Thursday, June 16, 2011

Drama in Cardiff

I've been making a proper effort to catch this year's Cardiff Singer of the World - sorry, BBC Cardiff Singer of the World - on TV and radio.
On BBC Four, they've made the decision that this is a sort of highbrow X Factor, while accepting that you can't really do anything to interfere with the performances themselves. So in the thrilling buildup we get things like shots of the singers in a group, with a slow zoom followed by a sudden, rapid zoom. You know the one - achieved not with a camera but in the editing room afterwards, so it's jerky. They even add a "whoosh" sound effect so that the visually impaired will know the editor is doing amazing things. And they get each of the contestants and judges to pose so they can swirl the camera at them while they look menacing, lovable, or just perplexed, all the while accompanied by extremely dramatic music, so dramatic that you're half expecting one of them to be Russell Crowe. So dramatic that you might think that at some point in the program David Warner's going to get decapitated by a sheet of glass. I suppose the program makers do have to commission new music for the occasion, but if you want operatic-sounding music for a song contest, well, you could do worse than model yourself on Wagner. He could tell the difference between a song contest and the siege of Minas Tirith.
Elsewhere, presentation descends to the banal. In an effort to, I don't know, make the contestants seem more human or something, we get little vignettes in which presenter Josie d'Arby hangs around with each singer and asks them complicated questions like whether winning the competition would be important for them. This kind of interviewing, or perhaps more accurately this way of editing and presenting an interview, seems to be aimed at viewers who lack all empathy with the person being interviewed and need to hear the bleeding obvious spelled out. It also tends to infect Petroc Trelawney's brief conversations with judges.
Trelawney: Reknowned Swedish baritone Håkan Hagegård, do the judges have to make tough choices when deciding whom to declare the winner?
Hagegård: What do you think, you gobshite?
Then there's the awful bit where, after the singer has walked off and Trelawney asks one of his guests something, we quickly go backstage to where d'Arby finds out how the singer is feeling. You may be fascinated to know that their feelings tend towards being pleased with how it went, some relief, perhaps a few little things went wrong but overall they're happy. As you would imagine, but it's nice to be told directly, isn't it? Otherwise you'd go to bed that night wondering about it. In fairness the singers haven't yet told d'Arby to fuck off and leave them alone, not even Olga Kindler of Switzerland, who forgot where she was in her aria from Aida.
You just know that somewhere in the BBC was a producer desperate to get footage of Kiri Te Kanawa swearing at Kindler and saying "You're fired!"
Are there any good things about the show? Yes. The music, and the singing.

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