Saturday, July 24, 2010
The Merolini Make a Scene
The San Francisco Opera's summer training for young artists, the Merola Opera Program, had its first public concert at the Herbst Theatre a week ago with ten singers and a small orchestra performing five extended scenes from various operas. The program is going to be repeated FOR FREE at the Yerba Buena Center gardens on Sunday afternoon tomorrow at 2 PM. If you're in the neighborhood, you should definitely check the concert out because there are plenty of delights in the cast. Also, there might be more room at the outdoor garden than there was on the tiny Herbst Theatre stage, where the acting area was a perilous narrow strip in front of a row of chairs and tables.
The first scenes are from Handel's 18th-century "Rodelinda" and since there were no supertitles, there was an explanation of the plot in the program that was so convoluted it was hilarious. Adding to the silliness was the overuse of a stiff baby doll prop wrapped in a blanket which kept being passed from one singer to another (from left to right, Ryan Kunster, Robin Flynn, Rebecca Davis, Kevin Ray). When Kuster pulled out a knife and sang his evil Garibaldo aria, I was half hoping that he was going to commit infanticide.
The second scene was a tortured aria for Charlotte in Massenet's "Werther" opera, sung by Renee Rapier (above right) who sounded more like a contralto than a mezzo to me. She ended up being inadvertently upstaged by the exquisitely beautiful voice of Janai Brugger-Orman (above left) playing her sister Sophie.
The other ready-for-major-stages voice was tenor Eleazar Rodriguez who was in "The Music Lesson" scene from Rossini's "Barber of Seville." He was joined by the singers above (from left to right, Kevin Thompson, Eleazar Rodriguez, Dan Kempson, Ryan Kuster, and Colleen Brooks), who all did a great job, skillfully navigating through some overdone schtick from director Roy Rallo. The other standout was Kevin Thompson who doesn't seem to have his resonant bass voice quite under control yet, but what a voice. I haven't heard anything quite that huge since Robert Lloyd, the great British bass.
After intermission, there was a duet from Smetana's "The Bartered Bride," which is on a top ten list for operas I know by heart but have never seen live. Rebecca Davis, accompanied by Kevin Ray above, sang beautifully.
The finale was an extended scene from a 19th century German operetta version of Shakespeare's "The Merry Wives of Windsor" by Otto Nicolai. Big bass Kevin Thompson sang Falstaff, and Eleazar Rodriguez and Janai Brugger-Orman (above left) as the young lovers at the end of the scene stole the entire show with a perfect love duet. It's worth making your way to Yerba Buena just for that moment.