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The Cardiff Competition is famous for the many times in which it has been the first to bring public recognition of a great singing voice. ‘If you play the violin, you can get a better violin, and maybe a better one still, and just maybe a Stradivarius, but the voice..(pointing upwards).. is from heaven’. This is what one of the jurors said about this year’s winner Valentina Naforniţă from Moldova. Cardiff has launched the careers of many singers with ‘voices from heaven’, including the very first winner Karita Mattila, Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Anja Harteros, as well as many great singers who did not win the main prize, such as Bryn Terfel, or any prize such as Nina Stemme or Elīna Garanča.
In 2011 singers from 20 counties competed for the two main prizes before a distinguished panel of jurors and a discerning audience, many of whom had followed all the performances during the week. They experienced two finals, which were tense with excitement. In each at least three of the five contestants could have won in the night. In the Song Final taking part were Leah Crocetto from USA, Máire Flavin from Ireland, Andrei Bondarenko from Ukraine, Valentina Naforniţă from Moldova and Olga Kindler from Switzerland. Andrei Bondarenko chose a programme of Schumann and Sviridov, unfamiliar to a British audience, but as he said, full of Russian soul.
In the final soprano Meeta Raval from England, mezzo-soprano Olesysa Petrova from Russia, soprano Hye Jung Lee from South Korea, baritone Andrei Bondarenko from Ukraine and soprano Valentina Naforniţă from Moldova were the contestants. Many people thought that Bondarenko could win again, but his programme as opposed to his singing did not work so well and he seemed a little tired. But it was the voice ‘from Heaven’ of Valentina Naforniţă that won the day.
All the TV experts got it wrong. Joyce DiDonato, and voice teacher Mary King thought it would be Andrei Bondarenko or Olesya Petrova; and Nicole Cabell, who won this competition in 2005, thought that it would definitely be Andrei Bondarenko. The audience did better and awarded her the audience prize and one of our party claimed to have got the winners right throughout the week
On the third floor of St David’s, before, during and after the performances, gossip and opinions are exchanged between the knowledgeable members of the audience, a few of whom have been to every Competition, artists’ agents, the accompanists and the singers themselves. Members of the Jury are discreet, but you may still meet them at breakfast, the Hotel lift, out shopping or at the Master Classes.
The Master Classes are not broadcast or even filmed, but for many people this can be the highlight of the whole event. To see a singer blossoming under the coaching of an experienced professional singer is very rewarding. In 2011 Håkan Hagegård, the famous Swedish Baritone, achieved instant miracles by instructing his pupils on how to stand, how to get the audience’s attention and most importantly ways of externalising their own characters. ‘Why do they not know these things? Because their teachers were too specialist perhaps, experienced performers like myself do not necessarily want to teach – but I love teaching.’
Being part of the audience in St David’s is a different order of experience from watching what is shown on the Television.