La Scena Musicale

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Queen Elisabeth Singing Competition Prize Winners

The winners are:

1. Szabolcs Brickner (Hungary)
2. Isabelle Druet (France)
3. Bernadetta Grabias (Poland)
4. Anna Kasyan (Georgia)
5. Yury Haradzetski (Belarus)
6. Gabrielle Philiponet (France)

I am speechless. First prize to a tenor, one of two in the finals. Only two sopranos made it to the top 6, out of 46. Really comparing different voice categories are comparing apples and oranges. There should be different and separate competitions. Or prizes for men and women separately, like in a few competitions already. I have to say I never expected Brickner to win. I guess the jury heard from him something I didn't hear over the webcast.

Of the 15 Korean singers, the largest group in the competition, not one made it to the top 6, which included two French singers. I can't understand Dutch, so I can't say for sure, but I believe there were some disagreements from the commentators over who should have won. I think many were surprised by the outcome. When the fifth prize winner, Yury Haradzetski was announced, there were a few loud boos - bad behavious from a few in the audience that was totally uncalled for. Then the remaining 6 finalists were brought on for bows and to shake hands with the jurors. It must have been very strange to shake the hands of those (at least some of them) who didn't put you in the winner's circle! Particularly moving was the Korean soprano Yoon, who cried her way through the ovations and the handshakes. I don't think they were tears of joy. I hope she is not disheartened - she is a wonderful singer and will go far. But I hope they heard what Maestro Ono said in the interview - losing doesn't mean one isn't good. There are all sorts of factors. It is the next 10 years in these artists' careers that will determine who the real winners are.

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Queen Elisabeth Singing Competition Finals Day 4 / Proclamation of Winners

Gioachino ROSSINI Inflammatus est [STABAT MATER]
Giuseppe VERDI È strano – Ah, fors’è lui – Folie ! Folie ! – Sempre libera [VIOLETTA – LA TRAVIATA] Richard STRAUSS September [4 LETZTE LIEDER – HESSE]
Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO Qual fiamma – Stridono lassù [NEDDA – I PAGLIACCI]
This singer seems to be the complete package - a lovely, bright silvery tone, coupled with model-like face and body, solid technique and innate musicality. Apparently she is married to a Belgian, studies in Brussels with Jose van Dam. With an expert - and highly influential - teacher like van Dam, and with great "material" like Trenogina, the end result is a singer to be reckoned with. If I were to nitpick, her stage personality is on the reserved side, a little remote. One doesn't get a feeling she is truly engaged with her audience; her interpretive power is also a little generalized. In any case, there is a real buzz about this singer and much is expected of her. She opened with Inflammatus, from Rossini's Stabat Mater. One was struck by the brightness and beauty of her tone. This is a short but treacherous piece, requiring great high notes and the power of a dramatic soprano. She sang it wonderfully, including two long-held C-sharps. A magnificent start to the program. Next came E strano - Sempre libera. I expected her to t"ace" this. Perhaps she oversang in the Inflammatus, she was good but not fantastic. She began very well, but slowly there were some intonation problems. For one thing, her high pianissimi broke three times - ok, this can happen to any singer. But often it is because the voice is over-extended. Perhaps because of that, she didn't sing the high E flat at the end, a big surprise. Verdi didn't write it, but most sopranos with a good top llike hers sing it. Given her facility at the top, surely it was within her grasp and I am willing to bet she intended to sing it. This was followed by Strauss's September, the second of the Vier letzte Lieder, a real test to the top register. Her high notes were fine but the middle voice was unexpectedly a little tremulous. Again, maybe she gave too much to open the program, and an introspective piece like this requires a reigning-in of her resources. Often singers find this change of pace, from singing big to singing small, difficult. The other way around seems to be easier? Putting Nedda's aria at the end was again a surprise - one would have thought the Violetta's scena would be put at the end. Given her personal beauty, she is a totally believable Nedda. Once again, her high pianissimo had a slight glitch. But overall, it was a very fine performance.

