BBC Cardiff Singer of the World ‘does not deserve its title’

BBC Cardiff Singer of the World ‘does not deserve its title’


norman lebrecht

June 20, 2021

Reader’s Comment of the Day, by Ulrich Brass, disparages the British song contest:

Maybe if this contest wants to be taken seriously by international media they should consider renaming it and dropping the “singer of the world” bit. I understand it is a very British thing calling yourself the best biggest thing in the world (as both the Barbican and the Southbank claimed this month ) but you need to stick to the real world. Look at the list of the winnners in the las 20 years:Andrei Kymach, Catriona Morison, Nadine Koutcher, Jamie Barton, Valentina Naforniță, Ekaterina Scherbachenko, Shenyang, Nicole Cabell, Tommi Hakala and Marius Brenciu. Only Jamie Barton has an international career. Look at the winner lists other competitions like Operalia in the same period: Xabier Anduaga, Emily D’Angelo, Levy Sekgapane, Elsa Dreisig, Lise Davidsen, Rachel Willis-Sørensen, Aida Garifullina, Enkhbatyn Amartüvshin, Pretty Yende, Sonya Yoncheva, Joel Prieto, Carmen Giannattasio…


  • Anonymouse says:

    And to top it off, Jamie Barton is probably the worst of them all – terrible voice, inane interpretations, and no musicality.

    • Annnon says:

      That’s why he’s singing in a production of Tristan and Isolde at the acclaimed Festival d’ Aix en Provence, with Rattle and the LSO!

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Says you…

    • BRUCEB says:

      Blah, blah, blah. There’s always been an endless supply of people to talk shit about any singer who has even a little bit of success.

      Come to think of it, singers probably use people like you to let them know when they’ve “arrived.” So in a way, you are probably performing a valuable service, sort of. Keep fighting the good fight!

      • Maria says:

        Arm chair critics and man made musicologists for a hobby who know everything about singing and know every singer imaginable, yet never even sang in tune in the bath! Love to pull us singers down with the slightest success. All those Cardiff singers have already got fine careers with fine finished voices. Getting on a jet plane in normal times is not the sign of a fine career. Something to said for singing more at home and not so far flung. It would pay for some of you so-call ‘experts’ be kinder to us singers, and not just slate every little thing that isn’t to your personal liking.

    • Diane Valerie says:

      She speaks very well of you, though …

    • Sean Murphy says:

      Many with great voices have not sought or gained major international recognition. A superb voice speaks for itself. Australia had Donald Smith he sang in the era of star tenors like Domingo and Bergonzi but didnt leave Australia much. England’s Neil Howlet possessed a superb Verdi baritone voice but sang mainly at the ENO. Atlantov the tenor sang mainly in Russia , he was a match for any yes i mean any of so called top tenors

      • Una says:

        I was a student of Neil Howlett for seven years until he died. You can see my tribute to him last year in May. He sang for 17 years at ENO, but there were all the other years in Germany, Russia and France, and Buenos Aires plus all the BBC work he did and at the Proms. A very fine siinger and a fine musician. One of his legacies is his website and his well constructed and researched articles on singing. As a singer, right from the start, Neil always taught. He didn’t just turn into a teacher or flit around doing masterclasses when he retired. That’s why I studied with him, years after seeing him as a young student watching him in nearly everything at ENO. He knew what he was talking about, and honest, but not everyone takes to that!

        • Sean Murphy says:

          I only met Neil Howlett once and he gave me good advice which i stupidly ignored. his voice was superb in a time of many so called great international baritones -Bonisoli the tenor was another great voice, at least equal to the 3 Tenors , but his attitude was wrong ..supposedly

          • Una says:

            You ignore Neil’s advice with your peril. Lol! Have a look at his website!

          • Sean Murphy says:

            i had a high profile media job and Neil advised me to join a small German opera house chorus to get expereince – yes you are right

          • Una says:

            Too late to do that by the time I went to him in 2012 at my age! He taught me so much, no pushover and expected the best by explaining how to do it. But was sympathetic as he’d done the job. Us Brits and Irish don’t do the brash self-promtion, and only room for so many megastars in this world singing Wagner, Puccini and Verdi all the time. Not the be end and all end of a singing career. Ha, ha!

