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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    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 7.

    From beautiful Cape Town : I would have loved to attend this year's Singer of the World competition in beautiful Cardiff. I have attended two of these competitions in past years and I was so looking forward to watching and listening to the clips on the Internet. I appreciate the info about the competitors and all that is relevant about the programmes, but allow me to say I am disappointed that the clips are so short: a few moments of the performance interspersed every few seconds with a similar length of silence. Naturally one cannot expect to hear the whole, but surely a bit more continuity would be far more musically enjoyable? Perhaps there is a rule regarding this? However, being thousands of miles away I am most appreciative of the opportunity to at least enjoy what is presented. Thank you BBC and thank you Cardiff, one of my favourite places in Wales!

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    Comment number 10.

    Hello, I’m an interactive producer for BBC Cardiff Singer Of The World. Thank you for your comment about the official tweets giving away who the winner is before you’ve had a chance to watch. We’ve decided that we’ll announce the winner each night via a link to their biog, so unless you click on it, you won’t know who has won. We hope this works better!

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    Comment number 12.

    I would greatly appreciate an answer from someone at the BBC to my question of 19th June, please.
    Also, I am very surprised that it is still not possible to see round 3 on iplayer at 7pm on Friday; it is still "coming soon". What is causing the inordinate delay?
    Regrettably the coverage of the event is not extensive, despite it being entitled BBC CSOTW, and now it's not yet possible to see round 3 even though it took place as long ago as Wednesday. This is such a shame as I have been looking forward to CSOTW, and cannot (together with many other people) watch most of the rounds when they are broadcast.

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    Comment number 14.

    Although I often agree with Mary King's opinions about the individual voices, I'm finding her constant emphasis on the singers' physiques very off putting. Her little video clip about how opera has changed and how looks are now so important was unnecessary and offensive. We all know how obsessed society is with looks and thinness; we don't need reminding. And we don't need our collective societal neurosis sanctioned by the resident "expert". I am a singer and a teacher of a singer, like Mary King, and I absolutely disagree with her with the notion that a bigger voice has no relation to body size. In my years of experience, it clearly does. Big, dramatic voices tend to come in bodies that at least have a bit of extra padding. And the fact that we now have a dearth of truly great dramatic singers out there has something to do with the stupid prejudice against largeness that is somewhat being presented to us by the Cardiff experts as a wonderful new thing. Sure, if I were a casting director, I'd be thrilled if a well, formed attractive singer with a great voice auditioned for me. But it doesn't meant that everyone needs to be a movie star. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa herself has lamented the pressure young sopranos are under to be overly thin. I don't think Cardiff Singer of the World needs to be feeding into the general neurosis. Furthermore, If we'd had this attitude in the past, we would been denied some of the most glorious singing we've heard, from people like Pavarotti, Margaret Price or Monserrat Caballe. In the past, there were all kinds of singers-some thin and glamorous and some large with fabulous voices. I think opera audiences like a wide variety of choice and mostly they love good singing. It is the administrators and directors that are insisting on limiting the choice for audiences and I don't see why Mary King is acting like this is a nifty new development.


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