Carl Maria von WEBER Einst träumte meiner sel’gen Base – Trübe Augen [ÄNNCHEN – DER FREISCHÜTZ]
Jules MASSENET Suis-je gentille ainsi ? – Je marche sur tous les chemins – Obéissons – Profitons bien de la jeunesse [MANON – MANON]
Gaetano DONIZETTI Ah! Tardai troppo – O luce di quest’anima [LINDA – LINDA DI CHAMOUNIX]
Philiponet is a high coloratura soprano with a flexible voice and a vivid stage personality. I can imagine her as a perfect ingenue, a soubrette, as Zdenka, Fiakermili, Norina, Adina, Oscar, Sophie, Soeur Constance, etc. The timbre is reminiscent of a young Beverly Sills, or perhaps Roberta Peters - a little thin but lovely, especially in lower dynamics. Her fortissimo has a tendency toward edginess and a loss of focus and purity. Her strength -beside a beautiful voice - is her strong communicative power. She engages the audience in her performance - this can be quite rare among singers today. Most singers at this level tend to be a little remote or shy onstage. There is nothing remote about her! She can even be accused of over-acting, as Therese in Les Mamelles. Maybe, but given the piece, overacting is perfectly appropriate! She began with Annchen's aria - a beautiful aria but rarely programmed, perhaps because Aanchen, like Blonchen, is almost always identified as a soubrette. But this aria allowed her to act it out, which she did vividly. The vocalism is very fine, a couple of high notes going sharp notwithstanding.
The Poulenc aria was fun, dramatic, but also a little shrill. This aria played to her strength - her dramatic and communicative power. Ultimately it won me over, despite the occasional edgy and shrill tone. Strauss's Amor is along the same line - bright and lively. Her style and voice in this piece really reminds me so much of Beverly Sills, whom I heard in this. She ended with the Gavotte from Manon. Again, her top can sound pure in one instance and unfocused the next. She even threw in a few interpolated high notes, the audience got so excited that they started applauding before the second stanza, andthen again before the third stanza! This is so unusual since European audiences are generally too knowledgeable and disciplined to do this. In any case, they loved her and she recived an exceptional ovation. She ended with Linda di Chamounix, showing no sign of fatigue after such a heavy program, a testament to her conditioning.

Bernadetta GRABIAS
Francesco CILEA Acerba volutta, dolce tortura [PRINCESSE DE BOUILLON – ADRIANA LECOUVREUR]
Gioachino ROSSINI Cruda sorte – Qual chi vuol [ISABELLA – L’ITALIANA IN ALGERI]
Jules MASSENET Va! Laisse couler mes larmes [CHARLOTTE – WERTHER]
Giuseppe VERDI Liber scriptus [REQUIEM]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio [CHERUBINO – LE NOZZE DI FIGARO] Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY Da, tchas nastal [JEANNA – ORLEANSKAÏA DIEVA (THE MAID OF
I have to say it was strange to follow a high coloratura with a low mezzo. That's exactly Ms. Grabias' fach - a dramatic mezzo who is also capable of an upward extension. She also has a very strong technique. Throughout her program, there was never a moment of uncertainty. She also has good agility. If there is anything missing, it would be a true sense of humour. She sang one "light" piece- Cherubino's aria, but not too convincingly. To be honest, I can't say I am fond of her timbre. There isn't a whole lot of variations in tone colours; as a result, her singing tends to be rather monochromatic. I am of two minds about her concert gown. Bursts of silver flowers down one shoulder and splashes across her skirt - a dramatic statement to be sure. I suppose it matches her dramatic mezzo fach. Appropriately she chose a verismo piece to open - Princess de Bouillon's short sturm und drang outburst from Adriana Lecouvreur. Nobody can say this is a great piece of music, but as a set piece, it can be effective, with the fanfare horns at the end. Grabias sang it well. Cruda sorte next. She has the coloratura and the technical requirement - if only her timbre is more beautiful. But then it's a very individual thing, as the audience loved her. Charlotte's Va! Laisse couler mes larmes, a more subtle piece, which she sang quite beautifully, but the audience gave it only lukewarm reception. It really underscores the fact that the public always respond more to loud music! Liber scriptus as a set piece is extremely unusual, but Grabias' voice is perfect in this oratorio. She ended it with the aria from Jeanne D'Arc, strongly, beatufiully sung, with great dramatic conviction and complete technical assurance. The audience loved it. All I can say is, if she had a more beautiful voice, she will be on the podium for sure.
The competition came to an end at this point. The organizer/host paid tribute to the orchestra under the excellent conducting of Kazushi Ono. He was interviewed and was asked repeatedly about himself, but to his credit, he refused politely to talk about hmself, his future plans (taking over at Lyon Opera), but spent the minutes giving advice to the singers. Telling them not to be disappointed if they didn't win. The real test is how their careers go in the next ten years. A really modest, selfless thing to do. Bravo Maestro!

