Welsh male choir Only Men Aloud has triumphed over Pope Benedict XVI by winning the prestigious album of the year prize at the 2010 Classical BRIT Awards.
The 20-member strong choir, who first found fame on U.K. reality TV show "Last Choir Standing," walked away with the award for best album for its 2009 studio set "Band of Brothers" (Decca) at last night's (May 13) ceremony, which was held at London's Royal Albert Hall.
Other titles nominated in the album of the year category included "Faryl" (Decca), the debut album by 14-year-old "Britain's Got Talent" star Faryl Smith and "O Fortuna" (Syco Music) by fellow reality TV graduate Rhydian Roberts, along with the nod for "Music From the Vatican (Alma Mater featuring the voice of Pope Benedict XVI)" (Geffen).
Welsh Male Choir Tradition
Accepting the album of the year award, which was voted for by listeners of national radio station Classic FM, founder of Only Men Aloud Tim Rhys-Evans told guests, "This really is a huge, huge surprise. We've been given the most terrific opportunity since winning 'Last Choir Standing' and with this album I really wanted to make it about our home and about the tradition that I am so deeply passionate about - the Welsh male choir tradition."
Other big winners on the night included Russian-born Vasily Petrenko, who won male artist of the year for his recordings with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and Sony Classics-signed violinist Jack Liebeck, who triumphed over double Classical BRIT nominee Faryl to take home the title of young British classical performer of the year.
Seeing off tough competition from previous winners Anna Netrebko and Marin Alsop, opera star Angela Gheorghiu took home the award for female artist of the year, unintentionally providing one of the night's more humorous moments in the process.
Leaning into the microphone to accept her award, Gheorghiu, who won universal acclaim for her recent title role contribution to Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" issued on EMI Classics, suffered what can only be described as the opera equivalent of a wardrobe malfunction when a lingering shot of her chest was projected onto the TV screens displayed behind her. The gaff led host Myleene Klass to joke "some interesting camera work there."
Gheorghiu, who performed "Un bel dì vedremo" from "Madama Butterfly" live at the ceremony, later brushed aside her embarrassment with a cheeky smile before telling Billboard.biz that she was "overjoyed " to win her second female artist of the year award at the Classical BRIT Awards.
Gheorghiu previously won the title in 2001.
"This is my second in my life so I'm really proud and it's for 'Madama Butterfly,' which I adore to record," she went on to say, adding "it's really a joy to be recognized for such a wonderful opera."
There were also performances from André Rieu, the London Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Christopher Warren-Green, the band of the Coldstream Guards and a rousing rendition of "Tre sbirri, una carrozza" from "Tosca" by Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel.
Other winners on the evening included Thomas Newman, who won soundtrack of the year for his score to Sam Mendes' film "Revolutionary Road" (Nonesuch), and Thomas Adès, who took home the composer of the year title for "The Tempest" (EMI Classics).
The critics' award, which was voted by a panel of national media representatives, was collectively assigned to Antonio Pappano with Rolando Villazon, Anja Harteros, Sonja Ganassi, Rene Pape and Roma Orchestra dell' Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia for "Verdi: Messa da Requiem."
Marking a first in the Classical BRIT awards 11 year history, a live performance of unofficial U.K. sporting anthem "Nessun Dorma," performed on the evening by Blake, Camilla Kerslake and Howard Goodall's Enchanted Voices, will be made available to purchase online with all proceeds going to charity organization the BRITS Trust, a donor charity that funds the BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology and Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy.
"Nessun Dorma" is available to pre-order now from iTunes and goes on sale at all major download stores at 00.01am (GMT) on May 19. The awards ceremony will be broadcast at 10.35pm on May 18 on ITV1.
Te Kanawa Slams U.K. Immigration 'Problem'
The evening culminated with the presentation of a lifetime achievement award to New Zealand-born artist Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, who closed the ceremony with a rendition of "Ach, Ich Fühl's" from "Die Zauberflöte."
Accepting her award from actor Jeremy Irons, who called the artist "one of our most beloved and talented sopranos", Te Kanawa said: "I gratefully accept the award for lifetime achievement. It has been an achievement and it's taken a lifetime."
Reflecting on her latest award in a highly distinguished career, Te Kanawa told Billboard.biz, "Every accolade [I receive] promotes the classical world. That's all I care about," before launching a thinly veiled criticism on the immigration policy of recently disposed U.K. Labour government.
"There is an immigration problem," said Te Kanawa, who was born in Gisborne, New Zealand but trained in London. "The immigration is against New Zealand and Australia because we have great difficulty with getting our students in now because of the visa situation and they can't study enough."
"It's a very contentious point," continued the singer, who also runs the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation, a charity organization which offers support and financial aid to Australasian singers and musician. "I understand what the government is trying to do. I just want my singers to get through."
Established in 2000 to recognize and promote the achievements of classical music in the U.K, the Classical BRIT Awards is run by the BPI, the U.K. record companies trade association. Sponsors for this year's event were NS&I (National Savings and Investments).