Brownlee et al. / Summers
As noted a week ago, this was the first Council Finals in a while that I couldn't hear with my own two ears. I do have two correspondents, though, who complement each other: one a bit more measured (A), the other a bit more opinionated (B). So, on to their words, with only formatting and minor editorializing by me.
Philippe Sly (bass-baritone, 22)
"Sibilar gli angui d'Aletto" (Rinaldo)
"O du mein holder Abendstern" (Tannhäuser)
A: I sensed a bit of nerves in the Handel piece that led me to believe that as the youngest of the group, he could use a bit more seasoning, but the Wagner was an aurally stunning moment of feeling (excellent line and phrasing). The youngest of the lot.
B: Philippe Sly, the French Canadian bass baritone masquerading as a tenor won and it will be interesting to see where his voice settles. He was the first to sing, so there were some nerves in his first aria from Handel, and he was sometimes staring at the stage floor, but he improved with "O'mein holder Abendstern." His voice is too light for Wolfram; however he did a respectable job and it was a short-lived pleasure to hear the Met Orchestra accompany him; a bit like being in a Bentley just to cross Central Park.
Deanna Briewick (soprano, 24)
"En proie a la Tristesse" (Comte Ory)
"Sul fil d'un soffio etesio" (Falstaff)
A: Pleasant enough, but uninspiring. I wish I had more to say, but I don't really. The basic voice just did not appeal to me.
B: Voice was small, breathy, high coloratura top, but nothing beneath. Girly and colorless.
Joseph Lim (baritone, 28)
"Hai gia vinta la causa" (Figaro)
Igor's aria (Prince Igor)
A: A little too restrained in the Mozart (he didn't quite capture the frustration--the "foiled again" aspect--of the aria), but made up for it quite well in the Borodin; presenting as a singer who understood what he was singing and and the feeling behind it, I felt the Borodin was a daring choice for a competition and was wondering how well he'd do with it, and I was not disappointed.
B: A bit generic in the Mozart, kind of barky, but I liked him singing in Russian.
Ryan Speedo Green (bass-baritone, 24)
Banco's aria (Macbeth)
"La calunnia" (Barber)
A: Best name for an American opera singer, evah (or at least this century)! [I agree -ed.] Seriously, could potentially be a cross between Morris Robinson and Kurt Moll. Subtle/nuanced phrasing in the Verdi, personality personified in the Rossini. Problem w/loudness though (see below).
B: His career may be for slowly sung parts like Sarastro, Grand Inquisitor and Commendatore. He has a rich voice but is a bit generic, I wished for more agility in the Rossini.
Sasha Djihanian (soprano, 25)
"Non disperar" (Giulio Cesare)
"Signore, ascolta" (Turandot)
A: Of the remaining women (of whom I liked both), she was the one I liked marginally better (in terms of sound). She has a warm, full, and (importantly) distinct tone, and crisp diction displayed to really good effect in the Handel (though it may have worked against her in the Puccini).
B: An interesting, solid lyric soprano with a well developed voice and technique. Polished, non-histrionic stage presence. Of everyone in the competition, she is the one I'd be most interested in hearing again.
Nicholas Masters (bass, 26)
"Il lacerato spirito" (Boccanegra)
Bottom's Dream (Midsummer Night's Dream)
A: I liked him, but perhaps he was too polished, perhaps too uneven in the register, perhaps not daring enough in what he chose to sing (compared to Mr. Lim)? Who knows? I honestly can't say.
B: His Verdi aria was my favorite moment in the competition. Intelligently sung, and very nice legato. Hate to say this, but he perhaps could have won if he'd nixed the Britten aria, which went over the audience like a lead balloon.
Michelle Johnson (soprano, 28)
"Io son l'umile ancella" (Adriana Lecouvreur)
"Dove sono" (Figaro)
A: Absolutely hideous dress, but ample cleavage for those who want to know about such things. Seriously, she wowed the crowd, with rich, lovely, innate sound in both the Cilea and the Mozart, but I thought the Mozart was a bit sloppy/rushed/tense (pick one). The trills at the end didn't float enough to make my hair stand on end—one of those must have moments that make the aria for me.
B: All of soprano Michelle Johnson's family and fan club turned out for her this afternoon. Wish she could have told them not to clap and holler before her first aria, "Io son l'umile ancella" from Adriana Lecouvreur fully ended. Lovely, full, gigantic voice, but does not seem the type to disappear into her characters. There is of course room for singers like that. She went for the shock and awe treatment and it worked.
Joseph Barron (bass-baritone, 25)
"Vi ravviso" (Sonnambula)
"Vous qui faites l'endormie" (Faust)
A: Named after the last Morse villain? At first I felt he was too much toward the baritone end of the register, but eventually he did show a satisfactory bottom-end. As I was listening to him, the singer that came to mind was Cornell McNeil (particularly as Germont). Maybe someday?
B: Seems destined to sing parts like the Baron Ochs and the title role of Don Pasquale. Someone's got to do them, and this hammy bass did a nice job with his arias. Maybe the elegance will come later on.
[Sly, Lim, Green, Johnson, and Barron were the announced winners.]
A: I got to pontificating on how the judges were going to evaluate this year's finalists and choose winners among a very gifted and well-deserving bunch, and of course seeing if I could pick 'em (I got 60%).
From where I sat, most of the performers had difficulty consistently projecting/controlling their voices at some point. The quiet bits were too quiet (but not inaudible), and the loud bits were not quite loud enough. In contrast, former winner Lawrence Brownlee, who, pardon the expression, rocked the house with his guest arias, has certainly mastered the art of singing delicately, loudly. I guess that's something that will come later in their training, along with more intense work to build the complete opera singer. But it was an enlightening moment of potential and potential realized.
Based on what I've heard, and the actual results, I'm concluding that winning is determined not so much by who are "the best" singers on finals day in any given year, but on who has the most potential to be realized, and who the prize, along with the doors it opens, might help most.
The two I missed on were Mr. Sly and Mr. Lim, who didn't have spectacular opening arias, but impressed after intermission (feeling, understanding, and daring trumped the mugging).
[Sometimes it's potential over polish, sometimes the judges just screw up or have bizarre likes/dislikes. Just being in this concert will get all the finalists opportunities to prove themselves as they go along, though. -ed.]
B: The two singers I liked the most -- Sasha Djihanian, who's competing at Cardiff, and Nicholas Masters -- were shut out.
[This blog will have a Cardiff correspondent this year, so we'll see. -ed.]
Thanks to both correspondents!