BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2011 – The Main Prize Final Review

BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2011 :  And the Winner is…………….. (BK)

Valentina Naforniţă - Picture Courtesy of the BBC

…………….Valentina Naforniţă from Moldova – a popular choice given the volume of applause in the hall and one  enhanced by the fact that she had also been awarded the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize only minutes earlier.

Popular as the Jury’s choice was however, there were more than a few among the audience who had looked for a different kind of double-header, with fingers crossed that the Main Prize award would go to Friday’s Song Prize winner, Ukrainian baritone Andrei Bondarenko .

Bondarenko had recruited a huge personal following after his win in Wednesday’s Main Prize Round Three  concert – in which Valentina Naforniţă had also sung – and he too was being widely tipped for the Audience Prize. His programme of Mozart, Verdi and Tchaikovsky for the Final however, although delivered with almost exactly the same polish and in the same apparently limitless baritone, did seem marginally less compelling than his earlier contributions, lacking – at least for me – the riveting quality that was there earlier in the week. Similarly, even Valentina Naforniţă’s programme of Donizetti and Dvořàk, although perfectly suited to her voice, was perhaps just a tad less brilliant than the performance that gained her the place in the final. A long, hard and tiring road awaits  all would-be  finalists in this competition, that’s for sure.

What was beyond any doubt however was the good sense of the competition rule that allows places in the final to go to singers who fail to win their rounds. Here were two young singers – they are both still only 24 – with voices and interpretative skills of exceptional quality, leading to the wholly reasonable expectation that they might easily become operatic superstars like so many other  Cardiff Prizewinners. Juries do make good decisions after all, it seems.

Not that the other finalists were also-rans by any reckoning. The 28 year old Russian mezzo Olesya Petrova sang a wide-ranging programme of Rimsky – Korsakov, Verdi, Mascagni and Bizet which displayed her often beautiful, rich mezzo to the best advantage. Only the finest mezzos can slide seamlessly from witch (Ulrika in Un Ballo in Maschera) to bitch (Carmen) and given Petrova’s carefully chosen programme, she would have surely been in with a chance against only marginally weaker rivals.

The English soprano Meeta Raval had the unenviable task of singing first and once again displayed some powerful and accurate vocal skills.This time sadly there was an occasional roughness to the voice which must have cost her some vital points.

Finally, the amazing Korean soprano Hye Jung Lee who had been completely overwhelming in her round with a totally appropriate choice of Strauss’s Zerbinetta and John Adams Madam Mao, seemed to suffer from misjudgements of repertoire for the final. Opening with Tornami a vagheggiar from Alcina – a perfectly sensible showpiece for her on paper – much of her former power seemed to have vanished and the voice sounded uncharacterisically small. While something near her form returned in A vos jeux, mes amis from Thomas’ Hamlet this was clearly  not sufficient. Even so, on the strength of her portrayal of  Madam Mao – her  extraordinary performance of ‘I am the wife of Chairman Mao Tse Tung’ will long tug at the memory – a trip to San Francisco to see her in Nixon in China next year, could be a high priority diary date.

A more than decent enough year then for BBC Cardiff Singer of the World and one that might even be remembered as a vintage in due course.

Bill Kenny