That which had to be done is done. What follows is a write up from my notes of Sunday’s art song final. Please bear in mind that I was less than fully emotionally engaged and you may well prefer Gianmarco Segato’s thoughtful review.
Julien van Mellaerts sang first. He started off in conventional territory with Strauss, Schumann and Wolf; showing good command of the Lieder style, expressiveness and a willingness to vary dynamics. A pleasing version of Adams’ For You There is No Song was followed by the weird and somewhat chilling Genius Child by Owens; a neat contrast. The set concluded with Debussy’s Trois ballades de François Villon. There was some lovely, delicate singing here with some ravishing floating notes. Overall, as in the previous rounds, very good stuff without, perhaps, having the X factor.
So, the evening session in Bourgie Hall. Gemma Summerfield sang first, kicking off with two Mendelssohn songs. Die Liebende schreibt showed off proper Lieder singing. It was restrained and pure with every word distinct. Hexenlied was appropriately more dramatic but still quite correct with a good sense of story telling. A very good start. Ravel’s Cinq mélodies, which followed displayed excellent French in varied moods and some lovely piano playing from Sebastian Wybrew. There was more of the same from both of them with a lovely version of Korngold’s Drei Lieder before things wrapped up with stylish and entirely idiomatic versions of Bridge’s Go Not Happy Day and Love went a Riding. The latter was an object lesson in how to tell a story without going over the top. This was a very, very fine set and jumped Summerfield to the top of my provisional “leader board”.
So the first four semifinalists have sung. It’s interesting. Julien van Mellaerts sang a very restrained, very Liederish set while all three girls were more dramatic. A lot is going to turn on the judges views on the “right way” to do art song. If the prelims are anything to go by I suspect they tend more to the operatic than I do. We shall see.
Julien van Mellaerts kicked off with Schubert. Der Einsame was a model of Germanic restraint but he clearly had plenty of power in reserve and let it out a bit in the more dramatic Rastlose Liebe. Mahler’s Zu Strassburg auf der Schantz was lovely and lyrical and showed real ability to shape a line. Gurney’s In Flanders showed off clean high notes plus a sense of style. His version of Butterworth’s Is my team ploughing? almost teetered into the mannered. It was lovely but a little precious à la Bostridge. Songs by Fauré and Duparc were sung stylishly to round out a set that was very much to my taste but will it please the judges?
As previously I made my own lists before the official announcements. It wads a little trickier than the art song competition because I really had no sense of how the judges would react to the loud but unexpressive Koreans. There is after all a need in opera for powerful low voices even if they aren’t great actors. So I made them a separate category. So then, my guesses:
Probables: Bahg, Brancy, Chaieb, D’Angelo, Haji, Lee, Nekoranec, Nilsson, Yang
Maybes: Golovushkin, Hovhannisyan, Kyreiev, Mathieu, Mihaylov, Sproule
Probably nots: Idrisova, Koval, Margison, Muhire, Rudyk, Yangel
Fafners: Cho, Choi, Gil
Last night the final eight aria contestants performed. Canadian mezzo Marie-Andrée Mathieu was up first. Meyerbeer’s Nobles seigneurs, salut! showed genuine mezzo colours, good control and some dramatic flair. Parto! Parto! was pleasant but not as dramatic as one might expect. Certainly the range of emotion on display was markedly less than Emily D’Angelo the day before. Amour, viens rendre mon âme from Gluck’s Orphée showed she could handle long runs. So it was a solid performance but maybe not at the level needed against this field.
So I guess I wasn’t that impressed with the first session in the aria competition; too much loud, technically correct, but dull singing. Things were much better in the evening though. First up was Russian mezzo Alexandra Yangel. She was very personable and fun to watch but a bit wayward vocally. Nobles seigneurs, Salut! from Les Huguenots was dramatic and lyrical in places but her upper register gets quite squally. This was even more noticeable in the aria from La Cenerentola that followed. I liked the passion and the vocal acting ability in her Smanie, implacabili though.
And so to the aria competition. Twenty four singers in three sessions are competing for twelve places in the semifinals. It’s piano for the first round but after that it’s the Maison Symphonique and the OSM. As with the art song competition I’ve tried to keep my session reports free of hindsight. This one was written between the afternoon and evening sessions last night. It will be followed by a report on yesterday evening and tomorrow should see the post on the third session and the judges decisions.
First up in afternoon was Canadian mezzo Carolyn Sproule. She kicked off with Strauss’ Wie du warst!, followed it up with Printemps qui commence from Samson et Delila and finished up with Ah! Quando all’ara scorgemi from Maria Stuarda. It was all pretty good. She’s a genuine mezzo with power enough and she got more dramatic as the set went on. I thought it was maybe a little under-characterised but compared to much of what came later it was positively thespian.