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The temperature in the competition venue during the afternoon was as scorched as during the morning. I believe the ambient temperature affected the singers: I heard porosity and flatness in many voices, but I believe it was caused by the swelling and relaxing effect the heat wave has on the vocal chords and the associated muscles. Let’s hope for the sake of fairness that the rest of the first round is sung on similar conditions: it would be unfair if the heat wave now recedes and rest of the competitors would be allowed to sing in more ideal conditions!

Whatever the weather might be, from each singer we heard just a short sample representing the condition of the day – not necessarily representative of what an individual singer could, on an ideal day, achieve. Therefore, what I write below should be understood as a peer reviewer’s rather impressionistic views to these voice samples, not as a final verdict on each singer’s capabilities.

I heard this morning’s round through Yle web stream, as I acted as a shoutbox commentator, so I cannot directly compare individual singers: microphones treat some voice types kinder than others. Still, I was impressed by the intensity and sincerety of John Brancy, an American baritone.

This afternoon Anna Brull, a Catalonian mezzosoprano, presented us with a program of serious singing, in perhaps a tad introverted fashion. In her program, the song from Catalonian Frederic Mompou, named “Above you only flowers” was an interesting new acquaintance: the singer’s mother tongue really sounded as she was born with it. Her Händel presented us with sufficient amount of you-know-what and vinegar. Perhaps she would have benefited from a bit more happy and light-hearted pieces, for a contrast.

The German baritone Björn Bürger appeared as a happy and sympathetic character, jovial as a Swiss cheese merchant. His voice was equally pleasant. I missed a bit more activity in his diction, especially his German pronunciation would have benefited from slightly added generosity – perhaps even an added edge – although of course his German was flawless. Different characters could have been presented in a more wide scale: I missed certain keg party character from his Papageno, and in his Ich grolle nicht by Schumann an added degree of (difficultly) hidden inner pain might have been needed.

Canadian mezzosoprano Rihab Chaleb presented a pretty and charming stage presence, and she sung Poulenc and Strauss with snappy gestures. Her competition pianist was the excellent Kiril Kozlovsky, whose musical initiatives she could have been more agile to catch: now, for example the Mignon by Hugo Wolf was left a tad superficial, when the passionate outbursts from the piano were not responded sufficiently by the singer. Both the meaning and the pronunciation of the texts should be given more attention by this singer.

Korean counter-tenor Siman Chung has been blessed with a noble voice. Cantate by Bach resounded with style, but as a lied instrument a counter-tenor is maybe a tad challenging – although I very well understand that the obligatory repertoire simply cannot be escaped. To my taste, Chung was still perhaps a bit straight-forward and gestureless as a performer.

The Romanian soprano with a beautiful voice, Iulia Maria Dan, was an interesting and sensitive musician with a natural contact with the audience: her eyes truly shone when she energetically described the brightness of the seraphimes to us. Her high voices had an effortless clang, and we heard beautiful pianissimos as well as agile ornamentation. If only her voice would be a bit more free and her singing a bit more extroverted, she could be a true star.

Welsh soprano Gwawr Edwards had a light and clanging voice, but – perhaps because of the heat – a bit porous. She clearly had the will to interpret the text, but especially with German language a slight adjustment would be needed. Most beautifully she presented, in my opinion, the Linda di Chamounix by Donizetti, where her voice placement was most natural.

It will be exciting to see how today’s crop compares with the three days to come. In this early phase I do not dare to guess who will be selected to semi-finals, dare to mention the finals. In this stage I can only assert that the competition will be tough, and even – no other verdict will I give today.

Jenni Lättilä

Jenni Lättilä is a Finnish soprano whose natural habitat encompasses both operatic and concert stages, as well as academic circles, but she prefers spending her leisure time in the silent Finnish forests with her beagles. Jenni is doing her best to break every possible ”opera diva” stereotype, but still can’t help loving high heeled designer shoes passionately.

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