BBC Cardiff Singer Of The World: Opera's next generation

Monday 17 June 2013, 09:02

Petroc Trelawny Petroc Trelawny BBC Radio 3 Presenter

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A towelling bathrobe nearly brought an early end to my time as presenter of BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

An enthusiastic young producer had decided we needed to know how the competitors relaxed ahead of their moment in the spotlight.

A new hotel had just opened in Cardiff Bay, boasting the city’s first spa facility (this was 1999). So we presented a programme of highlights from there, with me introducing arias while lying robed on a deck-chair, fake red cocktail rakishly positioned to my side.

A colleague interviewed the singers as they were pummelled on a massage table. Not quite how we would style it today.

There are better ways, I have subsequently learned, to get to know the competitors.

The 20 singers that come to Cardiff are at the top of their games, brilliantly talented performers in their late 20s and early 30s, just on the edge of breaking onto the international opera circuit. Cardiff Singer Of The World The final 20 competitors were chosen from over 400 singers

Winning or even reaching final of Cardiff Singer can be the final push their careers need. My fellow presenters and I try to engage with them all during our 10 days in Cardiff.

Some are keen to talk, wanting to know about camera angles, audience figures, checking they will be able to have a DVD of their appearance to send to agents and promoters.

A few singers will express surprise at having been selected, others will be brazenly confident, making it clear they have to come to win – nothing else is of interest.

Some will happily navigate their way around central Cardiff alone, striding between hotel, Wales Millennium Centre (rehearsals), Dora Stoutzker Hall (Song Prize) and St David’s Hall.

Others wait for guidance, keeping heads low until interpreters and helpers come to the rescue.

The distinguished list of past winners – including Anja Harteros, Nicole Cabell, Karita Mattila, Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Katarina Karnéus - creates a sense of respect around Cardiff Singer.

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In 1983 Finland’s Karita Mattila won the very first Cardiff Singer Of The World

You sense that from the nervous energy at the welcome reception as the singers share stories of long journeys and forgotten phone chargers.

Rehearsals start the next day – with just minutes to establish the vital relationship with conductor. Then it’s heads down to work.

The next time I see them is in the make-up room on the fourth floor of St David’s Hall.

You need hairspray? Outside please – the chemicals it contains can play havoc with a singer’s vocal chords.

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‘You’re always looking for voices that give you that tingle’

The tannoy crackles – Miss or Mr XX to the stage.

Little over 15 minutes to entertain the enthusiastic, warm Cardiff audience and win over the highly experienced, all-knowing jury.

Quarter of an hour which can help launch a career.

Watching this rich showcase of opera’s next generation is never short of thrilling. Forget the bathrobes and the health spa – the Cardiff singers represent dramatic television at its best.

Petroc Trelawny will present the extensive coverage of BBC Cardiff Singer Of The World. He has hosted the event on TV since 1999.

BBC Cardiff Singer Of The World begins with Celebrating 30 Years at 7.30pm on Monday, 17 June on BBC Four and BBC Two Wales. For further details of television and radio programme times please see the episode guide. Full performance order details can be found in the 2013 schedule.

More on BBC Cardiff Singer Of The World
About The BBC blog: Marking 30 years of BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2013

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Shame that over the years the BBC coverage has shrunk. Nothing from the earlier rounds and just the Leider final. Perhaps it should be renamed Opera Singer of the World and the Leider rounds could be offered, and broadcast, from Leeds Leider.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Please can you explain why round 1 of the main contest is still not available on iplayer despite it being 11.15pm on Tues, and the round took place on Monday. Why does it take SO long for it to be available on iplayer when it was broadcast at 7.30pm, and wasn't live? "Coming soon", but when?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Why do the competitors in Cardiff Singer of the Year have a microphone about six feet in front of them? They are competing as opera singers. There are no microphones in opera houses. If the competition were not recorded for television there would be no microphones in the hall at all. Presumably the microphone is relaying the sound for recording for the television programme and the jury and the live audience are hearing the singing direct. There is no technical reason why viewers at home should no hear the same sound as the jury through a microphone placed in the jury’s table. When a performance at Covent Garden is broadcast live or recorded for a later broadcast the television microphone is a long way from the stage, suspended from the roof.

    The Cardiff microphone distorts the sound. This was very noticeable when the first competitor, Sim, turned aside in Figaro’s aria, and the volume dropped. Moreover many viewers, accustomed to “The X-Factor”, “The Voice” and the like, will get a completely false impression from your programme of what real singing is.

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    Comment number 4.

    Well done to Jamie Barton - deserved winner of Round 1. But do we really need the commentator to describe the Donizetti Aria in which the Chinese tenor unfortunately cracked on the high Cs as a "stupid piece of music"? Charming, engaging, humorous, fun, demanding, even lightweight - but NOT stupid. Likewise the Croatian's choice of "But who may abide" from "Messiah" may have been inappropriate, but "dated?" Nearly all classical music is "dated" in that it's written by DWEMs - that doesn't stop it being one of the greatest art forms there is. Come on commentators wise up a bit - we need to attract more listeners/viewers and this doesn't help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I agree with petersbear that it's a shame about how much the coverage has been reduced. What is also a dreadful shame is that the BBC doesn't edit out the tweets shown on the home page which give away the names of the finalists prior to the broadcasts. It is impossible to read the interesting tweets without seeing the ones from those who feel it necessary to be the first to tell the world the results.This is, after all, a competition and it should try to retain some element of tension. Is it feasible to put the 'spoiler' tweets on a separate link so that they are not immediately visible. A note for petersbear - The spelling of 'Songs' in German is 'Lieder' and, quite ironically in relation to the content of you comment, 'Leider' in German means unfortunately.


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