Plácido Domingo's Operalia Winners - Royal Opera House, 25 July 2012
Plácido Domingo's Operalia competition is the Olympic Games of opera, pitting young singers against each other in a battle for generous cash prizes and, more importantly, international recognition. Over its 20 years it has been the launchpad for many successful careers.
A handful of the contest's most notable winners joined the crinkly baritenor at Covent Garden last night for a gala-style roll-on/roll-off showcase, with the ROH orchestra on stage in their shiny new concert shell. It is in the nature of these things for some bits to be better than others, and perhaps it wasn't surprising that the most experienced names turned in the better performances.
Plácido himself, in baritone mode, showed the rest how it's done with an impassioned Nemico della patria from Andrea Chénier. His Wintersturme from Die Walküre was less successful; even so, it's staggering how much of that luxuriantly bronzed tone remains.
Nina Stemme partnered him as a radiant Sieglinde. Even more impressive was her Dich, teure Halle from Tannhäuser. She won Operalia as a mezzo back in the nineties, and was as ever really working for some of those high notes - but she always gets there in the end.
Joyce DiDonato, on stunning form, gave us a preview of next year's La donna del lago with an exquisitely-controlled Tanti affetti. Top marks for the chic multicoloured jersey gown too.
Rolando Villazón appeared three times, faring best with his opening Kleinzach from Les Contes d’Hoffmann, a number that allows him to compensate for his reduced tonal plushness with expressive enunciation and eyebrow gymnastics.
Joseph Calleja didn't quite steal Pavarotti's crown with his Nessun dorma, but his Caro elisir from L’elisir d’amore was perfectly charming, and he even outshone Plácido (struggling with the unfamiliarity of the baritone part) in Au fond du temple saint.
Recent contest winners Sonya Yoncheva, Stefan Pop and Julia Novikova showed promise but were ultimately outclassed by the oldies, inadvertently demonstrating Operalia's aim to pick raw talent that can be nurtured and developed.
The performance was filmed and will be shown on ZDF (Germany) at 22:00 on Sunday 29 July and on the BBC some time in the Xmas season.
Still struggling with the basic task of keeping customers informed, the Royal Opera House earned itself another couple of black marks last night.
Firstly, Erwin Schrott's late cancellation was disclosed via Twitter only. However charmingly Kasper Holten delivers his pre-show bad news speech, it's always going to be too late for anyone who was looking forward to the absent artist. Whatever happened to emails?
Secondly, there were no free cast sheets (a bit mean when tickets cost up to £250), which contributed to the third and final problem - programmes ran out some time before the show, leaving a large number of customers with no clue exactly who was on stage or what they were singing. It is perhaps not as obvious as it should be to ROH administration that if you don't give out free information, more people will opt for the paid version rather than sit there in ignorance. Especially if it's something they've never seen before.
The programme is now available online, as is the revised running order, but of course it's too late. So the ROH have once again irritated their customers, and lost out on valuable income (£7 a copy) too. In these times, that something they can't afford to repeat.
My photos are all on the fuzzy side, but you can see all the singers much better in Kyoko's curtain call video: