Operalia final (ROH, 19 July 2015)
This year Placido Domingo’s singing competition reached London town on a pleasantly balmy afternoon. I’d never attended a singing competition before so I was way curious. As the evening wore on it became clear that the standard was very high.
But first the evening kicked off without much ado (save for a congenial introduction by the world’s most famous baritenor/MC/conductor/accompanist etc.) with Largo al factotum. Now if you’re going to start that famous intro coloratura off stage in a high profile competition you should be able to project like a pro. Sadly, US baritone Edward Parks did not. Likewise his stage antics remained within the confines of stretched arms a la the ’50s.
Listen, this is one of the most famous
baritone arias out there – probably all baritones have sung it at one point or another. It comes down to a simple question: how are you going to stand out? I always think back to JDD’s deconstruction of it: you are supposed to be showing off. Come on, show off! For once it’s allowed to behave like a divo on skates. The aria is basically an advert for Figaro inc. Be funny, be silly, be a dude. Just don’t stand there stretching your arms at regular intervals.
Nonetheless, the public was determined to have fun and clapped.
Next up was US soprano Andrea Carroll who sang Qui la voce…/Vien diletto. It was soon obvious that she was a straight up lyric soprano, with a rather beautiful (super plaintive – give her all the consumptive/hard done by damsel roles there are, please), well schooled voice. However the extreme plaintiveness of her tone undermined the Vien diletto bit of the aria. We all know it’s a mini mad scene of unadulterated joy – Elvira is horny as a kitten. That sexy delirium did not come through in her rendition. On top of it, maybe due to nerves, maybe because of her temperament, she went very carefully about it. It’s Bellini, it’s going to be hard to sing – long lines, legato, requires a free top capable of ornaments in the attic of the voice. But if you’re going to sing it, come on! step on the pedal, live a little.
The public was nice to her too, or maybe some really enjoyed it.
French tenor Julien Behr was next. I thought, hey, Julien Behr already has a career, he’s sung here at ROH as well as at other big houses, why is he in this competition with the kids? He was indeed the oldest. But I guess it’s never too late to propel yourself further. He took advantage of the fact French is well represented in the repertoire and sang Faust’s aria Salut! Demeure chaste et pure. I’ve already gone over my attitude to Gounod (bit boring) yesterday, so all I’m going to say is that at this point he was the best. He floated a pianissimo quite nicely at a pivotal point.
Kiandra Howarth, our Australian acquaintance from yesterday and other dates, came in to sing Juliette’s Amour, reanime mon courage – that is to say, the aria she sang yesterday in the JPYA Summer Performance. It’s not often you get to hear a singer sing the same thing two days in a row. But since this aria fits her voice nicely I wasn’t going to complain. This was the first time of the evening when someone projected enough so that us in the Upper Slips could hear properly. Though I enjoyed her creamy tone, I still felt underwhelmed by Gounod’s writing. I thought: all of them are very capable, good technique and all but so far she’s ahead of the others.
Without a break, South African bass-baritone Bongani Justice Kubheka came in with Basilio’s La calunnia. He started rather quietly but then this is an aria where the singer needs to pace himself very carefully: it’s all about the crescendo. His was a more characterful voice than Parks’ and he put on the – dramatically – most exciting performance thus far. He stomped, he chuckled, he used colour (woohoo!) to vary his lines. He obviously knew what he was saying and he seemed to have a ball doing it. I wish him luck and I hope to see him in buffo roles. Here’s a singer who can capture your attention when he’s on stage. At this point I was sure I was going to vote for him in the Male Voice section.
Korean soprano Hyesang Park‘s name appeared on screen but there were a few moments until she herself showed up. Did she get cold feet? Did she have a last minute costume malfunction? People were obviously wondering.
Then she showed up, in a very pretty white/red dress and we learned she was going to sing Lucia’s Il dolce suono. 20min later 😉 we were all at her feet. Hells yea. You don’t have to be a coloratura soprano fanatic to appreciate the work and talent that went into that performance. Unsurprisingly, her mind-boggingly deft maneuvering of acuti stopped the show short, with people unable to contain themselves – mad clapping, hollering, the works. Later she continued with the last 5minutes of the behemoth. More clapping, stomping, swooning.
Lest you think she’s all about acuti (though a bit of foray below showed she still needs to work on the bottom of her voice), the tone itself is exquisite. I don’t throw that around easily; it had quicksilver personality. Just when I – of all people – was starting to crave a bright voice, here she came with the kind of crystal clear top that you so want for belcanto coloratura. And you know there’s very little that Donizetti denied us in this proper belcanto extravaganza: super exposed singing – check, duet with the flute – check. If you can get through this you can probably solve world peace too 😉 Just remembering all the notes is probably a few months’ work. Then you need to make it flow and possibly, show some
drama kookiness. Let me tell you, quicksilver can do kooky. I knew who I was going to vote for in the Female Voice section.
US baritone Tobias Greenhalgh was slotted to follow. I felt for him. He gave us the second Largo al factotum of the night. His Figaro ‘tude was superior to Parks’ and he had some original moves. It wasn’t bad at all, he even elicited some laughs, but as baritones go Kubheka had been funnier. You need to marshal out your inner extrovert with this aria. And you need to sing well. And hopefully have a voice that sticks out. I thought Domingo could’ve sped up the tempo a bit but as he had been supportive with his singers thus far maybe this was the tempo Greenhalgh was comfortable with. You don’t want to fub the patter in this one.
From New Zealand we had tenor Darren Pene Pati, who sang Edgardo’s Tombe degli avi miei. Here we had a bit of Pavarotti feel, not unpleasant at all. Quite the contrary. Beautifully, soulfully sung, with good projection and better than average diction.
