Finally the wait is over. After four long years in exile without an audience, Cardiff Singer of the World is back, and is celebrating its 40th anniversary, along with that of its host since the first competition in 1983, St David’s Hall, the national concert hall of Wales.
Having been fortunate enough to see the Welsh representative, soprano Jessica Robinson, at a recent lunchtime concert, I was very much looking forward to Heat 2 of the main prize in which Jessica had been placed, together with her fellow competitors Toni Nezic (bass, Croatia); Meigui Zhang (soprano, China) and Ogulcan Yilmaz (bass-bariton, Turkey). The judges for the evening were Sir Brian McMaster, former director of the Edinburgh International Festival, Argentinian mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink, Welsh soprano Rosemany Joshua, multi-award -winning composer Errollyn Wallen, and returning as chair of the jury, Aidan Lang, general director of Welsh National Opera. The singers were accompanied by the National Orchestra of Wales.
First to perform was Meigui Zhang. Meigui is an elegant singer, who clearly enjoys throwing herself into operatic roles. Her mellifluous tones rang out around the Hall. Her choices of Donizetti, Bizet and Lehar suited her voice type well, though a greater variety would have been welcome.
Ogulcan Yilmaz followed, with a selection by Rachmaninov, Mozart and Bellini. Ogulcan stated that he had been successful in making the heats after a few attempts, and the experience will have been highly valuable for him. Again, a wider choice of repertoire might have been beneficial in order to experience the vocal variation in style.
Next came Jessica Robinson, to rapturous applause for the “home girl”. Jessica was the only singer to select five pieces (by Donizetti, Mozart, Verdi, Grieg and Jonathan Dove) and much thought had clearly been given to breadth of style and showcasing of technical skill and range. The audience clearly enjoyed this performance immensely, and Jessica’s ability to engage her audience via her pure theatricality was palpable.
Toni Nezic was the final contestant, with a repertoire of Halevy, Verdi and Bellini. His warm bass tones, demonstration of range and ability to capture the audience worked well for him, and he will no doubt go far in his operatic career.
As ever, The National Orchestra of Wales, under the baton of Ryan Bancroft, accompanied each of the performers beautifully, and played no small part in enhancing the enjoyment of the evening.
Jessica Robinson emerged as a worthy winner, to the delight of the audience. She will be an excellent representative for the host nation in Sunday’s final. Good luck Jess!