The first day of the Dunedin vocal competitions - sorry, vocal festival - went rather nicely. Not perhaps as joltingly excellent as last year's first day but good fun all the same. The judge mightn't be a gorgeous soprano like last year (I'll stop this soon, don't worry) but despite myself I rather like him - his comments are very interesting and I've more or less agreed with most of decisions, or at least seen his point even if I thought the placings deserved to be awarded differently. It's quite different being in the Hutton Theatre; previously the competitions have been held in the Burns Hall, part of First Church, and there's a very different acoustic. But I think the Hutton Theatre probably comes closer to real recital conditions than a church hall, so it's a good thing even if it takes some getting used to. It does always seem slightly unkind to hold these competitions in winter every year. It's cold, people get sick, and they often pull out - there were a lot of scratchings yesterday. I had five must-see items highlighted in my programme and only got to hear one of them; here's hoping today will be a little healthier. Only one other quibble - I think the Competitions Society really ought to establish official protocol re: acknowledgement or otherwise of accompanists. Is it necessary to acknowledge one's accompanist after one song? Last year Patricia Wright said no - do it if you're doing several, if it's a proper recital, but when you're only singing one item, no need. Then yesterday, Peter Hind said "You must."Hardly a pressing issue of course but I think it needs to be established for once and for all.
Anyway, to the matter at hand. The first class - poor things - was the novice class. Three out of seven singers had pulled out; the remaining four coped very well, especially considering they had to start the whole thing off. It was a clear victory, however, for the first placed singer, who in truth is rather far from being a novice - the requirement for entering as a novice is never having won a first prize, and unbelievably, this soprano hadn't. The next class, the 17th and 18th century aria (18 & under 21 years) was slightly disappointing, I have to admit. Nerves, illness and the odd bit of mangled Italian all played their part; and so many laments. There were some lovely and affecting passages however; it was also very nice to hear Bellini's 'Dolente immagine', which I adore, though I admit I'm not entirely sure how a 19th century arietta made it into this particular class. But no matter. The final two classes of the afternoon were the Burns Club Quaich (musically setting of any work by Robert Burns) and the Hebridean Song, both of which provided some excellent singing. The Hebridean songs in particular are the sort of music which allow - and indeed require - singers to really abandon themselves to the music and let it soar, and the best performances were by those singers who were able to achieve that sort of feeling.
The first class of the evening session was the Oratorio class. In announcing his decisions, the judge mentioned that this class hadn't quite met his expectations, though nevertheless very good. Well, I can't imagine what he was expecting but I personally thought this class was fabulous, with everybody acquitting themselves very well indeed, and several simply outstanding, concert-standard, performances. The New Zealand Composition class was almost as impressive. Only half of the singers entered actually sang, but they were mostly excellent, besides which it's wonderful to hear this music, which isn't exactly bread-and-butter repertoire for most. We finished up the evening with a woefully small Musical Ensemble class - only two pairs entered. I agree with the judge: it would be fantastic if this class was much much bigger, the duets are such fun.
So, a very good day's singing, if one which was showing the effects of illness and general winteriness just a little. Day 2 is already underway but I'll get to that...tonight I suppose. Tomorrow at a criminally early hour I'm catching a bus to Christchurch but shall be back on Sunday in time for the all important ODT Aria final. Very sad to miss the preliminaries, but divadienst calls!