BBC Singer of the World - Cardiff
By the time this review appears, we shall know the 2003 winner. Of the past 10 victors some six have really made it into the world class, beginning with Mattila who – as is pointed out in the film – was actually the very first singer to appear in the context, in 1983. She feels a wiser person than she was then, having – in the 1980s – come to the realisation that she needed to do more than win a prize to make her a true artist. In 1989 there was the famous joust of the baritones – Hvorostovsky eventually won the main prize, Terfel the Lieder competition. Seeing and hearing their performances again confirms that on the day the right decision was made, the Russian giving the more polished and the more moving performances, though he frankly admits that his apparent confidence on the night hid great nervousness. Indeed both speak interestingly about the occasion and how it affected them.
That was incidentally a vintage year with singers of the calibre of Hillevi Martinpelto and Monica Groop as merely also-rans. Like Mattila, Lisa Gasteen has taken time to prove her worth, but with hindsight you can hear that her 1991 Wagner extracts were signposts to what she has since achieved. The film is too tactful to point out that a few questionable choices have been made. Maybe ethnic reasons account for the choice of Guang Yang in 1997 and the need for a tenor victor that of Marius Brenciu in 2001 when, on the latter occasion two East European mezzos were obviously superior. But as Brian MacMaster puts it, the dissensions and disagreements among participants, judges and audience will always be part of the event’s fascination.
The first DVD gives us an overview of the winners’ performances, the second shows us some of the Lieder winners, most notably Christopher Maltman in 1997, one of the event’s worthiest victors. Before that there is a well-made, 34-minute overview of the contest as a whole, with administrators, judges and contestants making constructive contributions. Nostalgic to see in the early years the lively presence of Geraint Evans, Elizabeth Harwood and Kim Borg, all three no longer with us. It is interesting to be told just how important part the then-new St David’s Hall, with its excellent acoustics, made to the initial success.
Having been opposed to the event at the start, I have to admit that it has proved its worth in terms of uncovering much talent and a few real stars Often the BBC presentation has left a lot to be desired, especially in some over-hyping repeated here, but that matters little in the longer view. It is also good news that in 2003 the song contest has been organised as a separate event at a different venue so that it will no longer be seen as a consolation prize.