Sunday, 14 June 2009

Cardiff Singer of the World disappointment

I only caught the first 'semifinal' this week, but was pleased to note that my ability to gauge singers, despite my inability to sing, was sharp as ever - the commentary running in my head was almost word for word what the experts said after, and I chose the winner of the heat within a single phrase.

Marvelous. I was ready. For various reasons, I missed the other heats, but I caught the last three of tonight's final. The bass was lovely, but not out of this world.

Next up was the counter tenor. I sat up straight...a COUNTER TENOR? IN THE CARDIFF SINGER OF THE WORLD FINAL?????????????? OMG. *BRILLIANT*

Now, any of my friends who know my musical preferences will be sitting back in shock. I'm a baritone/bass, alto/mezzo girl. I tend to dislike the higher ranges because so many who claim to sing them CAN'T, and sound like strangled cats at the top of the range. I'm going to get a lot of grief for this, but I HATED Luciano Pavarotti's voice. HATED it. Love Placido, but realised why when I learned he had been a zarzuela baritone. He has the richness of the baritone and the proper range of a tenor, and musicianship FAR superior to anything Pavarotti displayed - and was always undeservingly seen as second best, I felt.

Sopranos start off with an 'UGH' from me and really have to prove themselves. I hate what I call the 'light Mozart' sops - all air, no substance. Anya Harteros, the 1999 winner of Cardiff singer, is that rare, rare soprano that I love - one whose voice is like liquid gold, with depth, texture and range. When I like sopranos, they tend to be Wagnerian.

So, what I like in voices - texture, depth, darkness - I most often find in the lower ranges, so I gravitate towards them.

It's either that or crystal clarity - found in the trebles that are the staple of the English choir, NOT in light Mozart sopranos - or in that rare tenor like Fr Dom, whose voice a friend once described as 'ethereal, fragile, like Venice - you turn around and you're not quite sure he'll be there'. The most magical moment of the liturgical year is in a candlelit Oratory, the moment he sings the first note of the Exsultet - and then it's really a place out of time. Interestingly, listening closely this year, I caught some of the texture that I'd missed before.

Back to Cardiff singer. That was all a long diversion to explain why it would be such a surprise for my musical friends to discover that I was thrilled to find a countertenor in the final.

Yuriy Mynenko proved me right. His repertoire was one never heard in a Cardiff Singer final before :

Ombra fedele anch'io (Idaspe) - Broschi
Crude furie degl'orridi abissi (Serse) - Handel
Oh patria! ... Di tanti palpiti (Tancredi) - Rossini

His voice was divine; his phrasing, incredible; his emotion, electric. The vocal runs were jaw-dropping. I didn't look away for his entire repertoire, and the audience clearly felt the same. "He HAS to win," I thought.

When I heard who the next performer was, my heart sank. A pretty, Russian soprano who had 'blown the jury away' at her semifinal - Ekaterina Shcherbachenko. Aw, crap.

Yeah, go on, guess how often it was mentioned that she was 'pretty', or 'looked elegant' and how that made her 'the whole package'.


Her repertoire:

Je voudrais bien savoir ... Ah! je ris (Faust) - Gounod
Signore, ascolta! (Turandot) - Puccini
No word from Tom (The Rake's Progress) - Stravinsky

Already, she was at a disadvantage with me - I don't like hearing French *spoken* (sorry, Christelle), let alone being sung - its nasality is like nails on a chalkboard for me. Give me Spanish any day. And Stravinsky 'The Rake's Progress'? *CRINGE* Puccini? Meh.

She sang it creditably - she's a lovely soprano, but no Anya Harteros, and I was perfectly capable of answering FB messages during her singing, even the Puccini didn't move me, though I could appreciate her technical ability. She felt OVERemotional to me.

THIS was where the experts and I diverged. They couldn't praise her enough, and how 'from the heart, it has to be Ekaterina".

Pass me a bucket.

So, of course, it was.

I can't tell you how disappointed I am in the jury. Of course, they know more about music than I will in several lifetimes, but I can't believe that the difference was more than a whisker.

The jury missed a chance to do something that would change the history of the competition forever: award the prize to the first countertenor ever.

A prize that would not only have legitimised the countertenor as a male voice, but would have gone a long way to striking a blow against the unease most audiences have with a male singing in a female range - and therefore, would have struck a blow for widening the range of what qualifies as acceptably masculine, which is frighteningly narrow.

Leaving aside the fact that 'gay' should not be a pejorative term and that being gay doesn't make you any less a man - it would be a good thing if what is acceptable in the heterosexual male repertoire was far wider than it is now. A man should be able to dance well, sing countertenor, hate sports, have heart to hearts with his male friends, participate in high liturgy and not have his sexuality questioned.

I've had far too many male friends ask why people assume they're gay - read 'not really male' - simply because they didn't like sports or because they were quiet. Enough.

As a friend once said to me, 'Why do we DO this to men? It's not fair.'

She's right.

The Cardiff jury had a chance to reach out beyond their usual preferences and strike a blow for something far bigger than the opera world.

They missed the boat.

And I, for one, am deeply disappointed.


Ariel said...

Ooh, I'd have loved to hear him. I love good countertenors; they have an out-of-this world quality to them, like they're singing to you from a portal to another world. You know?

He sang "Crude furie"? That's so qool - I've been trying to learn that.

I have to disagree with you on the Wagnerians though; I tend to prefer sopranos whose voices have a certain sort of sparkle. Jessye Norman is fantastic, though; she doesn't have an overbearing vibrato which a lot of heavier voices seem to have.


Irim said...

Funnily enough, it's Jessye Norman of whom I was thinking. I guess I mean sops who can DO Wagner well, Brunhilde sopranos, I call them. Like Anya Harteros, who I could see doing it.

Sparkle good, breathy sux rox. xx

Irim said...

See if you can google his performance on youtube, though it may not be up yet.

Yuriy Mynenko is his name, keep an eye out.

The vocal runs were staggeringly good. Like flipping scary. xx

Ariel said...

Breathy is just bad technique, frankly. It's not good for your voice, either (neither is an overwrought vibrato). Good lyrics, light lyrics, and coloraturas aren't going to be any breathier than a heavy voice. My voice is on the lighter side, but I'm not at all breathy.

I think a lot of people these days sing breathily either because they've never learned how not to or because they're trying to sound sexy. It's just bad, and they can really damage their voices that way.

Have you heard either Andreas Scholl or Fernando Lima? They're both really good countertenors, especially Scholl, who has probably the most ethereal voice I've ever heard.