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From the 2012 ARD Competition, Day 3 (2)

Day 3, Voice, Round 1

Too much overlap between string quartet and the other competition first rounds, but Sunday evening there was still time to take a little of the atmosphere over at  Voice in, where 120CHECK applicants were ushered through the first round at the Munich Conservatory by the dozen. Mozart aria, Thank you, Next. I arrived in time for the very elegant Sumi Kittelberger (Germany) singing her “Je suis Titania” from Ambroise Thomas’ Mignon. The soprano’s volume certainly was all there in this coloratura vehicle, as was expressive vigor and the height. But even though she got better by the minute, her runs were not easy, and her agility forced with each notes receiving a little push. Thank you very much; no encore of the Mozart required.

Mezzo Nathalie Flessa (Germany), by the looks of it a Flesshilde in the making, displayed a voice that suggested to be lower than it actually was. A mezzo with heights, low timbre, voluminous, compressed, and vibrato-reliant, she sounded mature before her time and a little ungainly. After her “Inflammatus et accensus” from Dvořák’s Stabat Mater, she was asked to stay for Mozart’s song “Als Luise die Briefe ihres ungetreuen Liebhabers verbrannte”. That didn’t give great insights into the nimbleness of her voice and whatever she did display may not have worked particularly well in Mozart, but it suggested potential in some different Fach.

So Young Lee (South Korea) displayed grace and style before she even opened her mouth to Mozart’s “Ach, ich liebte” (Abduction). I liked her better quiet, to be honest, because the more or less vocalized aria, doughy rather than explosive, turned out earnest at best, and trying. She certainly has the ability to use her voice… just not to particularly pleasing effect. “Thank you very much” sounded awfully much like “Good bye”.

Olena Tokar (Ukraine) was a different kettle of fish. Tchaikovsky’s “Gde zhe ty, moj zhelannji” (from The Enchantress, a.k.a. Charodéyka) was well controlled, well applied, rich, not effortless nor even entirely pretty, but with an edge and the knowledge of how to use it to good effect. It reeked, in the positive sense, of (small) stage-experience and (medium) stage-readiness. Asked to encore “O mio babbino caro” (perhaps just because the jury wanted to treat the audience—an obnoxious lot, as every year at these free concerts at the Conservatory—to a ‘greatest hit’ moment), she delivered with eager power and command, as her mezzo-tinted soprano reached heights beyond which, however, she doesn’t seem comfortable going.

Amid this fancy, festooned crowd, Therese Fauser (Germany) looked a bit like a Plain Jane, a pleasant, a charming one, and one that—endearing her to these biased ears—chose Bach to go with first. “Buß und Reu” from the Matthew Passion, which I wanted to be better than it ultimately was. Her scrupulous and intelligent treatment of the text, her sincerity, responsive agility, and intelligent breath control didn’t quite conceal that she has a smallish voice with little to tell, and without much of a tonal sweet spot. The cynic might write her off as the reliable oratorio understudy type, the optimist would hope that her strengths will come to bear one day, when the weaknesses are accounted for.

Joohyun Lee (South Korea) took to “Je suis Titania” like a fish to water, much more so than Mlle. Kittelberger. From her throat, this (frankly tedious) étude for coloratura got the empty-fireworks treatment it calls for (including the optional high F), and a good deal of natural zest on top... Alas for naught; she did not advance.

Stanisław Kierner, from Poland, was the first lad of this batch, and he was in a word outstanding. Borodin’s “Ni sna, ni otdikha izmuchennoi dushe” from Prince Igor, was in good hands, with this text-book Russian-type baritone. His voice, between forehead and chest, negotiated the part with sovereignty that forbade all nitpicking. No surprise that he’s already in the semi-final, alongside Miss Tokar, among others.

His US American colleague Marco Antonio Lozano did not share that good fortune. A caricature of a singer, no one has ever told him, apparently, that the ability to sing loudly does not a singer make. Trotting out every operatic cliché that haunts American amateur stages—he’s hardly the only such case—he belted Rossini’s tenor aria “Asile héréditaire” (William Tell) with grotesque effort and results. The strange, strange voice takes you aback first, wondering if this is really horrible or actually quite fantastic (hint: it’s not the latter): it’s half spoken, like thin metal and moonlight and talent- and technique-deficiency rolled into one. The only good thing that could be said about him is that I’ve seen countrymen of his that look and act even more ridiculous on a stage… but that won’t be much consolation. To collective wincing, he pushed his poor instrument to the breaking point and beyond, and it was mercy in all directions when the jury send him home with a well meaning “Thank you very much” and hopefully lots of honest, well digested advice.