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Editor’s note: this post is a translation of the Finnish version published on 7 August.

The singers who sang on Thursday evening appeared to be the most theatrical group out of those seen so far. We were provided with seething and free-spirited expression from the stage – perhaps this was due to a magnificent thunderstorm that rose after noon, or simply caused by the thickening excitement when the first round was coming to its end.

The Polish counter-tenor Michał Sławecki has a lyrically beautiful, high voice, and a large scale of nuances. From the Stabat Mater by Pergolesi we heard the graceful soprano aria Vidit suum – he seems to know his baroque style well. Copland’s song Heart, we will forget him resounded touchingly. Here and there the singer appeared to take his dramatic expression quite close to the limits of his voice instrument.

Last participant in the “Great Battle of Baritones”, Finnish Waltteri Torikka, has a resounding masculine clang in his voice. He is also a versatile and interesting performer. He managed in his programme to present a wide spectrum of different characters from the religious Bach to the poetic Schumann, and from Mozart’s tirade of a betrayed man to the quite lewd Don Juan by Tšaikovsky.

Canadian coloratura soprano Florie Valiquette created with her beautiful voice not only bell-like high notes and floating pianissimos, but also very expressive coloraturas – too often does one hear sopranos sing coloratura as it were the sole purpose and message of the piece they’re performing! Sometimes it appeared her voice was still captured a bit behind her mouth and jaw, and did not reach the audience optimally. Florie Valiquette was a bright performer. She created beautifully the young maiden’s conflicted emotions in Giulietta’s aria by Bellini, and sung Villanella by Dell’Acqua in a most charming way.

Jonathan Winell had a light-coloured and extremely concentrated tenor voice, which might perhaps with more mileage develop towards character roles. The tenor aria from Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment, which with its nine high C’s is a veritable Mount Everest of tenor repertoire, was managed by Winell in a self-assured manner. He also succeeded in presenting it in a most entertaining manner.

Russian mezzo-soprano Victoria Yarovaya was a fiery performer: she started with Vivaldi’s Juditha Triumphans and ended her programme with Rosina from Il Barbiere di Siviglia by Rossini – in between however we also heard more serene singing. Her voice is powerful and has a beautiful dark colour, and I would have loved to hear also the pianissimi and coloraturas provided out, to the audience – as it were, they were occasionally left to be enjoyed by the singer alone. Especially her Rosina, the very last piece in the first round of the competition, delighted me with its comical realization: Yarovaya’s Rosina was more feisty and pushy than the character is usually created – somehow this Rosina reminded me of Mrs. Hardy from the fabulous black-and-white era comedies.

All things considered, this now completed first round of the competition has been – despite its marathon-like duration – very interesting and delightful to follow. We’ve heard plenty of good singers, many of them even outstanding. From my place in the Sibelius Academy auditorium it has seemed as if every participant has succeeded at least passably – I’ve detected no downright catastrophic failures on the stage. The Shadow Jury is dying to hear the Semifinals now!

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.