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'Singer of the world' contest reaches its climax
The Cardiff Singer of the World contest, a global showcase for the best young singing talent, is coming to its enthralling conclusion - with a few surprises...

Tonight (Thursday) the last five singers take the stage at Cardiff's St David's Hall. They are from Bulgaria, Scotland, Poland, Macedonia and Georgia.

Last night Concert Four featured singers from France, Greece, Germany, Australia and Russia - the last being 25-year-old mezzo Ekaterina Semenchuk, who was featured by GMN earlier this year and is poised to become one of the brightest stars of the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg.

Great things were expected of Semenchuk, fueled by those musicians and members of the public who have seen her in action. She shone in performances of arias by Massenet and Donizetti and songs by Tchaikovsky, Minkov and Borodin.

But Semenchuk did not win the concert prize. Instead, that went to German baritone Markus Bruck who, with his long, flowing hair, profound musicianship and commanding presence stole the hearts of the audience and the judges with songs by Schumann and Richard Strauss and arias by Gounod, Mozart and Wagner.

The winners for the first three concerts were Romanian tenor Marius Brenciu, mezzo Elina Garanca from Latvia, and soprano Andion Fernandez from the Philippines, who won the Zarzuela Prize at Placido Domingo's Operalia competition in Hamburg in 1998.

The third concert, in particular, had a special kind of atmosphere due, perhaps, to the expectations of the home audience of their Welsh competitor Joanne Thomas, and also to the late substitution of the confident and characterful Mexican tenor Luis Rodriguez - who had been on the reserves list - for the Croatian tenor Tomislav Muzek, who was indisposed.

The final of the contest takes place on Saturday, although the finalists will not necessarily include all the winners of this week's heats. Places in the final are allocated on a points basis, which means that the runner-up or even third placed singer in one round could be chosen above a lower-scoring winner from another round.

This year's judges are chaired by Welsh National Opera General Manager Anthony Freud, and include the legendary artists Marilyn Horne, Joan Sutherland, Gundula Janovitz and Tom Krause, as well as San Francisco Opera General Director Pamela Rosenberg and Edinburgh Festival chief executive Brian McMaster.

Winning Cardiff Singer of the World is enormously prestigious. The winner is often catapulted to fame and this marks the start of a highly successful international career. The immediate benefits are a prize of £10,000, a trophy donated by Welsh Royal Crystal and an additional concert with a BBC Orchestra.

Each of the other finalists will receive a prize of £2,000. There’s also the Song Prize which is awarded to the singer with the best performance of Lieder, art song or folksong during the entire competition. This prize is not restricted to the finalists. He or she receives £2,000 and an additional concert with a BBC Orchestra. The winners of the Song Prize have gone on to careers as brilliant as the overall winner - a dazzling example being the bass-baritone Bryn Terfel.

Thu Jun 14 2001 (4:07:22 PM)