          • Sean Murphy says:

            i still love opera and great singers but there are good voices in many types of music. if i had my time again i would have tried to do musicals or Irish songs. or country or folk etc as a living

          • DIANA FROM MADRID says:

            AT your peril…

    • Gregory Mowery says:

      An insanely hostile thing to say about a serious and in-demand artist, who is also an inspiring human being. It’s okay not to like a voice. It’s quite another to trash that person with inaccurate and offensive statements.

  • Gerry McDonald says:

    Bryn Terfel won the lieder prize and seems to have done alright!

    • Garry Humphreys says:

      . . . and not only in lieder!

    • V.Lind says:

      Yes — that was the year Dmitri Hvorostovsky won Singer of the World. He managed to scrape along, too.

      • Meryl Goodrum says:

        Thank you for mentioning Dmitri, a wonderful effortless singer, gone far too soon. Who needs armchair critics!!

    • psq says:

      Anja Harteros.

      She and others on this side of the pond don’t feel the necessity to make a name for themselves anywhere else but near home! Off the top of my head, the examples are Harteros and Gundula Janowitz (sang once or twice in the US)

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Stupid comment. Tommi Hakala has a superb international career. Take away Jamie Barton’s Identity Politics posturing and what is left? Not much. Marius Brenciu and Nadine Koutcher are also doing just fine, even if the former has been overshadowed by that mezzo who came second…

    Can’t argue with Operalia’s winners but having Domingo’s name behind a competition will never hurt. A competition can call itself whatever it wants and Cardiff’s description of its line-up is no lie.

  • Michael Davies says:

    That’s the second negative review in 2 days you’ve given the competition. Don’t suppose you’ve heard of Amartuvshin Enkhbat the Mongolian baritone who won the audience prize at Cardiff? Currently the toast of Italy, singing at Florence and Verona. Just another of the list you’ve forgotten who have made good careers. Of course if Cardiff had the Domingo circus of finance and exposure (oops shouldn’t use that word!), no doubt Cardiff would have a greater presence.

  • anon says:

    Shenyang has an international career.

  • Michael says:

    How clever of you to choose your dates to exclude Dimitri Hvorovstovsky and Bryn Terfel and the two extraordinary winners this week, who in my humble – but experienced! – opinion will equal or surpass both of them. How odd to comment on this competition without considering any one, let alone all, of these four! Did you watch/listen to it? Are you connected to Operalia? Were you or was someone you know rejected by the Cardiff team? Please be nice and, if you can’t be nice, please be a little more scrupulous and/or a touch objective in your comments!

    • Una says:

      Yes, if you can’t be nice or be constructive, then just shut up! It only says more about you than the singer you are pulling apart. We are human beings not robots to fulfil your every whim!

  • Peter says:

    Of course it doesn’t!
    Look at the judges in Operalia – the whole opera mafia (to be translated as opera managers) in one single place, looking to hire “new” voices even if these are truly mostly just average voices – and no actual singer with an operatic career in the jury!
    Cherry on the cake is Martha Domingo (the only so called singer with an unexistent singing career but with “ambitions” to direct opera because of being a Domingo) – it’s all just soooo ridiculous!
    Perhaps things will change now after Domingo was dumped by mostly all of the houses?
    Ideally this contest should never exist anymore, it’s a disgrace!
    Opera is (slowly) dying…

  • La plus belle voix says:

    I fear the Brits need to take a close look at themselves, and drop the “we are world leaders in . . . (everything)” tag. From the vaccination campaign, to the BBC, I think the world would welcome a less arrogant attitude to many a topic. It would help mend old wounds and contribute to better international understanding, and even lead to joint trade deals to boot.

    • Dave says:

      You might address your comment to our arrogant and corrupt government, of which the BBC is now the propaganda wing.

