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Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 16 )
Young Singers Project • Final Concert 2014

Young Singers Project • Final Concert 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Goofy.


T’is good to keep your fingers on the pulse of what is up and coming in the world of classical music. There isn’t a better place to do that, over all, than the ARD International Music Competition, but seeing how I shan’t be able to follow that event this year, the “graduation” concert of the Salzburg Festival’s Young Singer’s Project had to serve as my patch. It featured, on Saturday, August 16th, 21 singers out of 400 applicants (i.e. the top 5%) who hope to one day earn their living with music… preferably on stage. A few of them just might.

Among them, right off the bat, the first performer of the lot: Swiss Baritone Manuel Walser (“Hai già vinta la causa”, Nozze) was sincere and severe and a wee bit too excited (as would be normal, considering his age and the circumstances) but it’s a very fine voice he has, with a nice mix of clarity and darkness and—the raw material being all there—lots and lots of upward potential.

Right after Walser a sobering experience: Czech Roman Hozer’s rumbling bass (“Come Paride”, L’elisir) was a directionless mess of ill-defined notes who sounded like a really bad provincial Russian basso profondo. Admittedly, how could any 20-some year old be a proper Belcore, but still… There was nothing that bore well. A much stranger case his British-American colleague Phoebe Haines (“Il segreto per esser felici”, Lucrezia). Not a particularly beautiful, impressive or even noticeable voice, a tad veiled… but something about it and her demeanor ensured there was nothing unpleasant, either. Perhaps a sense of drama that might have made up for other shortcomings… an understated confident demeanor? Sheer experience? Whatever it was, it was strangely, coolly captivating and suggests at the least a fine career in smaller parts by being versatile, reliable, and plainly becoming might be in her future.

Diacritically surprisingly well-endowed German Miloš Bulajić (“Languir per una bella”, L’italiana) brought on the mannerisms which had so far been happily absent. It started with his awkwardly insisting to shake conductor Theodor Guschelbauer’s hand (which several others then picked up on, when all would have been well advised to avoid such nonsense), all pathetically professionally, as if he was somebody at whose dear grace we had all assembled. It was telling and continued once Bulajić opened his mouth, revealing a terribly forced, perfectly unnatural narrow squeaking sound. A shame he couldn’t raise his eyebrows even higher, to convey properly just how artsy and foyne-cultured he meant the Rossini to sound. His critics, however, were not so kind: My notes reveal the scribble in the margins: “Slurred and imprecise and uncultured screaming.” Reminds me of the alleged Abbado-hissy fit towards Anne-Sophie Mutter: “Sie dummes Huhn, why don’t you forget everything Karajan ever taught you?” Scratch the mannerisms, forget whatever you think “opera” is all about, and just sing and maybe then…

Alexandra Flood (“Ruhe sanft”, Zaide) from Australia had shades of Tweety Bird in her pointed voice, a bit one-dimensional, and not very compelling yet, but very possible soon, as the technique improves, and experience adds depth. With his overt confidence Franz Gürtelschmied (“Frisch zum Kampfe”, Entführung) seemed to provide some of which his predecessor was lacking… freshness, confidence, focused, a bit cocky, perhaps… but then he proceeded to throw an early good impression all away with fortissimo-belting, unchecked by any sense or sensibility. Also a little tip: Don’t applaud or ‘bless’ the orchestra, no matter how grateful you are, unless you have been top-billed and paid 35k. It makes you look like a twat and only a star can afford that.

The lanky barreling bass-baritone Raimundas Juzuitis (“Non piu andrai”, Nozze) was loud, a bit insensitive with too little control over his voice, but not without potential. With the dramatic ability of a young puppy in love—too much, too naïve, too unsophisticated, and kind of adorable—he would do better doing less of the “acting”, but with the sheer raw material he showed, it’s safe to assume one will run into him again, somewhere.

Idunnu Münch (“Va, l’error mio palesa”, Mitridate)—appropriately from München—didn’t have a very agile voice, a slightly veiled one, even woolly and hollow, without beauty of tone or, rather, without tone. Still, she made a better impression with less vocal material than Russian Maria Mudryak (“Zeffiretti lusinghieri”, Idomeno). Her smile glued into place much like her hair, she strut on stage, doll-like, to show off her soprano and then some. Dripping with artifice, her neutral, controlled voice with a metallic vibrato was better than it was pleasant.

With pleasant tone, a beautiful timbre, and great low notes, rough-hewn like the rest of the young singers but with obvious merit to his Figaro, Peter Kellner (“Tutto e disposto”, Nozze) was probably the singer that I remember most favorably. That wasn’t challenged even by the experienced and stage-savvy show that Wolfgang Resch (“Papagena!”³, Zauberflöte) put on. Unfussy and unexaggerated (at first), a bit stiff and with a tone that isn’t particularly beautiful and enunciation that could be improved, he is quite free of debilitating mannerisms and plenty confident. Easy to plug in at any production of a community opera house, very slightly prone to doo a bit too much, and among the singers in this crowd one of two who is the furthest along, he also struck me as one who might not get much further than the point where is at now. Andreja Zidaric (“Pa-pa-pa-Papageno/a”) shared the stage with him, later on, and looked more scandalized trying to respond to Resch’s not-so-stage-kisses than focused on her part… and ultimately had too little to do to be properly judged by… though that which showed was pleasant enough.