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Queen Elisabeth Singing Competition Finals Day 3

Isabelle DRUET
Georges BIZET Près des remparts de Séville [CARMEN – CARMEN]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Ah, scostati ! – Smanie implacabili [DORABELLA – COSÌ FAN TUTTE]
Gustav MAHLER Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht ? [DES KNABEN WUNDERHORN]
Henri DUPARC Au pays où se fait la guerre [GAUTIER]
Henry PURCELL Thy hand, Belinda – When I am laid [DIDO – DIDO AND AENEAS]
Gioachino ROSSINI Nacqui all’affanno [CENERENTOLA – LA CENERENTOLA]
French mezzo Isabelle Druet has a rich, dark mezzo, with just the right timbre for Carmen, and her Sequille was very well sung and well acted, correctly with her hands behind until she "frees" herself from the robe binding her at the end. Similarly, her "Smanie implacabili" was sung with much expression, fully bringing out the ditzy qualities in Dorabella's personality. Dramatically she applied the same broad strokes to the Das knaben Wunderhorn song, to its detriment. Yes, it is a playful song, but it needs a more child-like, innocent and folksy delivery. I would have liked a bit more contrast between Dorabella and Mahler. The Duparc, on the other hand, was delivered perfectly. Despite her dark mezzo, she has a secure top which served her well in these pieces. Again, her rich tone is perfectly suited to Dido's Lament, but I must say she sacrificed clarity of the words for beauty of tone, which admittedly was much in evidence. Her English was hard to understand, with all the consonants suppressed - she has a strange way of singing "remember me....."! Her "killer blow" was Cenerentola's showpiece, "Nacqui all;affanno", which she sang with panache, with excellent coloratura and a fine top. But....but.... the bottom of her voice disappeared in the octave runs - the lowest notes simply failed to sound. A very find effort but not quite perfect, although the audience loved her.

Joseph HAYDN Es bringe das Wasser – Auf starkem Fittiche [GABRIEL – DIE SCHÖPFUNG]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Ei parte – Per pietà ben mio [FIORDILIGI – COSÌ FAN TUTTE]
Richard STRAUSS Ständchen [6 LIEDER OP.17 – SCHACK]
Benjamin BRITTEN Embroidery in childhood [ELLEN – PETER GRIMES]
Charles GOUNOD Ah, je veux vivre [JULIETTE – ROMÉO ET JULIETTE]
Twenty-six year old BC soprano Layla Clare is a student at Curtis and is already going places, and one can see why. She has a lovely, silvery lyric soprano, with a marvelous timbre and a warm, full middle voice - not always the case with lyrics. The voice is particularly suited to oratorios and lieder. She looks beautiful onstage, always an advantage. The voice also has a fluttery vibrato that is actually quite pleasant, but it can turn tremulous when not fully supported. She opened nicely with "Auf starkem Fittiche" from Die Schopfung - a beautiful start, and she was rewarded by good applause. "Per pieta" - she handled the low section really well without forcing, again unusual in a lyric soprano. Her experience showed - she has already sang Fiordiligi with James Levine at Tanglewood! She is a very fine Mozart singer, as she amply demonstrated here. Perhaps a fly in the ointment is her extreme top, which doesn't ideally bloom. Her "Standchen" was quite beautiful, but she pecked at the notes a la Elizabeth Schumann, and in the process sometimes sounding a little tremulous and not fully supported. I liked her Ellen Orford's Embroidery Aria, finely spun singing, with much inner feeling. The showstopper, Juliette's Waltz, is a piece that should clinch it for a good voice like hers, and it began well. But I think at this point the voice was a little tired. The high notes started to go a little flat, and she was not holding them any longer than absolutely necessary. Still, this piece showed off the lovely qualities of her voice - she would make an ideal Juliette some day. So, it was unfortunate that with really only one minute to go, in the last few bars of the aria, she missed the high B in the final coloratura flourish, and couldn't hold the final high B. One never wants to leave the judges with a bad impression right at the very end of the program, but that's life. There is a reason that singing is compared to a high-wire act - it's dangerous!

