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Voice Competition Final Opens with Tight Race

By Wah Keung Chan / June 5, 2002

Male singers dominated the opening session of the Finals of the first Jeunesses Musicales Montreal International Music Competition. Baritones Daesan No, Joseph Kaiser and bass Burak Bilgili led the way. The only disappointment was charismatic Russian baritone Mikhail Davydov.

After a three day marathon semifinal featuring 51 singers from 21 countries, the competition turns to a two evening final featuring 10 singers from 5 countries. Whereas singers of the semifinals performed a program of four groups consisting of an operatic aria, one oratorio or concert aria, and two song groups, the finals with orchestra features two operatic arias, one oratorio or concert aria and the imposed Canadian work. Originally, an orchestral song was included but probably the fear of paying overtime to the MSO musicians compelled organizers to drop the song. Too bad, as the result is heavy on opera. André Bourbeau, president of the Jury, told La Scena Musicale that the marks from the semifinal round do not carry over to the finals. With a change in venue from the 800-seat Salle Pierre-Mercure to the 2800-seat Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, the finals should favour voices that can project in the big space. The performances of Day 1 of the finals show that repertoire choices will play an important part in the results of the competition.

Mikhail Davydov, baritone, Russia

Verdi: "Confutatis" - Requiem
Gougeon: "Alea"
Verdi: "Infelice! E tuo credevi" - Ernani
Mozart: "Finch'han dal vino" - Don Giovanni

Mikhail Davydov
Marc-André Brouillard
The choice of program of Davydov's final entry was disappointing. Having captivated the audience in the semifinals with two Tchaikovsky selections, he now proved, with his two Verdian selections, that he is far from being a Verdian baritone. Throughout the competition, most singers sang their best in their native language. Davydov would have done better if he had included a Russian aria. The Bass aria from Verdi's Requiem was an unfortunate choice as the tessitura was too low for him. It was also clear that as had been anticipated in the semifinals, Davydov's Russian technique did not allow him to project in the big hall over the orchestra; the voice sits too far back and head resonance was lacking. Lack of experience showed as, in front of the orchestra, Davydov stood with a wide stance and a stiff upper body thereby negating the possibility of showing off the charisma that entranced the crowd in the semifinals. Only in the Don Giovanni aria did he show some kind of life.

V: 80, P: 85

Daesan No, baritone, South Korea

Giordano: "Nemico della patria" - Andrea Chénier
Wagner: "O! Du mein holder Abendstern" - Tannhäuser
Mendelssohn: "Es ist genug" - Elijah
Gougeon: Alea

Daesan No
Marc-André Brouillard
No immediately established that his is a baritone that can carry over the orchestra. Though a little grainy, No's rich tone brought a regal presence. His Italian was very good, and the drama was convincing. The crowd roared their approval.

In the Wagner ode, No demonstrate a good legato, fine nuance and an intelligent concept of the characterization. The only blemish was a flat note in the middle. No continued with a masterful reading of "Es is genug" from Elijah.

V: 95, P: 95

Se-Jin Lee, soprano, South Korea

Se-Jin Lee
Marc-André Brouillard
Bach: "Wie freudig ist mein Herz" - Cantate BWV 199
Mozart: "Ach, ich fühl's" - Die Zauberflöte
Bizet: "Comme autrefois dans la nuit sombre" - Les Pêcheurs de perles
Gougeon: "Alea"

After singing a Caro nome to almost die for, Lee unfortunately left off all Italian repertoire. A big mistake as Italian sat perfectly in her voice. German is not well placed for Lee's voice as she appeared to work hard in the Bach. Nevertheless, a fine interpretation emerged. Her performance of "Ach, ich fühl's" was quite touching as she use her impeccable technique to produce a great effect. While she closed the Bizet with a nice ending showing a lovely vibrato, most of the aria was rather boring. Her habit of tilting her head up became evident, and I wondered if that might have been responsible for some lost projection.

V: 93, P: 90

Joseph Kaiser, baritone, Canada

Rossini: "Largo al factotum" - Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Schumann: "Hier ist die Aussicht frei" - Szenen aus Goethes Faust
Gougeon: "Alea"
Britten: "Look! Through the port comes the moon-shine astray" - Billy Budd

Joseph Kaiser
Marc-André Brouillard
In the semifinals, Canadian baritone Joseph Kaiser proved to be perhaps the most musically touching of all the singers. Performing after a short intermission, Kaiser thrilled the audience with a convincing "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's Barber of Seville. Kaiser brought a well-projected voice that was easily heard in the big hall. He threw off the high G's with ease leading to whispers afterwards that Kaiser is a tenor. The 24-year old baritone developed good mood in the Schumann oratorio but I found the inclusion of this piece curious as it was not that interesting. Kaiser concluded his program with a moving interpretation of the Britten scene from Billy Budd, injecting a sombre mood to the soliloquy. Kaiser lost some of that intensity in the second half of the scene "I had to strike down that Jimmy Legs". Conductor Stefan Lano did not help to keep the orchestra volume down.

V: 92, P: 95

Burak Bilgili, bass, Turkey

Burak Bilgili
Marc-André Brouillard
Rossini: "La calunnia" - Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Gougeon: "Alea"
Rossini: "Pro peccatis" - Stabat Mater
Bizet: "Quand la flamme de l'amour" - La Jolie Fille de Perth

The most imposing voice of the evening was that of Turkish bass Burak Bilgili who immediately established himself as the one to beat with a devilish "La calunnia" from Rossini's Barber of Seville. Equally convincing was Bilgili's dramatic reading of the oratorio aria from Rossini's Stabat Mater. Bilgili's warm voice projected well and his high notes came easily with the help of getting on his toes. The evening concluded with a full-throated presentation of an aria from Bizet's rarely performed La Jolie File de Perth.

V:95, P:96

Gougeon's Alea

The imposed unpublished work Alea (The die) by Canadian composer Denis Gougeon comprises of two parts that string together without a break and are built upon two Latin sentences. The opening part tests the singer's legato and range while the second part calls upon the vocal agility of the singer. Of the singers, only Davydov and Kaiser sang it from memory. Making the world premiere, the Russian sang without expression and did not leave much of an impression. No brought good nobility to the piece while Lee gave the most precise reading, showing that the work may work best in the soprano voice, for which it was originally written. Kaiser and Bilgili both gave ardent performances, though in the case of the former, he may have been hampered by his choice of a lower key.

The competition concludes tonight with a five more contestants, four sopranos and one tenor. Watch for Canadians Measha Brueggergosman and Mélanie Boisvert and lone tenor American John Matz. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier and will be broadcast (audio) live worldwide through CBC Radio-Two and Radio-Canada's Chaîne culturelle as well as in video webcast from Radio-Canada's website. Visit for more details.

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