We stayed in the Southern hemisphere with South African soprano Noluvuyiso Mfopu for Violetta’s E strano…/Sempre libera. Lovely tone as well, lyric but not overwhelmingly plaintive, elegant and perhaps a bit introverted. This introversion marred Sempre libera some, as there wasn’t a marked difference in moods between the two sections. Too elegant; more abandon would’ve given it an extra oomph. Showman Domingo made us all sigh by joining in for Alfredo’s echoes (which, just between you and me, I like a lot better than what Violetta has to sing and thus stayed with for the rest of the night. If I could sing, I’d break into Amor è palpito dell´universo intero,/misterioso, altero,/croce e delizia al cor at any given time 😀 ).
Switch to Eastern Europe for Romanian tenor Ioan Hotea‘s Ah, mes amis. Well, well, well, thought I, let’s count his high Cs. Though I’m hardly an OMG, high C! type of opera fan, I appreciate a good one when I hear it. And this aria has 9 of them. Well, well, well, indeed – he nailed them and looked cute doing so. La fille du regiment is a bit of a turkey of an opera, hardly high on realism but good-natured fun, so it takes a lovable Tonio to pull off the starry eyed boyfriend. Slight built Hotea’s got that – and you know what? (Every once in a while) it’s nice to hear a tenor hit some plump high Cs and project them too. I don’t think his voice is quite as recognisable as JDF’s but it’s endearingly healthy and fresh. After this performance I started to wonder if Kubheka’s sense of humour was enough to get my vote.
Norway’s Lise Davidsen brought something completely different to the competition: Wagner. It’s kinda weird hearing Elisabeth’s Dich, teure Halle among all the belcanto, but good to hear something else for a change. I don’t think I’m a competent judge when it comes to Wagner singing, but one thing I know – a dramatic soprano should be big voiced/able to project. She did, she walked all over that orchestra no problem. In fact, if she was in any way cautious I am thankful, as a couple of times I was afraid she was going to send my toupee flying. The public was glad for a change of feel too, and clapped lots.
There was no time for faffing, so the zarzuela part of the competition came next.
Andrea Carroll started things off with a very fun piece, Al pensar en el dueno de mis amores. I’ll be upfront and say I know nada about zarzuela. After this outing, though, I will be sure to investigate because it was lots of fun, quite possibly more fun than lieder, which took a while to endear itself to me. As much as I like to think of myself as rational, I’m very attracted to the Southern European fire in the belly. I think this piece suited Carroll better than Qui la voce. The lyricism of her voice went quite nicely with it. But as earlier I was dying for some fire, especially in the repeated ay! cries, which she sang surprisingly even.
Darren Pene Pati was next with La roca fria del calvario, which, considering the title, sounded like it was going to be sombre and quite possibly heartbreaking. I’ve established that Pene Pati is in possession of a gorgeous tone but, midway through it, I started wondering if he wasn’t going too operatic. I know that can be a pitfall with lieder but I’m clueless when it comes to zarzuela. Still, there was a niggling doubt in my heart. (edit: I now see I was wrong but even so, I’m still standing by my later decision).
Kiandra Howarth sang Tres horas ante del dia, a temperamental piece which went well with her full soprano.
Ioan Hotea “challenged” Pene Pati with the same piece. There is a bit later in the song where the tune returns and it’s a tune that made me think this is sadness the Spanish way. Hotea didn’t overdo it in volume but went for the pain and then intensified the feeling without losing beauty of sound. That’s when I knew I was going to vote for him. A singer should make you feel; if it’s a sad piece, they should bring you to the brink of tears.
Hyesang Park wrapped things up with the coquettish No se que siento aqui. This song was surprisingly operatic and not just in how she presented it; the orchestration – or what Domingo asked from the orchestra – felt very grand. I’ll have to trust Domingo since he’s been around zarzuela from the womb. As I heard someone comment on the way out, this choice played to Park’s strengths, which are of the classic diva variety. I appreciated her very coordinated and fluent stage movement and it’s not like I had any doubt that the woman could sing. But I was a bit baffled and not 100% convinced; it felt like the pizzazz overshadowed the feeling. A quick check to the ROH site tells me zarzuela is rather the Spanish equivalent to operetta, so, yes, the pizzazz was the feeling. I’ll need a bit of immersion before I put together the many sides of it all. I still voted for her in the Female Voice section. The woman is the complete package. Please do come to London for the belcanto roles.
Err, since I had to dash off right after casting my votes for Park and Hotea, I did not catch the winner(s) and the results do not appear to be posted online yet. Please post if you know, I’m writing this at work since I’m internet-less at home due to some fault with my landline I had no time to fix what with the overly busy weekend…
- The house was full and the public more varied than the regular over 50s pearl necklace brigade – lots of young people for once, different backgrounds. The atmosphere was enthusiastic and encouraging, very generous clapping, open laughter etc. It was lovely sharing the evening with people so glad to be there.
- Upon checking the Operalia site I was pleased to note that Nutthaporn Thammathi, the lovely Tito from the Fiesole Clemenza, made it to the Quarterfinals. I wish him better luck in future competitions.
- I was also glad to see a few mezzos and even a countertenor in the running. Let’s hope in the near future we’ll get to hear a larger variety of repertoire and voice types. Until then, this was quite a ball!
Posted on July 20, 2015, in bellini, donizetti, french opera, live performances, rossini, royal opera house, sopranos, tenors and tagged donizetti, gounod, operalia, placido comingo, rossini, royal opera house, verdi, vincenzo bellini, wagner. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.