YOON Jung Nan
Giacomo PUCCINI Si, mi chiamano Mimì [MIMÌ – LA BOHÈME]
Charles GOUNOD Ah, je veux vivre [JULIETTE – ROMÉO ET JULIETTE]
Giuseppe VERDI È strano – Ah, fors’è lui – Folie ! Folie ! – Sempre libera [VIOLETTA – LA TRAVIATA]
Korean soprano Jung Nan Yoon has a voice that is quite rare - a budding lirico-spinto of good size, yet at this point in her young age, she can still dispatch a high E flat, as in the end of Sempre libera. The voice is of good size, opulent and technically very secure. A student at Indiana University, she is very well schooled, musical, and has a nice stage presence. If I were to fault her, she doesn't have a good trill - necessary at the end of Juliette's Waltz, and she has a tendency to swallow the words, suppressing the consonants. As a result sometimes you just can't hear what she is singing, not just above the stave - common with high voices - but even in the middle. This evening, she wore a beautiful sleeveless white gown with a black lace top, classy-looking if a touch severe for someone so young. She opened with the short "Er ist's" by Wolf, a fanfare to warm up the voice and the audience. It was brave of her to sing Mimi's aria, considering its popularity and the tendency of the audience to compare with their favourite renditions. Yoon sang it beautifully and idiomatically, with good Italian, even if hers wasn't the last word on all the melisma, portamento, legato we are used to in this piece. Then it was Juliette's Waltz. Unlike Clare's problems at the top, Yoon's was completely secure and the whole aria was wonderfully rendered and she received a big hand. Violetta's great scena was more of a challenge, and again, she sang it very well if without a uniquely personal stamp, which at this stage is perhaps unrealistic to expect.
If I had to pick, I would vote for Yoon, but it can easily be a tie between Druet and Yoon. You can watch it in the archive by going to

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Today's Birthday in Music: May 24 (Hammond)

1912 - Joan Hammond, Christchurch, New Zealand; opera and concert soprano, singing teacher

Wiki entry
Music Australia biography

Joan Hammond sings "The Green Hills of Somerset" by Eric Coates

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Queen Elisabeth Singing Competition Finals Day 2

Georg Friedrich HAENDEL Comfort ye my people – Ev’ry valley shall be exalted [MESSIAH]

Sergey RACHMANINOV Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne (Sing not to me, beautiful maiden) [6 SONGS OP.4PUSHKIN]
Joseph HAYDN Gefesselt steht der breite See – Hier steht der Wand’rer nun [LUCAS – DIE JAHRESZEITEN]

This evening we had the second tenor in the finals, the Belorussian Yury Haradzetski. He has a bright, good-sized, well focused voice, with a forward vocal placement, and an individual timbre that is perhaps not the most beautiful in the competition. His stage demeanor is a bit stiff, his height makes him look a little awkward. I wasn't terribly impressed by him in the semi-finals when he seemed to push his voice. But all that was in the past. Tonight I was very pleasantly surprised by his performance. He sang with technical security, sensitivity and musicality, with plenty of chiaroscuro. He opened with the extremely familiar "Ev'ry valley", sung in quite good English for a non-native speaker. He was completely in his element in the Rachmaninoff song, another very familiar piece.He did some lovely mezza voce to end the piece. If I were to nitpick, I would not have chosen the aria from The Seasons - singing two oratorio pieces out of four is a bit much, especially ending up singing only one opera aria. But what a piece of singing he did in the aria! For four minutes, his Lensky's aria was a tour de force, and definitely superior to Brickner's yesterday. Those were real tears at the end of "Kuda, kuda" - let's face it, how often do we have a singer, in the high pressure situation of a competition, capable of feeling so deeply about a piece of music? And he sang it beautifully. Very impressive indeed. No wonder Michele Losier, waiting to come on, greeted him with bravos. To him I also say "Bravo"!

Michèle LOSIER
Maurice RAVEL Asie – La flûte enchantée [SHÉHÉRAZADE – KLINGSOR]
Gustav MAHLER Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht – Ging heut morgen übers Feld [LIEDER EINES FAHRENDEN GESELLEN]

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Parto, parto, ma tu ben mio [SESTO – LA CLEMENZA DI TITO]

