BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2011
The Final - 19/6/11
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Jac van Steen (JS) / Lawrence Foster (LF) (conductors)
Meeta Raval (LF):
D'amor sull'ali rosee ("Il Trovatore", Verdi) / Sola, perduta, abandonnata ("Manon Lescaut", Puccini) / Beim Schlafengehen ("Vier letzte Lieder", Strauss)
Coming on first was the best possible option for Meeta Raval, it allowed her to do her best unhindered by our opinions of the other finalists, and as a result, she made a decent show. The voice is really quite pleasing, and I'd be perfectly happy if my local opera company chose to engage her, but she is not Singer of the World material. Her Leonora was agreeably sure, with some nicely floated top notes, but it wasn't terribly clear exactly what feelings she was trying to express. Worse in that line was the Puccini; again, nothing wrong with the notes, but this was hardly a desperate, despairing and dying Manon - not until the last page or so, from "No, non voglio morir", did the aria come alive. Similarly, "Beim Schlafengehen" made a pleasant noise, but said little of significance. This is a nice voice, but she needs to work hard on her interpretation.
Olesya Petrova (JS):
Nyet, bit'ne mozhet! ("The Tsar's Bride", Rimsky-Korsakov) / Re dell'abisso ("Un Ballo in Maschera", Verdi) / Voi lo sapete, o mamma ("Cavalleria Rusticana", Mascagni) / L'amour est un oiseau rebelle ("Carmen", Bizet)
Once again, two notes into her Olesya Petrova's first aria, and you could feel the audience relaxing with the thought that here was a worthy finalist. Her first choice was interesting; up until a month or so ago, I'd have said that only devoted lovers of Russian opera would have any knowledge of this opera, but then the Royal Opera staged it in May, and it was broadcast on Radio 3 last Saturday (11/6/11). Not that this made the work precisely familiar, but a little less exotic than previously. Petrova's big, warm voice filled the hall comfortably with Lyubasha's anguish and determination, the sound coming smoothly and easily. She let it drop to Stygian depths for Ulrica's invocation, and she was enjoying herself with this, playing it up, as Ulrica is meant to, to impress her largely credulous public. The the timbre cleared to take on Santuzza. she wasn't quite as intense in this as I'd have liked, or perhaps not quite at the right times; the first "Io son dannato" wasn't completely believable, though the second was, but the voice soared effortlessly. Finally, the Habanera was interesting, if a trifle disconcerting. First of all, her French was rather better here than for her Dalilah, but there were still one or two really odd vowel sounds, and at least one that forced a false break of phrase. Secondly, this was not an interpretation that would be satisfactory on stage, it was too frivolous and flirtatious for a real Carmen. The Habanera is a declaration of intent, even one of war; this was a great big come-on. In this context, however, it was fun, and a crowd-pleaser. Win or lose, Petrova is a singer worth the displacement to hear, and I think that she simply needed this competition to get her name out there, which I hope has been successfully achieved.
Hye Jung Lee (LF):
Tornami a vagheggiar ("Alcina", Handel) / A vos jeux, mes amis... ("Hamlet", Thomas)
We had indulged in a lot of speculation after Thursday night as to what Lee might choose to perform for her Finals programme, given the nature of her voice, and I was amused to find that I had guessed right about the Handel. That, unfortunately, marked the limits of my enjoyment of this programme. The Handel was correct, but too lightweight. I'm perhaps too used to non-Baroque practice in this aria, but I thought Lee could have put more vigour into the sound, and I certainly hoped she would do so for Ophelia's Mad Scene. Regrettably, the lightness persisted, and more irritating still, there was an unevenness of projection, so that her vocalises came through far more clearly and strongly than her other singing. Add to this an inaudible text, and we got a performance that was ill-focused and unsatisfactory. A great disappointment after her sterling performance last Thursday.
Andrei Bondarenko (JS):
Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo (Mozart) / O Carlo,ascolta ("Don Carlo", Verdi) / Fin ch'han dal vino ("Don Giovanni", Mozart) / Ya vas lyublyu ("The Queen of Spades", Tchaikovsky)
Bondarenko has been one of the unquestioned favourites of this competition from the moment he opened his mouth earlier in the week. He is a true performer, he loves the audience, loves to catch them and hold them, and uses everything in his power to do so, usually very successfully. "Rivolgete..." (the 3rd this week) was vivacious and good-humoured, though I stand by what I said on Wednesday night, that he could have done with a couple more years under his belt, just in terms of sheer power. That said, the top already rings out with vibrancy and fervour. His Posa was very good - this is an aria that can descend into mawkishness very easily, but Bondarenko managed a fine quality of unforced sincerity. Also, if you've never felt an audience melt, you should have been sitting where I was when he sang that opening "Io morro...". Spine-tingling. Then, very regrettably, he committed his worst mistake of the competition, and tried Don Giovanni's Champagne Aria. I think what happened was that he was so concentrated on getting around the rapid flow of words, and the right devil-may-care-with-an-edge attitude, that he forgot to project the voice itself. At any rate, it sounded like he was singing in the room next door, and that, I'm afraid, put paid to any chances he might have had at the title. Although Yeletsky's aria was well phrased and quietly noble, the damage was done.
Valentina Nafornita (JS):
Regnava nel silenzio ("Lucia di Lammermoor", Donizetti) / Song to the Moon ("Rusalka", Dvorak) / Je veux vivre ("Romeo et Juliette", Gounod)
A young woman's programme, expressing the feelings of other young women with great variety and that truly remarkable soprano voice. Her Lucia flowed easily, the runs and trills completely integrated into the vocal line, the top notes emerging flawlessly and effortlessly. The shade of Dame Joan Sutherland hung heavy over Cardiff this year, she was associated with the competition for many years and was a passionate supporter, and to sing Lucia here, just months after Sutherland's death, was to invite the most dangerous of comparisons, but Nafornita could and did take it unflinchingly and successfully. The yearning in her Rusalka was luminous and tender, and as for her Juliette, this really was an adolescent girl, brimming over with exuberance and sweet daydreams. She needs someone to tell her to move about a little less on the concert platform, and some refinement of interpretation, but really, the defects are few. That voice is a beautiful, shimmering thing that is already fully matured in its current range, and while the bloom of youth will eventually fade, hopefully, with the right management, it will be replaced with something equally compelling in later years.
Vox pop in the hall (and I include myself in this) was pretty much unanimous in favour of Nafornita, and if the jury was going to be daft enough to give the prize to someone else, then it had better be Petrova, or there would be a riot. Fortunately, the jury was not daft at all. Valentina Nafornita is the Cardiff Singer of the World 2011, and very well-deserved too. She was also awarded the Audience Prize, which is a telephone vote by the members of the public both present in the hall, and watching/listening via the BBC to the competition, who could choose their favourite performer from all 20 competitors. Well, I did say that Nafornita was young and beautiful, as well as having that voice. ;-)
[And much thanks to my correspondent for these reports. I'll definitely be on the lookout for Petrova, Nafornita, and Bondarenko here. - ed]