Tuesday was my annual trip to Birmingham for Graham Vick and his Birmingham Opera Company's latest inventive act - Giorgio Batistelli's new piece Wake. There is a full description on the Artsdesk site. I can't do as well, let alone better. We must all tip our hats to Graham Vick for his bold vision and his courage in following through unstintingly and uncompromisingly. More please - there will be another thrilling one next year, as yet unannounced but you can be sure that you will want to be there.
I was there on the train from Euston with a little party of long standing colleagues and friends, and we returned on the excellent Virgin train, first class at a knock down price with advance booking and a senior card. Free food and booze! I was home by 1 am. TFL (Transport for London) is as good as it gets with excellent late night tube and bus.
And from Thursday to yesterday late evening I was at Glyndebourne for the first Glyndebourne Opera "Cup" - an excellent new competition with the trophy not being a cup at all, but a colourful G similar to the Glyndebourne logo. This year it was devoted to Mozart - that is good since Mozart is Glyndebourne's founding and resident composer, and it makes up for the fact that there is not a single Mozart opera being performed at the Festival this year - I think that may be just the second, not the first time, that that has happened. Let it not happen again!
Mozart is the acid test of a singer, and I pretty well always ask for the Mozart from the list of the singer has not sung one first. Mozart demands all the attributes, vocal quality, technique, musicianship, sensitivity to text, and above all the ability to "inhabit" the character and the situation........and to take the listener out of time to to join him or her in that world as well. It is a rare ability and a magical moment when it happens, as I personally felt it did for me on just a couple of occasions last evening.
Of course the voice is the thing but not, as I say, the only thing. That is the easy part. The collective distilled wisdom of the excellent jury filtered 10 finalists from the 20 semi-finalists who paraded on Thursday. I guess they had an easy job choosing the top seven. The last three places will probably have come from a pool of half a dozen of the rest where the marginal priorities and preferences of individual jury members kicked in.
This was an exceptionally well qualified jury - no singers just employers of singers. That is as it should be. Do I hear some singers cry out "NO"?!!!! Well we need not go into that. Glyndebourne had chosen jurors who are responsible for hiring singers from opera houses in Zurich, Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Madrid, Venice, Philadelphia, and Glyndebourne itself. These are all people with a fine track record who can collectively be expected to get it "right" - whatever that is. It is clear that they chose prize winners who will be hired, and each of whom must be destined for good things as will most of the other finalists, including without doubt the youngest of the lot, the 21 year old Emily Pogorelc who predictably lifted the prize for "The most promising talent". £5,000 - a nice evening's work!
At the end of the finals the audience was asked to vote for their favourite and an exceptional young Kosovan soprano Elbenita Kajtazi scooped that, and then the third prize so she went off with £12,500. An excellent evening's work for her too. The second prize went to a Jette Parker soprano, a fearless and hugely impressive soprano Jacquelyn Stucker, an American who graduated from the New England Conservatory in Boston and is already on her way to the big time. £10,000 for her - thank you very much!
And the winner was an American again, a mezzo Samantha Hankey, just 26 but a Met Grand Final winner last year and already making her mark at the Met as well as in Oslo and Geneva. She also had the bonus of the Media Prize, chosen by a panel of the UK's leading critics, adding £5,000 to her winnings to bring them to a nice round £20,000. It has been a good year for mezzos with the top three prizes for women at Neue Stimmen going to mezzo-sopranos.
Two of these prize winners melted my heart as described above! The jury must have had a tough time sorting all these competing elements - it will have been a close run thing as it usually is. Bravo anyway to all concerned - this competition has the potential to swiftly become one of the top handful in the world that the best will want to compete in. It was superbly organised by the Glyndebourne team, and the television coverage was comprehensive and splendidly executed by Sky Arts. Danielle de Niese is as gifted and charismatic a presenter as she is a singer - and her co-presenter out in the auditorium was the charming and witty comedian Chris Addison.