Pundits consider Losier a good bet to be placed highly, and for good reason. Hers is an exceptional voice, coupled with fine musical intelligence and uncommon refinement. She looked very beautiful in a blue gown with an interesting ruffled collar, and perfectly coiffed hair. Her opening arias, Asie and La flute enchantee from Sheherazade were exquisitely sung, her gleaming mezzo never sounded better. The voice was free, with plenty of dynamic variation, and she was totally engaged in the music, telling a story so vividly that she had the audience spellbound. The music built to a shattering climax in Asie and she was able to ride it perfectly. It was a superlative performance, definitely a highlight of the competition. It was hard to surpass the Ravel, and her Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen was well sung but I found her vibrato a bit intrusive. I would have liked a bit more inward feeling, more introspection. Her acting here was just a bit too operatic, too coy. What worked in Sheherazade didn't work so well here. Her last piece was Sesto's great aria, Parto, parto, a real staple in any mezzo's repertoire. This piece suits her like a glove, and she did not disappoint, holding the audience's attention through this very long aria. Her runs in the allegro section was perfectly executed, ending the aria with a flourish. Her performance tonight was the strongest in the finals so far. In my book, Losier should land in the winners circle.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Exsultate [EXSULTATE, JUBILATE KV 165]
Georg Friedrich HAENDEL Dunque i lacci d’un volto – Ah! Crudel [ARMIDA – RINALDO]
Gaetano DONIZETTI Tranquillo ei posa – Come è bello [LUCREZIA – LUCREZIA BORGIA]
Georges BIZET Me voilà seule dans la nuit – Comme autrefois [LEÏLA – LES PÊCHEURS DE PERLES]

I remember Ms. Kasyan well. She came 4th at the Montreal competition three years ago. Since then, she has gone on to place highly in quite a few competitions, including the new Renata Tebaldi Competition in San Marino last year. She has updated her look, coming out in a tight fitting sequined black gown, a huge improvement over the quaint (ie., folksy), floral gown she wore in Montreal. She chose what was arguably the most difficult and certainly the most wide-ranging and ambitious program of any in the competition. Six pieces - a Mozart motet, a baroque aria, a bel canto aria, something Russian, something French, and ending in the last of the Vier letzte lieder - that is what I call a jam-packed program! She opened with Exsultate, Jubilate - well sung enough, although her timbre with its ripe vibrato is not ideal in this music. In my mind, she should have chosen Alleluja rather than the opening aria - she certainly has the coloratura to do it justice. Next up was the aria from Armida. The cantilena section was beautiful, but her fortissimo didn't have the same quality as her lovely soft singing. Her rapid-fire coloratura - nobody else could do it as well or as fast in this competition - was shown to advantage here. The Lucrezia Borgia aria was also lovely and she got a big ovation. Six pieces of very diverse styles - Kasyan delivered vocally, if not always stylistically. Still it was an impressive showing. Her Im Abendrot form VLL was for me the least successful - it was turned into too much of a 'show piece', without sufficient inner feeling. I felt she didn't really communicate the deeper meaning of this most spiritual of the four last songs.

There you have it, three very strong candidates, but I have to give the nod to Michele Losier, with Anna Kasyan a close second. I think both of them will place in the final six. But I wouldn't be surprised if all three end up on the podium, since good tenors are always in short supply. My money however is on the two women. The audio and video files are archived so you can judge for yourself by going to

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Today's Birthday in Music: May 23 (de Larrocha)

1923 - Alicia de Larrocha, Barcelona, Spain; pianist

Biography & pictures

Alicia de Larrocha plays:

Ravel's piano concerto in G, 1st mvt. (Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jesus Lopez-Cobos, 1997)

"Evocacion" from Iberia, by Albeniz

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Queen Elisabeth Singing Competition Finals Day 1

We have reached the home stretch - twelve finalists spread over four evenings. The first session took place on May 21, with three candidates - soprano Elizabeth Bailey (UK), baritone Changhan Lim (Korea), and tenor Szabolcs Brickner (Hungary).

Elizabeth BAILEY

Vincenzo BELLINI Eccomi in lieta vesta – Oh! Quante volte [GIULIETTA – I CAPULETI E I MONTECCHI]
Gaetano DONIZETTI Ah! Tardai troppo – O luce di quest’anima [LINDA – LINDA DI CHAMOUNIX]Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Et incarnatus est [GROSSE MESSE IN C]
Leonard BERNSTEIN Glitter and be gay [CUNEGONDE – CANDIDE]
La Monnaie/De Munt Symphony Orchestra - Kazushi ONO, conductor

