I'm beginning to worry I may have misjudged her.

Karneus is sold, and now we get the Rusalka. Before it starts: I'm not crying, it's just dusty in here, ok?

Whoa, this is interesting; she opens the aria with such intensity that the voice becomes less lovely. Having thought she was someone with a great instrument who didn't communicate, I now find the opposite happening. No, this is gorgeous. She opens up the big tune beautifully (someone shoot the conductor; STOP RUSHING HER).

She makes me cry at the end. Just lovely, vocally and dramatically. I am seriously conflicted about this singer, had you noticed? I think she's basically ace, but there was something- until the Rusalka- which stopped me from entirely loving her. Karneus loved everything; Mary didn't like the bottom of the Fiordiligi either (so to speak). I wish I knew what I thought of this singer, but I just can't decide.

KLAXON KLAXON KLAXON. Petroc is announcing an aria which introduces 'a real wheeler-dealer' and saying, heavily, that Mary has 'combed' the archives.

You know what this means, kids. Largo Al FactheFacoff. Please, baritones, stop.

I've fastforwarded the video of Mary giving us all the people who have done it before. I'm tempted to fastforward the performance too, but that wouldn't be fair on Alexei Bogdanchikov. He's starting with 'O Carlo Ascolta', which is also overdone, but I don't mind because people don't mug the living shit out of it.

Husky start to the big tune on 'Io morro', and again some breath issues, here. Also, a personal bete noire of mine: he takes the line 'Ah di me non ti scordar' by showing off his big rich top on the 'Non', taking a massive breath, then going down to a whisper on 'ti scordar'. I know everyone does it, and the music sort of demands it, but the good Rodrigos are aware that this is, you know, the middle of a sentence rather than a chance to show off your technique. He deals with the end well enough, but he's not the answer to the Verdi baritone problem: he's a lyric pushing it, rather than one of those massive dark forces of nature that seemingly were born in every Italian village circa 1915.

And, as if to prove it, he caresses his way through some Tote Stadt.  Sumptous singing, but I am getting worried about the men in this competition- the women are leaving them at the starting gate when it comes to powers of expression. The words of the aria are, Korngoldly, all perfume and sensuousness. All Alexei gives us is Sincere Face and the Isokoski Frown. When he smiles at the end it's a reminder that mouths can do more than sing.

Ok, here we go. Figaro qua, Jonathan a long way over la.

Well, he's not mugging. But he's not speaking to us, either. If you're going to roll this one out, you have to FLATTEN us with personality, and he isn't doing so. Needs to watch his Italian, too (I have a degree in Italian, so screw you, people who were about to call me pretentious). The 'lalala's have a very Russian heaviness, and 'fortunatissimo' becomes, unfortunately, 'fartunatissima'. Poor lady.

But: it seems I'm grumpy tonight. There's a real voice here. And he gets MASSIVE points for not going into falsetto on the last 'Figaro', although he does that squawky 'LOOK! I'M BEING A WOMAN!' thing elsewhere in the aria.

Petroc has just told us that this was the first Largo of the evening. I'm going to get another beer. Meanwhile, what did Mary say? She totally agreed with me, again. I may marry her, if Croatian Marko says no.

BRILLIANT Josie moment. She smilingly asks him if he enjoyed it out there and he gives her back the full Uncle Vanya Doing A Degree In Computers. I'm definitely beginning to feel sorry for Josie. She is so charmingly upbeat, and she's getting a hell of a lot of reticent gloom in return.

Runthrough of the judges: you know who they are.

Miss Egypt now, and there's a smashing Joserview about the politics in Egypt and how it affects her as singer of 'Western' music. Could have seen more of that, particularly since she seems to have a fiery, witty personality. Rehearsal footage gives us a Baltsaish, Bartolish Habanera, and that's what she starts with- a lightish voice whose personality reveals itself in a rich, glassy chest voice, and in performance. I like this singer a lot: the voice is on the ok side of great, but she knows what she's doing, and she'll delve into chest at the drop of a hat. I'm clearly in a perverse mood tonight: as an instrument, she has nothing like the first two, but she engages me more than either of them did. She's in trouble careerwise, though; the bottom of her voice suggests Carmen and Eboli, the middle and top veer closer to the -inas. Some Stolz now, and it's not an aria I know, but it's his attempt to have a piece of the Gypsy song action and therefore sounds like the exact midpoint between Saffi's aria and that Noel Coward song. El Hadidi gives it all the 'Hey ha heia ho' with some gusto, and luxuriates below the stave, but she's not going to win. I think she's smashing, but I can't see a rep for her; she'd tear herself apart as Amneris or Azucena, and I don't think she has the middle or top for the lighter mezzo rep. The most immediate performer of the night though, by a country mile. Karneus- who is as utterly lovely and sweet as you would have guessed from that Non Piu Mesta- is utterly lovely and sweet. Mary is a bit damning; too damning. We're no longer friends, Mary and I, especially after El Hadidi proves as much of a bundle of fun in her post-show Joserview as she promised to be in her VT.

