Cardiff Singer - Concert One

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I do not need much excuse to get excited about, well, pretty much anything. Various colleagues threaten to sedate me/have me committed/thump me with something very heavy on an alarmingly regular basis. So, you can only imagine the dizzying levels of excitement that have been growing steadily as BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2013 approached.

What's not to like? As an extrovert stuck in an introvert's body, I love the showbiz of anything we do that has a stage set, dramatic, atmospheric lighting, and a TV crew. Moreover, I genuinely love opera - I love the costumes, the generally ridiculous or melodramatic story-lines, never mind the fact that an accomplished singer can turn me to mush.

In addition to this, the fact that you have 20 top young opera singers vying for the title of BBC Cardiff Singer of the World makes it rather intense.

Finally, as I'm not a brass player, I will always have plenty to play (it is a constant source of moaning, in particular from our lower brass, that they don't have enough to play in these things - we've Mahler 5 next week though, so that should placate them).

Our rehearsal day, Sunday, was spent simply running the competitors programmes, one after the other, with conductor Jun Märkl making little balance adjustments here and there, or changing dynamics in order that we not swamp the competitors' voices.

It's paramount to have the right conductor for a competition like this. My desk partner for Concert One, Bob Gibbons, summed it up perfectly (he's well known for his sage comments on orchestral life), stating that the conductor has to not only be helpful and encouraging to the competitors, but able to guide them a little without undermining their interpretations, and they must be a conductor utterly on top of the repertoire.

Additionally, because the human voice is such a delicate instrument, we in the BBC National Orchestra of Wales need a conductor who is utterly aware of the constantly fluctuating balance problems between singer and the full forces of the orchestra. Jun Märkl has made accompanying the competitors not only a pleasure, but also very easy.

On Monday afternoon, we had a run through with each competitor in St David's Hall, then a long dinner break before the round. As you will know by now, Jamie Barton of the United States was crowned the victor. However, I also really liked Katherine Broderick's Letter Scene from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin (sooooo expressive), Marko Mimica's Verdi (gloriously dark bass-baritone sound), and Kihwan Sim's La Calunnia from Rossini's Barber of Seville (perhaps the only obviously humorous turn of the evening).

However, I firmly believe that, as in all competitions, programme is everything, and not only did Jamie Barton (wearing a stunning cobalt blue) sing splendidly, but her programme allowed her to show off all the facility of her technique, and a real variety of styles.

Coming offstage at 10.25pm, the orchestra were all very aware of being back in the studio at 10am the next day to prepare for our next outing (Concert Three). The short post match orchestral analysis suggested that our members were in agreement with the panel's decision, although Katherine Broderick was very much enjoyed by all. And so, Cardiff Singer of the World 2013 Round One, drew to a close.


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