Review: Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize Final 2023, St David’s Hall, Cardiff
This was such a special occasion that I decided to dig out from the back of my wardrobe what I like to call my “fancy pants,” a fairly flamboyant pair of trousers that only rarely see the light of day.
To my consternation I discovered that the trousers would no longer accommodate my girth, forcing me to rummage about for an alternative pair.
These are no match for my “fancy pants,” but at least they fit.
There were many people in the capacity audience for this concert marking the 40th anniversary of the Cardiff Singer of the World competition who had clearly searched out their own fancy pants and dresses.
If there had been a main prize for spectacular sartorial elegance it may well have gone to Belize-born British composer Errollyn Wallen, one of the judges at this year’s competition, who appeared briefly on stage in a stunning white dress that certainly caught the eye.
The five finalists were as dazzling as Ms Wallen’s raiment. Each singer offered something fresh, thought-provoking and moving, sung with crystal clarity, naturalness and simplicity.
The annoying thing about the judges at Cardiff Singer of the World is that they rarely pick the singer who I think should win. It’s baffling why they don’t agree with me.
It was the same again this year. At the climax of the evening, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, patron of Cardiff Singer of the World, announced that 29 year-old Italian bass Adolfo Corrado had won.
He performed arias from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Verdi less well known The Lombards on the first Crusade.
Mr Corrado, the only man on the list of five finalists, sang with controlled power and depth and performed with great expression and feeling, drawing the audience in with great skill. He is a fine actor as well as singer.
But for me the best performance of the evening came from 31 year-old South African mezzo, Siphokazi Molteno, who was the last to perform. Funnily enough, a South African gentleman sitting next to me, who had travelled from Capetown to be at the Main Prize Final, agreed with me.
Ms Molteno’s programme included Una voce poco fa, from Rossini’s Barber of Seville, and Wie du Warst!, from Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier.
She sang with subtlety and elegance, never over- emphasizing or exaggerating, yet exuding a power that grabbed the attention and moved the heart and soul.
Not surprisingly, the majority of the audience would have loved to have seen 32 year-old Welsh soprano Jessica Robinson take the prize. She was clearly delighted to be there and appreciated the fantastic encouragement she received from the audience.
She admitted to moving out of her comfort zone by performing Handel’s Tornami a Vagheggiar–Alcina. But she handled it very well (excuse the pun).
There is a purity and naturalness to Ms Robinson’s singing and performing style that captivates the listener from the start.
This was evident in her wonderful performance of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise. One could imagine her happily singing this while walking her sheepdog in the countryside around her home village of Llandissilio, in Pembrokeshire. The Welsh hills are alive to the sound of Jessica.
The first performance came from 29 year-old Scottish mezzo, Beth Taylor who also included Handel in her programme. There was an impressive depth and breadth to her performance which was often very moving.
The second singer from South Africa, 31 year-old Nombulelo Yende, was similarly impressive, particularly in her performance of the Letter Scene from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.
A big part of the success of the evening was due to the performance of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and conductors Ryan Bancroft and Michael Christie.
The performances given by Mr Corrado and Ms Robinson were boosted tremendously by the enthusiastic encouragement given by the vivacious Mr Bancroft.
Praise must also go to the stage designers whose creation provided a impressive and tasteful backdrop for the singers and orchestra
Well, the excitement is over for another year and we have to wait until 2025 for the next Cardiff Singer of the World competition.
Perhaps on that occasion the judges will agree with me, and my “fancy pants” will fit. One lives in hope.
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