Two 1st prizewinners – and two very different kinds of singer.
Kateryna Kasper’s voice is very lovely, but it is not the kind of instrument that works by making a visceral impact; when Beomjin Kim sings – though his voice also has a lyrical beauty – part of the excitement lies in waiting for those big top notes that you know are on their way.
When I saw Kasper in the semi-finals, I knew that the judges would like her. She chose repertoire that absolutely suited her voice; she is a scrupulous musician and there is a kind of quiet intensity to the way she performs. In the finals, she sang Mozart – and it is often said that Mozart really shows what a singer can and cannot do – and she performed, quite exquisitely, an aria from a role she has sung in the theatre, Pamina in Die Zauberflöte. With Thérèse’s witty and wacky sex-change number from Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias, she made an original choice, but again gave herself an apt showcase in delightful, frequently gorgeous music. All that was sometimes missing was verbal clarity in the French text.
Beomjin Kim did not duck interpretative challenges in his semi-final, which featured five songs from Schubert’s Dichterliebe, but you cannot help feeling that he is above all about an exhilarating tenor voice, with a freshness, ease and – at the top – punch that would be hard for anyone to resist. In the final he chose straight-down-the-line hit arias by Puccini (La bohème) and Gounod (Roméo et Juliette), and delivered them splendidly, though one still has a sense that he has not made his full imprint on them as an interpreter. But it is always a pleasure to welcome a real, glowing lyric tenor to the world stage.
As for my personal favourites in the final … I absolutely felt that Kasper deserved to win, even if my taste is often for darker, heavier voices. I once again particularly liked Leon Kosavic’s singing – partly because there is a darkness in his voice, but also because he is such an imaginative interpreter who applies so much light and shade to the vocal line. I especially look forward to hearing Kosavic in years to come. But I was expecting Matija Meić to win. A few years older than his baritone compatriot, he has great authority when he performs and he, too, is highly imaginative. And he is clearly not afraid to take risks: for instance, in the second verse of ‘Per me giunto è il dì supremo’ from Don Carlo, he broke up the big tune when it came for the second time – not because he was running out of breath or confidence, but because his character was just about to die. At a major international competition – and in front of a packed, attentive house and a battery of TV cameras – that takes courage. Bravo!
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.