BBC Cardiff Singer of the world Finalists 2021 - Christina Gansch from Austria, Gihoon Kim from Republic of Korea, Claire Barnett-Jones from England, Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha from South Africa and Natalia Kutateladze from Georgia

BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Finalists, 2021. Photo from BBC's website

I skipped this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, as I’ve skipped it each year since Cliff Richard, representing the United Kingdom in 1968, came second with Congratulations. There’s a good deal more dignity to BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, a quality that Eurovision exuberantly and rightly eschews, but I was surprised by its promotion of a similar notion of ‘representation’. The BBC’s charming and helpful presenters, Petroc Trelawny and Josie d’Arby, talked repeatedly of the singers ‘representing’ their native lands of, amongst others, Georgia, South Africa, Mongolia, Madagascar and Wales (though most of them have studied lengthily elsewhere, and probably without their Governments’ support). So, in the spirit and tradition of Eurovision, I ransacked my wardrobe to find something Korean to wear (albeit at home) for Saturday’s Final, to signal my support for the singer I most wanted to win, Gihoon Kim, a young baritone with a powerful, tender, ‘Rolls-Royce of a voice’. He sang Rossini, Wagner and Giordano, and, with each aria, my belief in him grew stronger. Not that I didn’t waver. I clambered briefly into lederhosen for Austrian soprano Christina Gansch, and a chokha for last-to-go Georgian mezzo-soprano Natalia Kutateladze, but finally my man came through. And of course all of them were stars. Even Kim’s pantomime of disbelief as the jury announced him the winner didn’t destroy my musical affection for his talents, and certainly won’t put me off paying whatever it takes to see him at Bayreuth, perhaps a decade or so from now.

There were two further prizes: soprano Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha (‘representing’ South Africa) won the Song Prize, and mezzo-soprano Claire Barnett Jones, (‘representing’ the United Kingdom) won the Audience Prize (how well she sang Ivor Novello’s ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs in the Spring Again’).
Congratulations to the BBC, their presenters and the jury for creating warmth and excitement in a St David’s Hall almost devoid of audience, and to the sixteen world-class competitors who entertained us with their exhilarating singing over six nights last week. Commiserations, sadly, to the seventeenth (Icelandic) singer whose chances were scuppered by a ping from the guardians at the UK’s Track and Trace service (she’d inadvertently been in contact with someone infected with Covid).

The BBC Cardiff Singer of the World is deservedly the most illustrious vocal competition in the world. The standard is so high that making it to the last sixteen will almost certainly guarantee you a career.

This performance by Gihoon Kim made the judges cry! 

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