Showing posts with label BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition. Show all posts

Monday, June 19, 2017

In which Dido outshines Wolfram, Rodolfo, Yeletsky and even Blanche

As London lurches from one horror to another, the only place to be last night was Cardiff, or at least in front of a TV beaming it in loud and clear. The 2017 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World final proved one of those historic-to-be occasions that do occur there sometimes: five burgeoning singers take the stage and you soon realise you don't want to miss one note of any of them. 

The victor seems to have taken some viewers by surprise, but I can't imagine why, other than the fact that she was the only performer who had not actually "won" her "round". Having grouped the contestants into a series of concerts, each of which has a winner who goes through to the final, the competition also offers a "wild card" final-round place for an extra choice. This was given to her. Her name is Catriona Morison and she comes from Scotland. (Is that why people are surprised? No one is a prophet in, etc.) Before the grand final, she had already won the Song Prize together with the Mongolian baritone Ariunbaatar Ganbaatar. We are very much in favour of joint awards when occasion demands - after all, the "there CAN only be ONE winner" trope beloved of TV talent contests serves TV way more than it serves the contestants.

Catriona Morison
In a grand final of astounding singing from most of the competitors, everyone displayed splendid, rock-solid technique. Most had planned their programmes well. The voices glowed and blazed and dazzled. Louise Alder, the English soprano, scooped the audience prize, as well she might: she's got it all, from top notes to absolute charisma. The men, even if ultimately outdone, were stunners too. The Australian tenor Kang Wang had a big following, was out to please and is clearly going places, though I thought he had a slight tendency (nerves perhaps?) to rush in the Lensky aria. But Ariunbaatar Ganbaatar, who has already won the International Tchaikovsky Competition's singers' section, offered an account of Yeletsky's aria from The Queen of Spades, with sapphire-dark shining tone, that came so much from the heart that any Lisa in her right mind would have to drop the plot and fall straight into his arms. Anthony Clark Evans's Evening Star aria from Tannhäuser was scarcely less satisfying,  and both baritones gave us the Prologue from Pagliacci, each so superb that I for one would never have been able to choose between them. Stardom awaits the lot.

What did Catriona do that was different from the others? Well, she sang Dido's Lament by Purcell.

She also sang Octavian from the first scene of Rosenkavalier, and a few other things, but frankly those pale, given what she did with the Purcell. The Lament is close to the hearts of very many music-lovers in the UK, of course, but partly because of that, it's the sort of piece we can sometimes take too much for granted. Catriona not only wrung us out with her emotional veracity, but made us feel we were recognising this music's extraordinary power and beauty for the first time. Thanks to her, it seemed that Purcell could outshine Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Puccini, never mind the bel canto stuff, plus Louise's beautiful extract from André Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire. As Danielle de Niese commented, when the technical level is so high all round, the judges have to look beyond that... 

Where has she been all our lives? Actually, at Wuppertal Opera. A lot of surprise emerged on Twitter when the hosts for the evening mentioned in conversation that Germany has 83 publicly funded opera houses and 1/3 of the world's opera takes place there, but yes, they do, and they get things right: their audiences are accustomed to attending, they do rare repertoire, they present challenging productions and their ensemble companies help to train up fabulous youngsters from all over the world. Most of the best opera singers of today have done stints as company members in Germany. Some of them don't come home, which is why a British soprano, Catherine Foster, has been singing Brünnhilde at Bayreuth to great acclaim, yet nobody here has heard her... 

End of rant. Please go and listen to all five singers on the iPlayer now, and let their artistry speak for itself. 

Monday, June 24, 2013


The winner of the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition is Jamie Barton, an American mezzo-soprano whose artistry, as far as I'm concerned, blew the others clean out of the water.

She sang four different characters in four languages - Cilea, Sibelius, Berlioz and, dear friends, the Witch from Hansel und Gretel - mesmerising from note number one and sparking laughter, tears and everything between. She draws you in to the exclusion of all else; she can lift you sky-high with that tone and its massive range; her diction and characterisation can help to twist your heart even in a language you don't know. No wonder she scooped both the overall prize and the Song Prize, which hadn't happened since 2001.

The Audience Prize went to English tenor Ben Johnson, who is of course a fine artist - I enjoyed his performance as a bookish, introverted Alfredo at ENO a few months ago - but might a strange image somehow go through one's mind of Barton bundling him into her magic oven at breakfast time? Argentinian mezzo Daniela Mack drew much acclaim and some of us were especially happy that she chose to sing some Pauline Viardot songs in the Song Prize - this was a brilliant competition in making us appreciate the richness and variety of the mezzo-soprano repertoire. In the week before the final, I was very taken with the Hungarian soprano Maria Celeng, whose lyricism and heart-shredding conviction reminded me a little of the great Angela...

Well, we'll be hearing much more of them all. This was one of those heart-warming moments when the future of great singing looks deliciously secure. Explore all these wonderful young artists on the website, here.

And how fantastic it was, when the Song Prize final arrived, to have a whole evening of Lieder on the TV. This contest is the only time this ever happens, I fear... Special plaudits to the pianists, because singer after singer plumped for Rachmaninov.

Watch the final on the BBC iPlayer here for a week.

Follow Jamie on Twitter at @jbartonmezzo, look out for her singing Fricka at Houston Grand Opera next year... and sometime, when our all-Mahlered-out orchestras have recovered from 2010-11 and want to do some again, perhaps someone could please grab her for Das Lied von der Erde?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Kathleen Ferrier - and the Kathleen Ferrier Award

That article about Kathleen Ferrier I promised you is out now in The Independent's all-new Saturday arts section, which launches today. You can read it online, naturally - here - but please buy a copy and see the goodies that the editorial team has been cooking up for us!

Meanwhile, last night at the Wigmore Hall, the Kathleen Ferrier Awards for young singers held its final. Winner: 25-year-old Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw, who also scooped the Song Prize. Natalya has been in the public eye a fair bit already, popping up last year in the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition and featuring in a lovely documentary about Chopin fronted by James Rhodes. Her name may not sound so Welsh; apparently her Ukrainian grandfather settled in Wales during World War II. She studied at Guildhall and is currently an associate artist with the Classical Opera Company, which seems to have a canny way of spotting and grabbing the best young talent. Sophie Bevan, Sarah Jane Brandon and Pumeza Matshikiza have also graced its artist list in the recent past.

Second prize went jointly to soprano Ruth Jenkins (also 25) and baritone Ben McAteer (24). The pianist Craig White won the Accompanist's Prize. The full line-up of the finals is on the contest's website.

Natalya won second prize in the Houston Grand Opera's Eleanor McCollum Competition earlier this year, and although there's no video from last night's Ferrier final, there is a sample from Houston: 'Comè scoglio' from Così fan tutte, no small order for any soprano at any time. Brava, Natalya! We look forward to loving your voice for many happy years.