Anthony Roth Costanzo (countertenor, 26)
"Rompo i lacci" (Flavio)
"Stille amare" (Tolomeo)
Noah A. Baetge (tenor, 28)
"Fra poco a me ricovero" (Lucia)
"Pourquoi me reveiller" (Werther)
Kiri Dyan Deonarine (soprano, 24)
"Piangero la sorte mia" (Giulio Cesare)
"The trees on the mountains" (Susannah)
Paul Appleby (tenor, 25)
"Dal labbro" (Falstaff)
"O wie ängstlich" (Abduction)
Sarah Mesko (mezzo, 24)
"Svegliatevi nel core" (Giulio Cesare)
"All'afflitto e dolce il pianto" (Roberto Devereux)
Sung Eun Lee (tenor, 30)
"Ah! leve-toi, soleil!" (Romeo & Juliette)
"La donna e mobile" (Rigoletto)
Nadine Sierra (soprano, 20)
Juliette's waltz (Romeo & Juliette)
"Ruhe sanft" (Zaïde)
Jessica Julin (soprano, 28)
"Non, cet affreux devoir... Je t'implore" (Iphigenie en Tauride)
Lisa's aria (Queen of Spades)
Costanzo, Appleby, Lee, and Sierra were chosen as winners.
It's a truism that disappointing years at the Council Finals alternate with exciting ones, but not so much this time. 2008 offered one outstanding singer and some pleasant but unexciting compatriots; in 2009 -- despite a high overall standard of professionalism and competence -- none really set the heart racing.
This was no particular fault of Costanzo's. He was easily the most musical of the bunch, impressively engaged and showing a good sense of rhythm, phrase, word, and dynamics. He's also, however, a countertenor, and there's only so much that clever dynamic variation can do to compensate for the essentially unvarying and limited colors inherent in the voice-type. I admire his skill, but have no interest in seeing him in anything besides, say, Midsummer Night's Dream.
Baetge gave perhaps the most vocally impressive of the day's performances in the Lucia aria. Werther went less well, however -- did this cost him a prize? His languages could use work.
Deonarine probably wasn't one of the best performers on the day, but I thought she might have the most potential. Her interpretive skills aren't mature -- though the Floyd was done with nice sincerity -- and the sound could use a bit more polish but there's a core of steel in her lyric soprano that should serve her well in big houses like this one. (Also, she's attractive, which doesn't hurt.)
Appleby was an odd choice. Something in his high note production struck me as off even after he settled down his pitch issues in Fenton's excerpt. He has a generally pleasant enough sound and the Abduction was certainly fluent, but I'm not sure what earned him winner status.
Mesko has the core of a nice mezzo voice but the top is a bit edgy and not quite integrated. Her first selection, unfortunately, heavily highlighted this issue.
Lee is a broad-shouldered Korean guy who sounded, in Romeo's aria, uncannily like Roberto Alagna -- timbre, pronunciations, everything. (I suppose he's studied the records...) His phrasing and onstage manner were efficient, decisive, and controlled -- not exactly inspiring, but effective. I'm not sure how reliably securely his high notes will come out over the course of time, but he pulled out a nice one to close the Rigoletto selection.
From looking at Sierra's resume I was sure she wasn't actually 20, but it turns out that she is. She already seems to be approved by the right people, so her winning here should be no surprise. That said, I couldn't stand her voice. The bottom is recessed even for a high soprano, and there's a graininess to the sound on top that's unappealing. Where Lee was controlled and minimalist, Sierra was the opposite: effusive and helterskelter. She is, of course, young -- nowhere near the finished artist that 21-year-old Lisette Oropesa showed herself in 2005.
Finally, Julin has an appealing fire-eating manner and performed the heck out of the Tchaikovsky scene (I would have been much happier to have heard her in it than loud soprano Maria Guleghina last fall), but the climactic notes showed an uncomfortable amount of vibrato under pressure. Some people I spoke to thought her "really" a mezzo, which might explain something...
After a well-schooled but basically magic-free lineup like this, I wonder if more interesting singers weren't eliminated through different selectors picking for different qualities over different rounds. Too bad. I hope for better next time.