Friday, 17 June 2011

Another day, another lunch break

I've just tried to go to Kew's new ice cream parlour, attached to the visitor café beside Climbers & Creepers, the children's play area. Sadly I found it was closed for cleaning. I had to content myself with looking in through the windows at a tempting display; twenty different flavours, dozens of choices of sprinkles, sauces, popcorn, doughnuts etc... It felt a bit like being six again - "No you can't have an ice cream, you had one yesterday" - oh well, it's a rainy day, not really ice cream weather. I was just curious.

At least I could still get a sandwich in the main part of the café, where I bumped into Quarantinewoman by the cake section. We had a short chat about cake, how good cake is, and the general necessity of cake, while she tried to squint at my name badge surreptitiously. I restrained the urge to say "You've forgotten who I am, haven't you, Quarantinewoman?" as it seemed a bit mean since she was trying to place me without embarrassing herself. I bought cake (gluten-free chocolate squidgey cake, yum!) and left her still in contemplation of the choices. It's a cake range worth contemplating, goodness knows.

I walked back to the office. In the rain, summer scents like pine and escallonia come out, and the lavenders are veiled with silver droplets. Partway back, near the Orangery, there's a bed that has been planted up with herbaceous plants, all now in bloom in a wonderful array of clashing colours - yellow, orange, purple, more yellow; pot marigolds and day lilies and salvias, all blazing away in the muted, rainy light. There was a wren singing in the tree above the bed, and a toddler in wellington boots was passing by carrying an umbrella larger than himself, jumping in puddles blissfully. Heaven in a garden.

What else? Ah, yes; heaven in music.

Last night's broadcast of heat three of Cardiff Singer produced not one but two of those spine-tingling moments when you feel the touch of angels. The order of play went - one good, one adequate but nervous, then one very good - an Aussie mezzo who bounded through a gorgeously tricky chunk of Handel coloratura, making it sound easy-peasy.

I was just thinking "That's tonight's heat winner, then" when the next singer came on and trumped her. Valentina Naforitsa from Moldova; sheer bliss to listen to, a classic lyric-dramatic soprano with beautiful tone, seamless legato, wonderful awareness of vocal colour, and true acting ability. Oh, and good-looking, too. The famous "complete package" that the jury members always say they're looking for. Okay, thought I, so that's tonight's winner, then.

And then Andrei Bondarenko from the Ukraine came on and trumped her, with a superb baritone voice that was like velvet, subtle and flavoursome as manzanilla, from bottom to delicious top. Beautiful tone - check. Seamless legato - check (and in spades, too). Perfect control, perfect colour, perfectly-balanced dramatic sense - check. Oh, and did I forget to mention? - good-looking, too. A singer who could step straight into Favourite Baritone's roles and do every one of them justice - yes, even Pelléas - he had a beautiful upper register and I can't believe he'd have any trouble with it... indeed, the mere thought makes me long to hear him sing it, and I wouldn't have expected ever to want another Pelléas after FB.

To get two such fabulous singers, one after the other, leaves the hairs on the back of one's neck standing up. This, of course, is why the finalists are the top scoring singers overall, rather than automatically the heat winners; because it would be cruelty itself if one of these two had been dropped, simply from the bad luck of being in the strongest round so far. As it was, I felt it was rough on the Aussie lass, who was delightful, because she paled in comparison with them. I think I've just seen two of the next generation of Great Singers - the people who in forty years will be judging competitions like this, and getting goosebumps themselves as they hear the next generation coming out and dazzling them.

Andrei Bondarenko won, but if the Moldovan doesn't also get into the final I'll fry my hat and eat it with tartare sauce.

You can read all about Cardiff Singer of the World, from commentators a lot more expert than me, and also listen to the performances, on the BBC website:
It's worth it.

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