After a week's formidable reporting, it seems right that reader Carole should have the last word on the Final of this year's Cardiff Singer of the World contest:
"In the Final of the Song Prize, all the competitors seem to have raised their game and the general standard was high. But with all the finalists of the Singer of the World there were small disappointments, and none of them was head and shoulders above the rest.
I wanted Olesya Petrova to win. Her voice is very special - a beautiful sound, and as far as I can tell well produced all along its very wide range. Her performance of Ulrika's aria, where she summoned low notes up from the abyss with no obvious sign of strain, was one of the highlights of the whole competition. I liked Voi lo sapete, o mamma, but found her aria from The Tsar's Bride uninvolving. And she was an unconvincing Carmen, both in demeanour and voice - there is more to Carmen than tossing her hair over her shoulder and rolling her eyes, and her singing seemed to lack bite.
It was Meeta Raval's misfortune to occupy the place in the final which many people thought should have been Leah Crocetto's. Moreover, she began with an aria which Leah had performed so well in the heats - D'amor sull'ali rosee. However, she has a lovely voice, and I could not fault her performance of this, nor of Sola, perduta, abbandonata, other than to say that I did not feel drawn in. She did not seem to me to be a natural Strauss singer (Beim Schlafengen).
Hye Jung Lee believes in living dangerously. As in her heat she sang only two pieces, exposing her to the risk that if one fell flat she had little to fall back on. Ambroise Thomas' Partagez-vois mes fleurs! is an established coloratura showpiece but, to be honest, quite a boring one, and though her performance of Tornami a vagheggiar (Handel's Alcina) was impressive she did not come over as a winner.
Hye had to struggle a little against the orchestra (BBC National Orchestra of Wales), and so did Andrei Bondarenko. Of all the finalists, he was the one who entered most into the skin of his different roles: cocky as Guglielmo (Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo), loyal and self-denying as Rodrigo (O Carlo, ascolta), brashly self-assured as Don Giovanni (Fin ch'han dal vino), and heart-breakingly dignified as Prince Yeletsky (Ya vas lyublyu). All this with a beautifully produced lyric baritone, when the orchestra allowed us to hear it. What more did he have to do to win the prize - not win the Song Prize, perhaps?
But maybe this is unfair to Valentina Naforniţă, who won the audience prize as well as the jury's vote. Her arias were well chosen to show off her voice - Regnava nel silenzio, Rusalka's Song to the Moon, and Je veux vivre - and the general effect was thrilling.
As I was waiting for my train at Cardiff Central this morning, I heard someone dismiss Valentina as relying principally on her appearance. But, as someone else pointed out, Andrei will have been as conscious of his engaging appearance as Valentina of her glamour. At an event like this, where most of the competitors have already reached a high standard, they have to play to what they perceive to be their strengths, and this includes their appearance and general presentation as well as their choice of repertoire. Who understands what it is that draws us to some singers and not to others? All I know is that, of the twenty singers I saw during the past week, the only ones I want to see again are Leah Crocetto, Andrei Bondarenko, Olesya Petrova and (to see if Håkan Hagegård's magic had a lasting effect) Olga Kindler.
And, by the way, this must be the only Cardiff Singer of World competition ever with no performances of Largo al factotum (Ed - was somebody taking my illustrations to heart?)."