While I was blogging away at home as I watched the Cardiff Singer of the World final live on telly, reader HairMan was right there, on the spot, in Cardiff, mere inches away from Dame Joan Sutherland and Aled Jones.
Once he'd recovered from the excitement, he was kind enough to pen this report on what REALLY went down in da hall - before the BBC primped the sound and trimmed the lowlights:
"And so it had arrived. The Final. A week ago the five finalists had been little more than headshots and biographies in the competition programme (£7, but actually worth the price). I knew nothing of them apart from if they liked to cook, and had won the something prize in something country. I knew facts. But as we all know, facts are just recorded events – not really full of the juice of life (I know I'm getting carried away, but it's the last night and I'm going to let all the schmaltz hang out). For the gooey stuff you have to sit and wait. A bit like queuing for a jam doughnut at the baker's. But anyway – a week later and I'm wiping away crumbs from my mouth with a sense of contentment and satisfaction.
As the final was being broadcast "live" by the BBC (a time delay of about thirty minutes in reality) the audience had been "requested to be in their seats by 4.45pm for the 5.00pm start. Which was fine, until I noticed in the Final programme (£2 – worth it for it's fanning capabilities in the dry atmosphere) that unlike the previous week, there was to be no interval after the third singer. The interval would only come after all five had sung. Come on BBC! You bang on about a healthy lifestyle then you dare people to rupture bladders so that you can fit in fifty minutes of News24 at 1.20am? I'm sure Huw Edwards could have filled in a bit of airtime with a guest or two.
But I'm digressing – and you're getting bored so it's time for the first contestant, Eri Nakamura of Japan!
Opening a final surely goes down as a thankless task. Opening two finals in three days must mean you're not someone's favourite person. However these things are decided it did seem a bit unfair for the likeable Nakamura to be saddled with being the warm up act. Not that she seemed to mind too much given how she attacked her programme; "Je veux vivre" (Roméo et Juliette), "Eccomi in lieta vesta - Oh! quante volte" (I Capuleti e i Montecchi), "Tu che di gel sei cinta" (Turandot) and "Cäcilie (Songs Op 27 No 2)". It came as no great surprise that she equipped herself admirably throughout her programme, the Bellini being the obvious highlight after a breathless rendition of the ever-present Gounod. I'm not that keen on "Cäcilie" as it doesn't tend to go anywhere musically, so perhaps it wasn't the wisest decision to finish her slot with it. But all in all she kick started the final from the off.
Next up was the everyone's favourite tenor (apart from myself as I pined for my Dvořák loving Chilean baritone). As in his previous appearance Giordano Lucà had packed his programme with Top Ten Tenor Tunes! You'll notice from the following list that there's a lack of anything non-Italian – "Una furtiva lagrima" (L'Elisir d'amore), "La donna è mobile" (Rigoletto), "Che gelida manina" (La bohème), "O figli, o figli miei ... A la paterna mano" (Macbeth) and "Addio, fiorito asil" (Madama Butterfly). My thoughts on Giordano (I've moved onto first name terms with the singers you'll have noticed) remained more or less the same from the first encounter I had with him – a beautiful voice, but one lacking in strength at the moment to boss the orchestra. I've no doubts that given time, and room to breathe he can develop into being a great singer on his own terms – although his stagecraft compared to other competitors in the competition needs some serious workout time if he's going to be considered as being more than an Adam Ant "Stand and Deliver" type of singer.
Eri Nakamura, having scored a thunderbolt in the first minute is still leading 1-0.
Third up was the bass Song Prize winner from the Czech Republic Jan Martiník. He was one of the main favourites for the competition following his earlier appearance with his Lindt style bass. For the final he finally touched on a bit of Dvořák with his opening "Bĕda, Bĕda, ubohá Rusalko bledá" (Rusalka) – from somewhere in the crowd a Chilean voice shouted, "Huzzah!!!!!" Okay, so we all know by now that Jan's got a velvet lined larynx, but if there's a tiny bit something missing it's a bit of sharpness, or bite to define that voice in the upper register when things begin to hot up with the orchestra behind. And so it proved to be with "La calunnia" (Il barbiere di Siviglia). From where I was sat (Tier 11 with fan – just had to get the fan in for one last time) I could see that Jan was storytelling expertly – the only problem was I couldn't hear him. He just didn't have it tonight. "Ella giammai m'amò! ... Dormirò sol nel manto mio regal" (Don Carlo) was a return to form, of sorts, but at this point he seemed to have lost that brilliance to his voice that had been so evident over the week.
Heading to the fourth jump Nakamura of Japan is ahead by a length.