The notes of mezzo Annika Schlicht (“Fia dunque vero?”, La Favorita) were not all distinct, strident, but with lots of volume and drama (especially the low ones), likely the most purely impressive (if not particularly enchanting) female singer of the bunch so far, presumably for dramatic Italian repertoire… and still a little down the road for Wagner.

Buffo Giovanni Romeo (“Miei rampolli femminini”, Cenerentola) has one appalling shtick and he sticks to it. A grin and jiggly eyes and an ostentatious handkerchief. He’s a goofball, borderline smarmy, incapable of not hamming it up, with the acting-style of a confidence man cheating retired ladies out of their valuables at a beach resort in Southern France. He leaves one with the begrudging acknowledgement that vocally he further than all his other colleagues (thus far) and better, more secure than most, too.

Marco Stefani (“Sì, ritrovarla io guiuro”), part of the Cenerentola thing on stage as Ramiro, and unable to doge Romeo, did not project terribly well, his voice stays in the throat… but not in an offensive way, just not very promising, either. The chiseled, strapping good looks should help, though! Still going through Cenerentola, Croatian Diana Haller as Angelina (“Nacqui all’affanno”) showed unquestionable dramatic ability and capability of the voice, which was decently agile, plenty loud, mannered but with effective pianos, a liberal vibrato and piercing notes and all in all impressive.

The Samoan-Welsh tenor Amitai Pati (“Una furtive lagrima”, L’elisir) performed Donizetti—and what another very pleasant surprise! Sweet, unmannered, reasonably natural, altogether pleasant, this was good stuff indeed, with plenty potential—especially once more secure notes at the top and bottom ends of his register are added to the mix.

On the downside: Henriette Gödde’s “Che faro senza Euridice?”(Orfeo ed Euridice) was uninteresting. On the upside: I’ve heard it much duller from very successful singers at the Salzburg Festival big stage… It wasn’t bad, just boring and with a hint of routine and insensitivity but with many of the right tools doubtlessly in place. Martin Piskorski “Dalla sua pace”, Don Giovanni had that mouth-full sound, an inaccurate wobble, and a sort of immature soft barreling about his part, that made for unattractive listening and for questioning the potential of an immediate future on big or small stages.

“O mio babbino caro”, Gianni Schicchi was passionate and tasteful and simply well done by Giuliana Gianfaldoni, and even the stage hawk, trying to steal Lauretta’s show with his one “I-am-a-comedic-singer” funny face, couldn’t do anything about her making a winning impression.
“Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” from Franz Lehár’s Schmaltz-operetta Das Land des Lächelns was not very well done, if still all right: Soupy and with sloppy text courtesy Gérard Schneider, who was prone to trumpeteering and devoid of refinement. But those are, presumably, elements that experience and good teachers can fix for the Austrian-Australian (convenient, really) tenor.

Preceding all was Rossini’s Il Signor Bruschino overture at which one needed to ask oneself whether the music is just so bad or so badly performed or both. The Camerata Salzburg played, because someone had to, and Theodor Guschlbauer conducted for the same reason… and it showed. The col legno playing, to mention only the most egregious passages in the overture, was shockingly unmusical. Guschlbauer didn’t seem to notice or to care. It didn’t serve the hard-working Camerata Salzburg’s fine image.


Anonymous said...

Dear Jfl,
I was at that concert and you are being just mean and unconsiderable to all those Young Singers. Perhaps you should go on the stage and sing an aria; Then we can talk. Only a jerk can write an article as you did.

Only a jerk, and a frustated person. Maybe you tried also to be a musician and failed?


Francois said...

I agree with anonymous. One can be critical without being mean.

"Soupy and with sloppy text courtesy Gérard Schneider, who was prone to trumpeteering and devoid of refinement."



jfl said...

Dear Gregory,

I thought the definition of a classical music critic was someone who tried a career in music and journalism and failed in both.

You are right, in a way, that I am being inconsiderate by treating these young singers more or less as I would a top-billed opera or Lieder-star. But I wouldn't do it if I didn't think that that's an aspect with some, however questionable, merit.

The descriptions, I hope, are still objective; the fervor (the 'jerkishness'), meanwhile, is of course a subjective response to perceived shortcomings or all-too-early ingrained habits I consider either bad, annoying, or downright harmful.

Wouldn't hurt me to be nicer about it, I suppose, and I understand your point (hiding beneath the "frustrated jerk" accusation). But as long as I don't consider myself dishonest, ever, just for the sake of 'getting one in there', I can live with that. For every disturbed reader, such as yourself (thanks, all the same, for bothering to write and especially for giving a name), there are those who nod their heads...