      The average intelligent “Brit” is a darn sight more humble and would be unlikely to make any “world-beating” claims.

      • La plus belle voix says:

        The average Brit is self deprecating to the point of embarrassment. The BBC lost the plot decades ago: all show and no content.

        • Una says:

          Yes, but at least the BBC puts in the money both for Cardiff, the Proms, and also to televise ENO last November and at Christmas.

        • V.Lind says:

          Absolute rubbish. Take a look at some other broadcasters, especially in the US. I know there are people pulling the plug on paying licence fees, but the voluminously available material online means that they can see and hear what they want without it and I will bet a lot of it is BBC (I live abroad, and I can see and hear loads of BBC stuff).

          I have travelled extensively, and lived in four continents, and live in Canada where I have more access than I would wish to the US broadcasting system. Believe me, despite some wonderful international broadcasters, BBC stands up as a beacon, and of course was the model on which most of them were based (the exceptions being the Americans, who immediately saw broadcasting as a commercial venture, public service not being in their DNA).

          As for thinking they are exceptional, the Americans wrote the book on that (aside from the Chinese, but the difference is they just know they are the best, they don’t go around bragging about it). Ever heard of the World Series? American exceptionalism? The fact that most Americans do not have passports and as far as they are concerned there is them and “the rest of the world.”

          Most countries have national pride, but few have greater reason for it than Britain, and that comes to the BBC as well.

    • Allen says:

      “I fear the Brits need to take a close look at themselves, and drop the “we are world leaders in . . . (everything)””

      I can think of quite a few countries, and political unions, that need to take a long hard look at themselves. Anyone who really knows Britain must be aware that it is more self-deprecating than most, almost to a fault. The SNP in Scotland stands out as the main exception.

      You are also clearly unaware that few people are claiming that the BBC is a world leader these days.

      Lastly, like it or not (and you clearly don’t), the vaccination campaign was a success.

      • La plus belle voix says:

        The BBC claims to be a world leader. The “wisdom” of vaccinating as many people as possible with a first dose and pushing back the second one beyond manufacturers’ recommendations is now being strongly questioned by leading virologists.

        • MJA says:

          “La plus belle voix” – your posts are risibly off-topic and their propositions are spurious. I’m always suspicious of nationality-based judgments, but I note your own locus is unclear. Were it revealed, I suspect it would speak volumes about your dubious attitude to the UK’s vaccination programme, the Cardiff Singer of the World competition, and the other topics you link so questionably.

          • La plus belle voix says:

            It was not a nationality-based judgment, but a comment on what is patently a nationality-based claim.

        • Una says:

          Only by those who are jealous.

      • Una says:

        BBC World Service highly regarded in sub-Sahara Africa and India. All paid for from the license fee as is most. of the Proms, and designated radio stations. Something to be very proud of.

    • Graeme Hall says:

      Heavens, that’s a very large chip you have on your shoulder…Perhaps consider therapy?

      • La plus belle voix says:

        I’m unsure as to whom the post is addressed Mr Hal, but your ad hominem comment marks the point to bow out with good grace.

  • Carl Rogers says:

    I don’t have a problem with the title of this competition. It’s open to the world and looking for singers to have major international careers. How will anybody know how their careers will develop after getting to the final or even winning it? I think this year has been very good-probably the best for some time.

  • Pedro says:

    Valentina Nafortita is a very good singer, specially in Mozart. She is a member of the Vienna State Opera, as far as I know.

    • Tristan says:

      she looks god and that’s what counts for directors especially in Germany where directors (who stand out with their awful tastes) like to deconstruct masterpieces

  • IntBaritone says:

    He’s not wrong – most of those folks haven’t amounted to what winners of Cardiff should.

    Though the guy claiming Jamie is the worst of the bunch is a bit nutty…

  • David Hughes says:

    I’m brassed off by the idiotic comment.

