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Ionarts-at-Large: From the 2009 ARD Competition, Day 2

Day Two of the ARD Competition got things under way for the singers and harpists, with the double basses continuing their first round. I spent most time with the voices, where I was particularly eager to hear what Anita Watson (Australia)—a rumored favorite—had to offer. It should be said that just about any singer could have shone after Yu-Chen Hsu (Korea), who offered very little in Mozart (“Come scoglio”), Puccini (“Mi chiamo Mimi”), and certainly not Schubert (“Rastlose Liebe”) that suggested any promise. And so Watson, a bigger caliber in every sense, had no problem impressing with her maturity, power, and craft. Bizet’s “Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante” and Britten’s “Embroidery in childhood” (merely missing the last bit of pitch definition) were very good indeed, sung by a voice that sounds like an Agathe or Senta is in the very near future. Her Walküren-Schubert (“Rastlose Liebe”, also) was frightening, but then it always seems to be with young operatic types who have no idea how, or why, to sing Lied.

Three more singers suggested that the level of the singers is considerably higher than that of the double bass competition. (Not a feat, admittedly, given that only two double bass players I’ve heard were any good at all.) Julie Martin du Theil (Geneva, Switzerland) not only has a wonderfully musical name, she’s also got spunk, gusto, dramatic ability, and great control over her bright, almost boy-like yet clarion soprano. She could let up here and there, but she’s pitch secure like a cat over the roofs of Paris at night, and a burst of energy in her bits of Johann Strauss, Schubert (both fine) and Stavinsky (“Ah! Joie”, Le Rossignol, stupendous). The jury thought otherwise and strangely did not ask Mlle. Martin du Theil to show up again in the second round.

The awfully well behaved American baritone Christopher Magiera was easy on the ears with his full voice, even if it didn’t contain particular natural beauty. Projection, volume, clarity were all far above average in Bizet (“L’orage s’est calmé”), Leoncavallo (“E fra quest’ansie”), and Schubert (“Erlkönig”); his pronunciation very good. And once he will work more with pianissimos and dynamic gradations, he might not come across as quite so boring, too. Everything but boring was Lucia Cesaroni, an Italo-Canadian spark not averse to soprano-acrobatics. Too bad her vibrato sounds like a goat attached to a jackhammer. It’s not a pretty instrument she has, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying—perversely?—some aspects of her “Young Nun” (Schubert).

The third singer that I found terrific was Christian Eberl, not the least because I favor a natural voice that neither presses nor pushes. His Lieder-experience was immediately audible in Schubert’s “Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt”, his enunciation skills in Haydn’s “Von dürrem Osten” (The Seasons), and his willingness to go to dramatic extremes in Hugo Wolf’s “Zur Warnung”. Perhaps the jury likes its artists more malleable because Eberl, too, was cut in round one.

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