Valentina Nafornita, a 24-year-old soprano from Moldova won the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition on Sunday night. Triumphing over four other finalists remaining from the 20 singers chosen to audition, Nafornita beat out singers with far more experience and professional accomplishments. The youngest competitor, she took home £15,000 ($24,200) in prize money and engagements with the BBC and the Welsh National Opera.
The weeklong contest -- which once helped to start the international career of the bass-baritone Bryn Terfel -- is something equivalent to "American Idol" in the opera world, albeit without judges hurling snarky insults at contestants (so far as we know). Continuing the reality-television analogy, Nafornita also won the audience prize, voted for by listeners and TV viewers.
Nafornita is from Moldova, a small country nestled between Romania and the Ukraine. She began collegiate studies at the Stefan Neaga Music College in Kishinev, and currently works with Eleonora Enăchescu the National University of Music in Bucharest. Though Cardiff may be her biggest win to date, she is no stranger to the international prize circuit and has taken the Orange Prize for Young Musicians and a second prize in the Hariclea Darclée Voice Competition, both in Romania.
The competition was established in 1983, almost a decade before "American Idol" and Britain’s "Pop Idol" took their hold over audiences. It was envisioned by its creator, J Mervyn Williams, as a display of top international talent in the newly-built St. David’s Hall in Wales. Since then, the vision has been largely realized: this year, over 600 singers competed, from 68 countries, in 44 preliminary audition locations around the world.
Past winners include Karita Mattila, Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Ekaterina Scherbachenko.
Competing against Nafornita was an international pool of candidates including Andrei Bondarenko, a baritone from the neighboring Ukraine, Olesya Petrova, a Russian mezzo, Hye-Jung Lee, a Korean soprano educated in Germany and the US, and Meeta Raval, an Englisher singer of Indian descent who also was the first Head Girl Chorister in the U.K.
The judges for the competition included soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, baritone Hakan Hagegard, Russian-born conductor Alexander Polianichko, Lorenzo Mariani the artistic director at Palermo Opera House in Italy, tenor Dennis O'Neill and pianist Bengt Forsberg, among others.
Nafornita won over the panel of judges with a program consisting of Donizetti’s “Regnava nel silenzio” from Lucia di Lammermoor, Dvorák’s “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka, and Gounod’s “Je veux vivre” from Roméo et Juliette.
Since the winners have gone on to professional successes, it may be only a short matter of time before audiences will hear Nafornita in the United States. Watch the final below: