Now in its 40th year in 2023, the Cardiff Singer Of The World competition has been gathering together the world’s best young opera singers across those four decades, with some major names – Bryn Terfel, for one – having been propelled forward by the competition in the past. You can therefore expect to see the cream of the world’s vocal talent at this event, which hosts a mix of mezzos and sopranos, tenors and altos, baritones and basses, and consists of singers who jet in from all four corners of the globe.
For 2023, there were some notable firsts for the Cardiff Singer Of The World competition: a singer from Colombia making it through to the heats, and not one but two singers from South Africa getting through to the final, in which just five of the 16 from the heats won through. It’s this handful that I was here to watch this evening, in the prestigious St David’s Hall: a full house for this celebratory anniversary event, people are packed from stalls to ceiling, adding to a palpable sense of audience anticipation and excitement.
From my high-tier position in the auditorium, the strength and power of the singers were perhaps more apparent, with only two of the final five having the strength to truly reach my ears clearly and consistently. One of these was South African singer Nombulelo Yenda; the other was Italian Adolfo Corrado. The applause was high for all of the finalists, but these two, to my ears, were the stronger voices, although the rich lyricism of Scottish finalist Beth Taylor really appealed. A cheeky final piece by South African Siphokazi Molteno, complete with a glorious, high-pitched, powerful end note, was also very engaging – and, in that concluding moment, extremely affecting.
Welsh finalist Jessica Robinson proved her merit, too, and for this partisan audience was perhaps the most popular of the singers, but for me, Adolfo Corrado stole the show. His powerful voice was one thing, but his acting, performance, and perfect comic timing were just brilliant. A trained actor as well as musician, this background education really made a difference to his 20-minute set compared to the other four, fantastic as they all were.
Although praise and applause for all of the finalists were high, therefore, it was Corrado who rightly won out. I felt, as the announcement of his triumph was made, that the applause was not as full-blooded as it could have been, what with so much Welsh patriotism or even nationalism in the air – but the judges, to my mind, made the right choice. An audience prize, voted for by viewers around the globe, went not to one of the five finalists but to Colombian soprano Julieth Lozano Rolong, who I had seen earlier that week in one of the heats. Her surprise, even shock at being chosen was apparent, but again I felt the right decision had been reached.
Overall, the 40th Cardiff Singer Of The World was a glorious and gorgeous singing event – a spectacle as well as a feast of musical virtuosity, vim, and verve. Conductors Michael Christie and Ryan Bancroft were also excellent, and it fed the soul, enriched the mind, and enlivened the imagination to know that Cardiff was leading the way with this first-class contest and world-class gathering of talent under one roof. I had the most wonderful time. Long may it continue!
Cardiff Singer Of The World, St David’s Hall, Cardiff, Sun 18 June
words MAB JONES photos KIRSTEN MCTERNAN
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