Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cardiff: Concert Four (June 16)

[As in the rest of this series, all non-bracketed text is by this blog's correspondent on the scene, not by me --JSU]

BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2011
Concert Four - 16 June 2011

Orchestra of Welsh National Opera
Lawrence Foster (conductor)

Enzo Romano (bass-baritone, 31, Uruguay):
E una coas incredibile ("The Italian Straw Hat", Rota) / Non piu andrai ("Le Nozze di Figaro", Mozart) / Bottom's Dream ("A Midsummer Night's Dream", Britten) / La calunnia ("Il barbiere di Siviglia", Rossini)
Romano was clearly out to entertain. All of his programme was solidly turned towards the comic, and he was putting in a lot of busy-work to illustrate his pieces, which was a bit distracting. His hands, in particular, were everywhere, Danny Kaye-style, pointing, fingers fanned out, clutching his face in mock-perplexity. What became immediately apparent was that the voice lacks resonance, and the top is too tight. Also his timbre can become a little unfocused at times. His worst piece was "La calunnia" - it's an aria for a basso-buffo, and Romano simply wasn't deep enough. His best piece was the Britten; he made Bottom an endearing fool, rather than an irritating prat (which is all too easy to do), and his English (despite a fairly thick accent) was remarkably clear.

Maire Flavin (mezzo-soprano, 28, Ireland):
Nobles seigneurs, salut! ("Les Huguenots", Meyerbeer) / Parto, parto, ben mio ("La Clemenza di Tito", Mozart) / Cara speme, questo core ("Giulio Cesare", Handel) / Sein wir wieder gut ("Ariadne auf Naxos", Strauss)
Although these are all trouser-roles, there is a good variety of expression required for these arias. Flavin is a high mezzo with a bright, clear timbre and well-supported top. The Meyerbeer left me rather cold, but it has never been one of my favourite numbers, and I had high hopes for Sesto's magnificent aria from "Clemenza". There was nothing wrong with the singing; the voice had the full compass of range required, the coloratura was fluid and accurate, the phrasing good, but again, it was just so much reasonably agreeable noise. The Handel produced some very beautiful sounds, and a fairly impressive stillness to its slow-moving line, but just when you wanted Flavin to really throw herself into the Composer's Monologue, the same problem of a lack of connection with her material deprived it of its soaring exaltation. Nothing wrong with the singing, technically, but nobody really home.

Leah Crocetto (soprano, 31, USA):
Che il bel sogno di Doretto ("La Rondine", Puccini) / Sombre foret ("Guillaume Tell", Rossini) / Hear ye, Israel ("Elijah", Mendelssohn) / D'amor sull'ali rosee ("Il Trovatore", Verdi)
The Puccini is another of my least favourite arias, which seems strictly designed to allow the soprano to demonstrate she can float her top notes. Crocetto certainly can, the voice is a fine, even, clear-timbred soprano which is well supported throughout the range. My problem with her was that her programme was all much of a muchness. She is not without expression, but we largely only got one colour of it, plangent wistfulness. The extract from Elijah was a little more promising, but it's not the most exciting music ever written, and while her Trovatore was certainly the strongest item, I really wished she had picked "Tacea la notte", with its cabaletta, which would have enlivened things considerably and let us hear what else she may have under her belt, which I hope she will duly demonstrate tomorrow night for the Song Prize.

Davide Bartolucci (baritone, 24, Italy):
Di Cupido impiegio i vanni ("Rodelinda", Handel) / Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo (Mozart) / Bella siccome un angelo ("Don Pasquale", Donizetti) / Una voce m'ha colpito ("L'inganno felice", Rossini)
This is a darker baritone, more like Vasile, but without his resonance, and far too tight, not just on top but right through the range, as well as being pretty much under-parted in all his arias. The aria from Rodelina was a rare occasion to hear a villain sing, but here it was just another exercise in futility. He took a long time to settle into "Rivolgete...", and never achieved the charm and good humour of Vasile. Malatesta's honey-sweet encomium of his "sister's" merits was spoiled by the tight sound, and it was not until the Rossini that we really got any notion of Bartolucci's potential. The tight sound had not changed, but he had worked at this; it was alert, reasonably precise and focused. Not nearly enough to carry him through this competition, but enough to hope that a few more years' work (and he's still very young) will improve matters for him.

Hye Jung Lee (soprano, 27, South Korea):
Grossmachtige Prinzessin ("Ariadne auf Naxos", Strauss) / I am the wife of Mao Tse Tung ("Nixon in China", Adams)
This was a brave, and very risky programme. When you have less than 20 minutes to impress, spending three-quarters of that time on a single number is what I call putting all your eggs in one basket, and it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to pull it off. But after an evening where all the other singers had sort of been singing in a single mode throughout their programmes, the sheer variety of moods required from Zerbinetta came as a breath of fresh air, as did Lee's silvery high coloratura voice. The vocalises were effortless, the very top notes absolutely sure, the German could have been a bit clearer and there were one or two imprecisions in passing notes here and there, but this was the liveliest, most interesting performance of the evening by quite some way. Adams' Madame Mao requires a voice of pure steel to power through that thundering orchestra, and Lee was a little light, at least in this hall, but on stage in an opera house and standing above the pit it could well be a different story. She negotiated the constant leaps with pinpoint accuracy, and the fearsome conviction of the aria was well conveyed. She even thought to bring a prop - the Little Red Book - which was a nice touch.


For this last preliminary round, there could be no hesitation about the winner; Lee was the only singer who was not only competition-standard technically and vocally, but also brought a real sense of characterisation to her pieces.


The finalists for Sunday's concert are as follows:

Olesya Petrova
Meeta Raval
Valentina Nafornita
Andrei Bondarenko
Hye Jung Lee

And, yes, you may colour me extremely surprised. I can only assume the jury felt they absolutely HAD to have a candidate from Concert Two go through, and under those circumstances, Raval was the only option. However, it almost seems cruel to me. Unless all four of the others catch laryngitis between now and Sunday (not completely beyond the realms of probability!) I don't see that Raval stands a chance. On the contrary, she runs every risk of coming off looking decidedly third rate, which would not be deserved. The guide lines of the competition say that the finalists must be judged solely on the merits of whatever programme they present that night, and their preliminary rounds should not be taken into consideration. That's always struck me as a bit of a tall order, though of course one can do one's best to forget what has already been heard. My spot prediction right now is between Nafornita and Petrova, but it will all depend on choice of repertoire, and performance on the night.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.