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Since 1989, when Dmitri Hvorostovsky – displaying apparently superhuman breath control – won BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, Posa’s death scene from Verdi’s Don Carlo has become a competition staple for high baritones.

Sure enough, two of the Mirjam Helin’s three baritone finalists have followed the example of the silver-maned Siberian. Matija Meić will pair it with Figaro’s ebullient ‘Largo al factotum’ from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia – an aria as ubiquitous as the character who sings it, while Dmytro Kalmuchyn will take a less-travelled route, juxtaposing it with a declamatory piece from a German oratorio, ‘Ist nicht des Herrn Wort wie ein Feuer’ from Mendelssohn’s Elias.

Leon Kosavic, meanwhile, has gone for two bel canto arias – one romantic and wistful (from I puritani), the other a confident seduction number (from L’elisir d’amore) – though, after his superb Schubert in the semi-finals, it would maybe have been nice to hear something in German.

Tenor Beomjin Kim, meanwhile, throws his opera hat in the ring with one of the essential romantic Italian arias – ‘Che gelida manina’ from La bohème (his top C should be exciting) – and one of the essential French romantic arias – ‘L’amour! l’amour!…Ah! lève-toi, soleil!’ from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette.

Juliette’s first aria, ‘Je veux vivre’ is standard fare for lyric-coloratura sopranos hoping to impress judges with coloratura, top notes and youthful charm, but Kateryna Kasper – having performed two Poulenc songs in the semi-finals – has chosen imaginatively with an excerpt from the French composer’s cheeky and surreal comic opera Les mamelles de Tirésias. She will strike a much more serious note with Pamina’s heartbroken ‘Ach, ich fühl’s’ from Die Zauberflöte.

Mendelssohn’s Elias turns up for a second time in the finals when Sunyoung Seo sings the poised ‘Höre, Israel’. This contrasts strongly with her other aria – also, as it happens, the choice of another Korean soprano, Keunghea Kang, in the finals of the Mirjam Helin Competition in 2009: the gloom-laden ‘Pace, pace’ from Verdi’s La forza del destino, with its notorious leap up to a quiet top B flat and its dramatic, imprecatory coda.

Seo sang all Strauss’ Vier letzte Lieder in her semi-final, while Elena Guseva has selected one of those valedictory songs (‘September’) for Wednesday. She will finish off with another piece from the mid-20th century – ‘No word from Tom’ from Stravinsky’s neo-Classical The Rake’s Progress, an aria that helped take another Russian soprano – Ekaterina Shcherbachenko – to victory at Cardiff Singer of the World in 2009. Here in Helsinki in 2014, Ekaterina Morozova sings a genuine Classical aria – the delightful Nun beut die Flur das frische Grün from Haydn’s oratorio Die Schöpfung – and then, following her Bellini in the semi-final, she renews her bid for a bel canto crown with the spectacular ‘Bel raggio’ from Rossini’s Semiramide.

May the right choice of arias help the best man – and woman – win!

Yehuda Shapiro

Yehuda Shapiro, based in London, is active as an opera critic and journalist, contributing to leading specialist magazines such as Opera and Classical Music, and to the website Sinfini. He has a special interest in the development of young vocal talent. In 2009, he reported on the Mirjam Helin Competition for Opera Now magazine and is delighted to be back in Helsinki for the 2014 edition, writing this time for Classical Music.

Twitter @YehudaShapiro

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