The proceedings certainly got off to a fine start with Bailey, who looked lovely in a cream-coloured, tight bodiced gown with flared skirt. She also looked poised and calm throughout. Hers is a high soprano, with a fine upper extension - much like the early Natalie Dessay. High F's pose no terror for her. Her Bellini showed lovely cantilena singing. The tone is bright, if a little limited in colour. This was followed by the aria from Linda di Chamounix, which showed more sparkle, with extra interpolated high notes thrown in. If there is a fault, it is her lack of a truly solid trill to go with her agility and upper extension. As Sutherland would say - you are either born with it (a trill) or you are not! Bailey even interpolated a high F sharp - impressive! The third piece was from Mozart's Grosse Messe. It is a long aria that requires a great range (including low notes) This piece showed her weakness - she had to struggle to keep her legato line steady, especially in the beginning, and the very long phrases caused her breathing to sound a little laboured. One wished for a more solid intonation. The lowest note gave her a great deal of trouble - it simply didn't sound. Overall, I would say this was her weakest piece of the four. She ended with Bernstein's Glitter and be Gay - always an audience favourite, and she sang it very well indeed. Her English diction was not ideally clear, but this is par for the course in high sopranos. She was able to sustain this very long piece nicely, pulling out all the stops for a blazing finish. The audience was certainly behind her all the way. Surprisingly she did not sing a French piece - this is Belgium afterall! But overall it was very well done.

Changhan LIM

Charles GOUNOD Oh sainte médaille – Avant de quitter ces lieux [VALENTIN – FAUST]Giuseppe VERDI Per me giunto – O Carlo ascolta – Io morrò ma lieto in cuore [RODRIGO – DON CARLO]
Maurice RAVEL Chanson romanesque [DON QUICHOTTE À DULCINÉE – MORAND]Gioachino ROSSINI Sois immobile [GUILLAUME TELL – GUILLAUME TELL]Jules MASSENET Ce breuvage pourrait me donner un tel rêve – Vision fugitive [HÉRODE – HÉRODIADE]

This Korean baritone has a smooth, well-trained lyric baritone of ingratiating timbre. It is a compact voice, beautiful but perhaps lacks that true Verdian baritone flavour. He began well, with Valentin's aria. But immediately one noticed the voice was a little underpowered - at climaxes, it does not bloom. The top is beautiful, the bottom a little on the weak side. I felt he sang very well, although the audience response was lukewarm, especially when compared to Bailey. Carlo's aria from Don Carlo also went well, with nicely controlled singing, with a nice diminuendo. He looked very handsome in the traditional tuxedo, but his stage manner was decidedly restrained. He didn't play to the audience, which perhaps explained the rather polite but tepid response. He deserved a bigger ovation. His Don Quichotte song was short, with very good French. In fact, I would say his French is among the best of all the non-French contestants. His last piece, Vision fugitive from Herodiade, is a beautiful piece that requires a voice of real impact and a reserve for the climax. He unfortunately he ran into trouble. Everything beautiful until the high note near the end when he suffered a most unfortunate crack. He didn't come to a dead stop, but the tone turned sour. Too bad, as he is a very fine singer, very musical and he deserved a better fate. I think he was pushing his voice too hard to make a bigger sound, and sometimes it just doesn't pay off. He recovered well and the audience was sympathetic, but I am afraid the damage was done.


Giacomo MEYERBEER Pays merveilleux – Ô, paradis sorti de l’onde [VASCO DE GAMA – L’AFRICAINE]
Gustav MAHLER Revelge – Um Mitternacht [7 LIEDER AUS LETZTER ZEIT – RÜCKERT]
Giuseppe VERDI O, figli – Ah, la paterna mano [MACDUFF – MACBETH]

Of the two tenors in the finals, I have to say I prefer Mr. Brickner over Haradzetski from Belarus. Brickner has a nicer timbre and better technique. That said, the voice has some inherent limitations. Among the three singers tonight, he pushed his voice the most; and his vocal production is too open-throated especially in the middle and upper middle, although not as open as Mr. Haradzetski. The tone is also a little on the thin side - one wishes for a rounder sound. He opened with "O paradis" - very careful with the high notes. This was followed by a short, piece from Britten's Les illuminations, which he sang vividly. Then it was two selections from Mahler's Ruckert Lider. Revelge is a veritable tour de force, and he sang it well, bringing out the "neurotic" nature of this piece by giving a really committed, dramatic reading of a difficult song. His flat-out singing without holding anything in reserve makes for somewhat uncomfortable listening - this is also true in the Macduff's aria. Nice, but one got the feeling he was singing with his capital, not his interest. His last piece, Lensky's Kuda, kuda, together with the Britten, were probably his strongest pieces. Here in Kuda, kuda for once, he had to sing mezza voce, but he didn't sound all that comfortable singing in half voice. Still, he gave a nice rendering of this most beautiful aria and received a strong ovation. This tenor shows promise but he needs not force his voice so much.

