Reader Carole is impressed with a Ukrainian - and takes the BBC to task for fibbing. Here's the latest instalment in her Cardiff Singer of the World adventures:
"The BBC's Cardiff Singer website has a photograph of St David's Hall, taken from above, which is captioned "Another full house in the handsomely decorated St David's Hall". This is not really true, and I'm not just talking about the decorations. If you look up into the auditorium, you can see that there are plenty of empty seats near the back. But many of these were filled for Concert Three, because this was Welsh Night - John Pierce, from Flintshire, and the only tenor in the competition, was to perform.
John is a sensitive performer. We should always find ourselves holding our breath as Nemorino reaches the ecstatic conclusion of Una furtiva lagrima, and that is what I did last night. He also gave a moving performance of Ah! fuyez, from Manon. But the voice and the stage manner are not yet sufficiently developed to make him a serious contender in this competition.
Andrei Bondarenko, the Ukrainian baritone, gave an appealing performance in the Song Prize heat, and is through to the final of that. I was initially disappointed in his performance last night - both his voice and his personality seemed a little diminished in his first number, Hai già vinta la causa. However, he followed this with a truly lovely performance of Korngold's Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen, and a suitably cold performance of Onegin's aria. He finished with an aria I had never come across before, Quella è una strada, sung by the stuttering Tartaglia in Mascagni's Le maschere. This was an astonishing performance, as he showed us the character's repeated attempts to introduce us to the opera's setting, and it brought the house down.
Andrei and John were competing against three very accomplished young women. The German soprano, Susanne Braunsteffer, gave a confident and vocally very secure performance of arias by Massenet, Mozart and Verdi (our third Mercè, dilette), but reined back the fireworks for a moving performance of Un bel di. The other soprano, Valentina Nafornita from Moldova, has a smaller voice but a very lovely one. She sang Egli non riede ancora, from Il corsaro, and Korngold's Glück das mir verlieb. She finished with a powerful and very affecting Amour, ranime mon courage.
My favourite female performer of the evening, however, was the Australian mezzo Helen Sherman. To start with, she is so elegant - her wonderful dress sense makes some of the other young women, with their puffy frocks and acres of flesh, look a little absurd. She walked firmly onto the stage, stood there in perfect control of her expressions and gestures, and delivered three difficult pieces with no obvious sense of strain. An audience can feel safe in her hands. She sang three contrasting and well-characterised numbers: Sta nell'Ircana (Handel's Alcina), How can I sleep? (Walton's Troilus and Cressida), and a very brilliant Una voce poco fa.
So, three very starry female performances, and the jury chose ... Andrei. And the thing is, I don't think they made the wrong choice. He has a very special quality - I wish I could put my finger on what it was, or that Intermezzo were here to guide me - and evidently the jury sees it as well. In England we will have a chance to see him for ourselves: he is singing Malatesta in Glyndebourne's touring production of Don Pasquale later this year, and Marcello with Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 2012.
I expect that Susanne, Valentina and Helen are feeling a little aggrieved, and I don't blame them, but the overall standard last night was high and it's likely that at least one of them will join Andrei in Sunday's final."