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Nicole Cabell, last Winner 2005
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New Frocks for Old – Cardiff Singer of the World, 2007

Back in the early 1980’s two good ideas came to fruition: the much-needed new concert hall for Cardiff, capital city of Wales, and plans to hold within it the first “Singer of the World” competition.

Above: Nicole Cabell, last Winner 2005

All photos courtesy of BBC TV


When one looks back at early videos of the first competition in 1983 and compares with today’s slick production several things become evident. In 2007 there is a far larger geographical spread of contestants and there is now remarkable vocal quality-in-depth. On a more frivolous front, and perhaps indicative of current obsessions with image in the world of opera, the frocks on display have also become extremely sexy and chic compared to their distinctly dowdy predecessors. The men’s tailoring has changed rather less, it must be said, although it is obvious that they, too, are now more aware of their presentation on stage – one Finalist this year, countertenor David DQ Lee, looking particularly stylish.

Since that first competition (which, incidentally, Karita Mattila won) there have been many exciting, memorable performances and vocal trials of strength. Who can forget the 1989 “battle of the baritones” between Bryn Terrell and Dmitri Hvorostovsky? This bi-annual contest has grown steadily in size and stature over the years, and it is now regarded as one of the premier singing competitions in the world. Certainly recent Winners and Finalists of both the Main Prize and the Lieder Prize read like a contemporary hall of fame: Nicole Cabell, Ailish Tynan, Katarina Karnéus, Lisa Gasteen, Marius Brenciu, Christopher Maltman and Andrew Kennedy, to name just a few.

Karita-Mattila-1983.pngThis year’s competition will have been hard-fought and exhausting for both juries and contestants – over 1000 people applied to take part, 677 from 64 countries took part in auditions held in 44 locations around the globe, and the final 25 singers who have survived the selection process so far arrived in Cardiff this week. Although the two Prizes are valuable in monetary terms - £15,000 and £5,000 for Singer of the World and the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize respectively with £2,500 for each of this year’s other four finalists – it is the world media exposure that is often the key to future success for these young performers. Cardiff is a shop window, par excellence.

One very famous face who is there to welcome them is the competition’s Patron, Dame Joan Sutherland who said “the competition is always a wonderful experience for not only the St. David’s Hall audience and multimedia audiences across the world, but is also a delight for every competitor taking part.” Today, Cardiff Singer of the World is very much a global entertainment, with a TV, radio and online audience of eight million able to watch, listen and download information on the wealth of young vocal talent on display, not forgetting, of course, those frocks.

The competition is now under way with the two Finals being decided on Friday and Sunday nights. Details of timings, tickets, master classes and contestants are available online at

Sue Loder © 2007

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