After three First Round sessions of the Aria Division of Concours musical international de Montréal (CMIM) 2018, the esteemed jury panel members chose twelve singers to move on to the semifinals.
I got that news on my smartphone while still at Koerner Hall, where I was attending the Tenth Anniversary Celebration of the RCM-Telus Partnership. (A report from that event to appear shortly) After burning the midnight oil to watch and listen to the archived live stream of last evening, I am now ready to weigh in on the jury panel’s choices.
Here are the twelve semi-finalists, to perform on June 4 and 5 in Maison Symphonique, in the same order as they appeared in Salle Bourgie in the first round:
June 4 at 7:30 pm
Dilyara Idrisova (Russia), soprano / Kidon Choi (South Korea), baritone / Mihail Mihaylov (Bulgaria), tenor / Emily D’Angelo (Canada-Italy), mezzo-soprano / Andrew Haji (Canada), tenor / Jongsoo Yang (South Korea), bass
June 5 at 7:30 pm
Konstantin Lee (South Korea), tenor / Petr Nekoranec (Czech Republic), tenor / John Brancy (United States), baritone / Rihab Chaieb (Canada-Tunisia), mezzo-soprano / Mario Bahg (South Korea), tenor / Mikhail Golovushkin (Russia), bass
I call these twelve very fine artists the “Lucky Dozen” only in jest. Behind their successes are a lot of hard work, the proverbial artistic blood, sweat, and tears. Every one of them was chosen for their innate talent, solid training, musicality, and communicative power. In a world-class competition such as the CMIM, there are always more deserving candidates than available slots. That means some unfortunate soul would be left out — such is the nature of competitions!
That said, I am rather surprised by the list. Most unusual is the gender breakdown — only three women out of twelve? In the first round, the gender split was thirteen men and eleven women. While gender has nothing and the quality of singing everything to do with the result, I couldn’t help but wonder. For one thing, I am very surprised by the omission of Swedish soprano Christina Nilsson, who to my ears has a stunning voice.
Another observation is the success rate of tenors at 100 percent — all five of them made the cut! I do find the tenor field in this competition extremely strong. I listened to the archived video. Czech tenor Petr Nekoranec has a bright, light, well-focused tenor, and he’s a good actor. Any time a tenor can do justice to Tonio’s “Ah mes amis” with its nine high C’s, one has to sit up and take notice! And he tossed them off with no strain — bravo!
American John Brancy has a high baritone of warmth and expression. As I mentioned before, he has been singularly successful in competitions. Incidentally, Brancy and Chaieb entered both the Song and Aria division and both made the cut! Canadian mezzo Rihab Chaieb sounded terrific in Idamante’s aria and in “Habanera.” I must say that she’s sounding the best I’ve heard her. Having her foot in a cast didn’t faze her one bit. I seem to recall Emily D’Angelo also had hers in a cast (!) when she competed at the COC Centre Stage — maybe it’s a good luck charm?
The last two singers were Korean tenor Mario Bahg, who sang the Flower Song with lovely tone and dramatic urgency. He sang the final high B flat piano, as it should be. His “Dies Bildnis” was also very lovely and elegant sounding. He may not have the richest tone, but it’s warm and expressive, as evidenced in his “Una furtiva lagrima.” This is a singer to watch. The final contestant was Russian bass Mikhail Golovushkin. He offered an attractive bass with plenty of gravitas. As is often with bass voices, there is the occasional unsteadiness in tone, in this case it was in the Simone Boccanegra aria. Also I find the Catalogue Aria a bit high for him, a piece usually taken by a bass-baritone. That said, he sang it with lots of spirit. His best moment was the Bizet’s aria from La jolie fille de Perth.
It’s easy for us armchair audience members to second-guess the jury. While I would have included Christina Nilsson in place of one of the others on the list, by and large I agree with the rest of their choices. I look forward to June 4 with the start of the arias semifinals. In the meantime, you can catch the art song semis on their website today at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.