Classical: A fine showcase for the voices of the future

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THE CARDIFF Singer of the World Competition doesn't mince matters with its title, and certainly it has a proud record, having brought to the fore Karita Mattila, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Bryn Terfel and Katarina Karneus among others. The last competition winner was a Chinese soprano, Guang Yang, who was reviewed in these pages when she was showcased at the Barbican, who will be singing Rosina for Welsh National Opera in Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

This year the lieder prizewinner was a Korean baritone, Dae-San No, though in Wednesday's concert at the Barbican he was only heard in a range of operatic extracts. He has a pleasing, easily produced voice and a confident stage presence, though he stood and delivered rather formally, which, in the circumstances, was what you might expect. He was, at any rate, musical, and sustained his line in "Bella siccome un angelo" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale with lyrical grace. If he didn't look romantic, with his large head and short legs, you could close your eyes and imagine that he did. In "Ah! Per sempre io ti perdei" from Bellini's I Puritani, he also sounded supremely at ease.

In Wolfram's aria from Tannhauser, "O du mein holder Abendstern", we got something more poetic and visionary, a glimpse of how Dae-San No might have been in lieder. But he really came to life in the hero's brusque dismissal of the world from Verdi's Falstaff, "L'onore! Ladri!", breaking into some apt gestures, including a momentary buttonholing of the unfortunate conductor, Graeme Jenkins, which brought a good-natured laugh.

The winner herself was saved for the second half of a rather motley programme, padded out, as it was, with orchestral pieces ranging from the Overture to Bernstein's Candide to the Good Friday Music from Wagner's Parsifal. She was a powerful soprano of German-Greek parentage, Anja Harteros. She looks very much like Cecilia Bartoli, though she's taller and her manner was surprisingly unaffected, almost gauche. More important, she has a warm personality and a lovely smile, and she was clearly a favourite with the audience, who cheered after her very first item, an aria from Catalani's La Wally, which was popularised in the film Diva.

Oddly enough, though Harteros is a native of Cologne, and though she has appeared in Lortzing's Der Wildschutz, she is obviously at home in Italian opera. With her big, sensuous voice and ringing top notes, she is going to be very useful to make a convenient comparison - she might sing the same sort of repertoire as Angela Gheorghiu, and she will look striking on stage. In "Tacea la notte" from Verdi's Il Trovatore, she was brilliant, with only an excusable hint of shrillness in the lively final section.

I don't think she would be so interesting in Mozart, because she didn't give "Come scoglio" from Cosi Fan Tutte a great deal of character - she hardly sounded indignant at all. Yet she traced Violetta's moods leading up to "Sempre libera" from La Traviata convincingly, and threw off the final fling with great bravura. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales did a sterling job in a demanding evening.