  • Dave says:

    Well, if you rank your Reader’s Comment of the Day by the large number of down votes it gets…

  • Poe's law says:

    This competition clearly is biased towards the vocally gifted. We need to see the Hilda Ogden’s of this world being represented.

  • M McAlpine says:

    As has been said, so easy to criticise, that’s why there are so many critics. We thoroughly enjoy this contest. How strange! To actually enjoy people singing without whinging. Try it sometime!

    • Eisen says:

      Who has heard of the 4 Kussavitky Brothers…they sang not for fame but for the purification of their/our souls…it is said that the Almighty came to the elder brother Moshe’s

  • Patrick John Gordon Shaw says:


  • Sam McElroy says:

    Almost all the winners DO have international careers (life will get in the way for some, statistically) and so many of the finalists too, and non-finalists. You omitted Karita Matilla, Inge Dam Jensen, Bryn Terfel, a guy called Dimitri something or other, Katerina Karneus, Lisa Gasteen, Paul Whelan, Chris Maltman, Ailish Tynan, Andrei Bondarenko and the list goes on. In my round of five alone in 1999 (round one), three went on to become international stars, singing at the Met, La Scala, Paris, Covent Garden etc; Anja Harteros, Marius Mariusz Kwiecień, and Tigran Martirossian. I think some definition is needed here; an international career is one in which a singer makes a living from singing as an international soloist, not only one who has an exclusive recording contract or graces the covers of magazines every month. Not only should it keep its name, but it can be proud that “of the world” means just that; it pre-selects by trawling the globe for the best talents, and regularly turns out superstars as a result.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Seems like he is envious of a competition which has produced so many excellent singers from all over the world. At no point is the word British used. And Cardiff Singer of the World, from the Land of Song had its first winner – Karita Mattila, remember her, Herr Brass?

    • Maria says:

      It’s not a British competition. It just happens to be sponsored bt the BBC and just happens to take place in a fine hall in Cardiff, which is not a suburb of London but in Wales, and it’s own fine opera company as well who will be there to hire any of these singers, and get a Wigmore Hall recital. Remember a fine Korean and SA singer won the prizes, not Welsh, English or British!

      • La plus belle voix says:

        I do not understand “it is own fine opera company as well who will be”.

        • DIANA FROM MADRID says:

          It would make perfect sense if “its” were spelled correctly and if you finished the sentence, which, admittedly, is slightly grammatically awry

  • Novagerio says:

    The one who still has a career is the blonde lady who lost to Brenciu.

  • Dominic Belli says:

    I think he needs to learn how to make wine instead of letting his grapes go sour.

  • Samuel says:

    What a stupid article. Even if the competition weren’t open to any singer in the world and was only for british singers, its perfectly legitimate and definitely not racist or arrogant to name the competition as “Singer of the World”.
    Do you understand what a figure of speach is?
    This is a pathetic attempt at journalism. U should be ashamed.

  • Christopher Clift says:

    Who is Ulrich Brass anyway – I have heard of a good number of winners and other ‘placed’ singers who have entered this contest over the years, but Herr Brass?

  • Anon says:

    Kim is a laureate of Operalia…

  • Miranda Green says:

    Perhaps “Cardiff’s International singing competition” would be better. It’s seems to me it’s not about the singing, but the title. Don’t forget we are soon going the get “Great British Railways”. That will be a difficult one to live up to. I think all you singers should make friends.

  • “I understand it is a very British thing calling yourself the best biggest thing in the world…”

    You got that from America

  • operacentric says:

    I thought the competition this year had a pretty good and varied line up. The 5 finalists all deserved their places and I’d have made it 6 or 7!

    The trimmer format required by covid was an improvement to the TV viewer, less woffle.

    Petroc Trelawney was a professional presenter. I found the endlessly gushing and overemoting kid’s presenter intensely irritating. I really don’t see the need for the dumbing down – people who don’t enjoy or know anything about music probably tend not to watch anyway. I really couldn’t believe, given the global reach of the entrants, she really had to use the word ‘diversity’. ‘Amazing hall’ seems somewhat unnecessary as well.