There was no clear winner tonight, but if I had to pick one, I would give the nod to Elizabeth Bailey.

On the Web
> Queen Elisabeth Competition

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Opera de Montreal's Madama Butterfly Sold Out - Tickets still available at La Scena Musicale

The Opéra de Montréal just announced that their entire run of Puccini's Madama Butterfly (from May 24 to June 7) has been sold out. La Scena Musicale still has a few tickets left for sale for the May 24th opening night as part of its latest fundraising activity. Unfortunately, the limited available free Madama Butterfly DVDs are sold out. Email or call 514-948-2520.

The O d M also announced that their June 7th performance will be live telecast outside in the promenade of the Place des Arts.

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Today's Birthday in Music: May 22 (Wagner)

1813 - Richard Wagner, Leipzig, Germany; composer and conductor

Wiki entry
Wagner and his operas

"Ride of the Valkyries" from Die Walküre (Wilhelm Furtwangler & Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra)

Excerpt from the Siegfried Idyll (University of Indiana Symphony Orchestra, cond. Christopher Noel, 2007)

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: May 21 (Holliger)

1939 - Heinz Holliger, Langenthal, Switzerland; oboist, composer, conductor

Wiki entry

Heinz Holliger plays Mozart's Oboe Concerto, K. 314, 1st mvt. (Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, José Luis López Cobos conducting, 1993)

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: May 20 (H. Menuhin)

1920 - Hephzibah Menuhin, San Francisco, U.S.A.; pianist

Keyboard crusader

Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin with The Sydney String Quartet performing Ernest Chausson's Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet in D major, Op. 21, 1st mvt.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Queen Elisabeth Singing Competition May 2008

For voice fans, there is nothing quite like a good old vocal competition. Here is where one discovers hidden talents, the diamonds in the rough, the "finished product", and the soon-to-emerge stars of tomorrow. And when you have a competition the calibre of the Queen Elisabeth's in Belgium, it really is a voice aficionado's dream. So far, we have had the First Round and the Semi-finals. There is still time to follow the Finals starting Wednesday - don't miss the excitement!

While there are many terrific competitions around the world - including the Montreal International Competition (vocal edition), in terms of scope, number of participants, prestige, and opportunities for future employment, few can match the QE. In fact, I would put Cardiff and the QE as being tied, at the highest level of excellence. Even the venerable Met Auditions is not truly global because it is limited to the Americas, primarily US and Canada. Others like the Hans Gabor, Operalia, or the Queen Sonja, are fine, but again their impact don't measure up to Cardiff and the QE. The QE in particular has been good to Canada, since it launched the career of contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux. (Incidentally, Operalia 2008 will take place in Quebec City in September. Stay tuned!)

Back to the QE. It is taking place as I write, in Brussels, from May 8 to 24. 83 candidates from 31 countries were invited to the first round (May 8 -10), including 6 each from Canada and Poland. Interestingly, the USA only have 2 singers and none from Australia, usually a strong country in singing competitions. The country with the most number of candidates is Korea (15), followed by France at 8, and then it is Canada and Poland at 6 each. There are 60 women and 23 men, 46 sopranos, 14 mezzos, 2 countertenors, 6 tenors, 13 baritones, and 2 bassos.

Not everyone invited showed up. Only 71 of the 83 invited decided to come to Brussels. Among those absent are two Canadians, sopranos Marianne Fiset and Marie-Eve Munger. Both were on the announced list but did not compete. The remaining four Canadians are baritone Cosimo Oppedisano, mezzo Michele Losier, baritone Philip Carmichael, and soprano Layla Claire. Each candidate in the First Round performed two works from opera, oratorio, or lieder or song repertoire, totaling 15 minutes.

You can still listen to the completed rounds on demand from the RTBF website at Videos of the semi-finals are also available, from Click on "Watch and Listen" on the right side of the homepage.