Now, the Italian mezzo. I was hoping for a new Cossotto, but she's doing 'Svegliatevi nel core' in her rehearsal so I guess we have to wait. I'll spare you the painful football-related VT with Josie. As someone who loves both opera and football, I should have been the core audience but... no.

Ooh, Parto Parto to start, and already you can tell she's good. This is a hideously overcrowded fach, though- she's up against Bartoli and Fink and Garanca and DiDonato and Connolly and and and. She has a lovely basic sound, and is a communicative performer, so it's all up to the twizzles at the end. She nails number one... sails through number two... and although number three sounds and looks effortful, it's all there. And she ends it with a brilliant blue steel look, intense as anything. I don't think she'll win- I don't think she'll even win tonight- but she'll work.

Another Sesto next, and PLEASE, BBC editors, can we NOT start in the middle section of a da capo? It makes no sense musically and does no favours to the singer. Not that Castellano needs it, because this reveals that her role models are more on the Bonitatibus side of things. Like I said, she'll work. She's already a fully formed Baroque mezzo and you'd be more than happy to find her as your Sesto (either) or Ruggiero or Amastre or, I dunno, Ercole sul Termodonte.

She's finishing with Cenerentola, which is interesting- I wouldn't have had her down as a Rossinian, because she didn't toss off the end of the Clemenza aria in the manner of people like Murray or Berganza who are on their way to bel canto. (Yeah, Murray and Berganza. Bite me). And, so it proves. The fireworks at the end are accurate but careful, and who wants fireworks to be careful? Bit of a panic first time she gets to the top, too, but she makes up for it subsequently. She gave a smashing account of herself in the Rossini, but I want to hear her sing loads and loads of Handel and Viv, please.

Karneus found the coloratura to be too effortful, which is the first even slightly critical comment she's made all night.

And now a bloody smashing Joserview- with our South African bass, who is studying at the Met, and sings a stunning Yeletsky in his VT- but he has a real story to tell; watching Cardiff in his township changed his life. Josie lets him tell his story and hey, that's what those VTs should be for.

And then he ruins it all by- sigh- singing You Know What. Although he is MUCH better than Mr Russia earlier, I.. I just... PLEASE DON'T DO IT ANY MORE. Apart from anything, it's not much of a test of a voice. It's solely a performance piece, and it belongs in its opera where it works very nicely; anyone who sings it in concert ends up trying too hard. Qave shows every sign of being proper ace, but then we get to the 'jokes' and although he doesn't do anything wrong, everyone in the known world wants to shoot themselves a little bit. And you know what? All you find out from the end of the aria is whether someone's diction is any good, which is way down the list of criteria for a great actor-singer. Anyway, all moaning aside, he did it very well. But STOP, EVERYONE.

Then we get to see what a good singer he is- his Yeletsky has legato for days, even though a bit of phlegm finds its way in here and there, and the breath isn't all it could be. Agh, as I typed that a crack came in, which I think may have been a breath/phlegm combo. Like Mr Croatia, he's hugely promising but not ready. Oops, more phlegmy cracks at the end. I think we may have a smoker here. Karneus calls him elegant, which is true, but we get more phlegm at the beginning of his last aria (Maravilla? I claim ignorance, shamefacedly) and it continues. Lovely tone, legato, but rattles and husk behind it all. He's talented, but he ain't ready.

Oh: he's ill. Discard the above. What rotten luck.

Filler again, before the results. Even though we're not live, we're having filler again. Please don't do this all week (they're going to do this all week). As Petroc wraps it up, he reminds us that tonight's winner may not make the final. I kind of have to agree. I can't see a winner here; of the whole thing, I mean. Celeng will win the heat.

Pointless recap, then we're told that Celeng has won, which she deserved. I still have that odd reticence about her, though. And I'm going to do a big divface to the person who (remember the potential spoiler?) told me she was like Zampieri.

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