Counter tenor time. Okay. One. Two. Crap joke, I'll skip forward to his singing. Yuriy Mynenko of the Ukraine began the week as probably the singer I respected most, but liked least. Following his Song Prize Final appearance he had grown into a recital artist, but not one I'd like to hear with an orchestra. By the end of his programme in the final he had me completely won over. His repertoire for the evening – "Ombra fedele anch'io" (Idaspe), "Crude furie degl'orridi abissi" (Serse) and "Oh patria! ... Di tanti palpiti" (Tancredi) – allowed the full range of his voice to be displayed. Particularly beautiful were the tones he achieved in the Broschi and Handel. And as for agility – the guy had it in bucketloads. If ever a car is designed to be parallel parked by the human voice just ask Yuriy to do it for you. He could park a tank on a library shelf he's that in control of what he's doing (as long as the shelf was strong enough of course). But he's more than just a sideshow carnival act – he had the ability to impart a sense of utter serenity that no other singer in the week could.
Heading into the twelfth round Mynenko is ahead on all the judges cards.
Last on stage was the Russian soprano, Ekaterina Shcherbachenko , described by vocal expert Mary King as looking like Grace Kelly. Luckily for Ekaterina, and for the audience, a bit of stage rearrangement was required after the previous singer's programme so a fair few souls dared the wrath of the BBC and headed off to avoid bladder damage. Luckily they all made it back in time for the first of Ekaterina's three songs. By now Gounod had become THE MAN of the week so it seemed fitting that he make a final appearance with "Je voudrais bien savoir ... Ah! je ris" (Faust) sung with feeling by the soprano with the spellchecker's favourite surname. As my eyes flicked through her programme I discovered that the woman who had wowed with her Letter Scene had decided to go with a French, Italian ("Signore, ascolta!" - Turandot) and English ("No word from Tom" - The Rake's Progress) line-up. Not a bit of Russian in sight. BIG gamble. I'm not sure if the gamble would have worked were it not for the sublime Puccini. Towards the end of the Turandot she had to overcome two fiendishly naked notes. Crack / wobble here and you may as well kiss your chances goodbye. First note – passed with conviction. Second note...."Marvellous." The speaker wasn't me (all I'd managed was a complete body goosebump moment), but came from my octogenarian seating companion. I'm not sure if the BBC broadcast managed to convey the magic of that note, because there was a palpable sense of, "That was something completely different," among the audience. The final Stravinsky was THE risk of the competition, and there were many times when I was left wondering if she hadn't decided to sing the piece in Russian – but as a woman commented after the final applause had died down, "I can never hear a word most singers sing anyway," which is what I think most people experience when they go to the opera.
The finishing line in sight and it's a photo finish. Yuriy or Ekaterina? Who would the judges plump for? I honestly didn't know. Nor did most of the people I spoke with. So when everyone returned to their seats to ovate Dame Joan Sutherland onto the stage anticipation / excitement was high in the air. Deservedly, among the thanks given was a thank you to all the singers who had competed during the week. After announcing the audience prize (*Note to John Fisher – when you've got a Welsh singer in a singing contest in Wales don't begin the announcement with the phrase, "This will be particularly well received by many people here tonight," as you may send out slightly wrong vibes. As it was Giordano received a rapturous welcome when his name was announced.) the stage was set for the result that mattered most during the week. Who would it be? Who would it be? Get on with it John!
"And the winner from Russia..." Cheers. Pandemonium. Winner, as seen from Tier 11 looked pretty shocked. I was elated, and also delated. Secretly, the soft spot in me was hoping for a tie between Ekaterina and Yuriy. But I think it was the piece of magic at the end of the Turandot that lifted her above the others on the evening.
A quick recap on the week finds me with a contented smile. Being my first CSW competition I hadn't known what to really expect – but after a weeklong immersion in the event I can't recommend the experience highly enough. Thankfully free from the corrosive hysteria / drama queen antics of "talent shows" the competition is brimming in warmth and generosity that stems not only from the singers, but the organisers and audience alike. Many people will have seen their favourites fail to make it through to the final (mine, despite Mr Chile, was really the Bulgarian soprano Emiliya Ivanova who sang a marvellous "Je veux vivre" – yes Gounod), but that never dampened the enjoyment of the competition (unless you'd put a hefty bet on I guess...£10,000 – where can I get that kind of money to pay back Big Bad Dan?).
So, if you've got a spare week in June 2011 you could do worse than turn up to a singing competition starring no-stars – just twenty-five young(ish) singers who may or may not turn out to be the competition's future Mattila's, Hvorostovsky's, Terfel's, Garanca's, Kwiecien's, Cabelle's or (dare I say it?) Shcherbachenko's. But you can be guaranteed that they will give their all – unlike some of the stars that are around today.