Twenty-four singers survived the First Round into the semi-finals. Out of these 24, 12 are now in the final round: Elizabeth Bailey, sop. (UK), Szabolcs Bricker, ten. (Hungary), Layla Claire sop. (Canada), Isabelle Druet mez. (France), Bernadetta Gravias, mez. (Poland), Yuri Haradzetski ten. (Belarus), Anna Kasyan, sop. (Georgia), Changhan Lim, bar. (Korea), Michele Losier mez. (Canada), Gabrielle Philiponet, sop. (France), Tatiana Trenogina sop. (Russia), and Jung Nan Yoon, sop. (Korea). From listening to the live streaming, it is clear that the standards are extremely high. All the voices are good, with a number that are truly wonderful and destined for fine careers. There will be four days of finals, starting May 21. Each candidate will sing four to six selections, accompanied by the Orchestre symphonique de la Monnaie with Kazushi Ono conducting. You can listen and watch the live webcast by going to and click on Watch and Listen to the right.
In the semi-finals (May 12-14), each singer performed three to six pieces with a maximum of two by the same composer. There was an imposed work, Canzone, composed for the occasion by Wim Hendrickx. It is typically a modern piece, but tonal and vocally "grateful". It is interesting to hear the different interpretations by the contestants. Some chose to commit it to memory, and from my experience of attending past competitions, a singer willing and able to memorize the piece on short order - and singing it well, of course - stands a good chance of winning the prize for interpretation of the imposed work. A case in point is Greek-Australian sopano Elena Xanthoudakis, who won the interpretation prize and Fourth Prize at the Montreal Competition in 2005. A quick study, she sang the piece from memory, impressing the judges and the audience.

I generally agree with the choices of the twelve finalists. Interestingly, two of the six tenors entered made it to the finals, a success rate of 33% - the world always want more tenors! By contrast, 6 sopranos out of 46 made it - a success rate of only 15%. Similarly, only 1 out of 13 baritones made it. I must say there were a few singers whom I felt were good enough to be in the finals but sadly didn't make it. I was particularly fond of Sri Lankan soprano Kishani Jayashinghe, who has a gleaming, powerful voice, great long breath line, and excellent musicality. The only thing missing perhaps is a sense of humour - her Adina's aria from L'Elisir d'amore lacked sparkle. She was a finalist at the 2006 Kathleen Ferrier competition and is in the Covent Garden Young Artists program. I think she will go far. It is important to remember that not making the finals doesn't mean a singer is not good. So much is dependent on the individual taste of the jury panel, and there is always the possibility of politics, although this is difficult to prove. At this level of competition, jury members tend to look for the finished product. Often, a great voice that is unfinished coupled with ordinary stage presence or preparation may be bypassed in favour of someone with a good voice but in possession of excellent stage presence and attractive physical appearance. Without naming names, I can say there is a baritone in this competition who has a wonderfully strong amd rich if still somewhat rough baritone, and his stage appearance needs work - a better suit would help! He was passed over by the jury in favour of another singer who has a beautiful, well controlled, technically accomplished, smooth lyric baritone, combined with a handsome face, slim physique, and altogether a more polished "package". Modern audiences demand believability, and unless one has a voice the likes of Pavarotti or Sutherland, an attractive, slim singer will always have an advantage, such is the reality of the opera world these days.

Finally, a few words about the jury panel. QE is known for star-studded jurors, but this edition is simply amazing - imagine on the same panel Martina Arroyo, Lella Cuberli, Raina Kabaivanska, Tom Krause, Ann Murray, Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Jose Van Dam, Brigitte Fassbaender, and Helmut Deutsch! I would love to be a fly on the wall during the deliberations!
Good listening!

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Today's Birthdays in Music: May 19 (Melba, Thorborg)

1861 - Nellie Melba, Richmond, Australia; opera soprano

Wiki entry

"Ave Maria" from Verdi's Otello; part of Dame Nellie Melba's Farewell Performance at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, June 8, 1926

1896 - Kerstin Thorborg, Venjan, Sweden; opera & concert contralto

Biography & pictures

Mahler - Kerstin Thorborg sings "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" from Mahler's Rückert Lieder (Bruno Walter, Vienna Philharmonic, 1936)

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: May 18 (Pinza, Christoff, Curzon)

1892 - Ezio Pinza, Rome, Italy; opera bass

Wiki entry
Biography & pictures

Ezio Pinza sings "Le rovine sono queste" from Meyerbeer's Robert le diable (1927 recording)

1914 - Boris Christoff, Plovdiv, Bulgaria; opera bass

Wiki entry

Boris Christoff recording Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov

1907 - Clifford Curzon, London, England; pianist

Wiki entry

Clifford Curzon plays Mozart's Piano Concerto No.. 23, K. 488, 2nd movement

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