Tuesday, August 24, 2010

2010 Merola Grand Finale

Young opera singers' boot camp, otherwise known as the Merola Opera Program, finished up its 10 weeks of instruction with the traditional Merola Grand Finale at the San Francisaco Opera House on Saturday evening. It was a three-hour concert of operatic scenes featuring the 21 graduating singers accompanied by the full Opera orchestra in the pit. The Finale used to be a competition, with cash awards given out under various sponsors' names, but that has changed over the years, and now the competition involves being chosen for one of the coveted two-year Adler fellowships by the company.

The set for the evening consisted of four tall prop cypress trees from the last act of Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" which is being presented yet again this fall season in the old Zach Brown production which must be about 30 years old. The conductor was the young Dean Williamson, who was fine in the two Richard Strauss selections, but took just about everything else at much too lugubrious a tempo. The first number was from the opening of Stravinsky's "The Rake's Progress," and after a shaky start, Alexander Lewis and Janai Brugger-Orman (above), along with Kevin Thompson (below), were wonderful.

Thompson ended the first half of the program with an aria from an obscure Strauss opera, "Die schweigsame Frau," and he was great, filling the house with his monster bass and ending the piece with a sustained low note that seemed to last for a good ten minutes.

A few of my favorite other moments were Eleazar Rodriguez and Abigail Santos Villalobos (above) in a duet from Donizetti's "La Fille du Regiment." Although the schtick from director Ted Huffman in this scene was a bit much, looking like "Anything You Can Do" from "Annie Get Your Gun," the performers made it work.

I also loved the stage savvy Thomas Florio (above) as Bottom in a long scene from Britten's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" along with the lovely sounding Hye Jung Lee as Tytania. By the end, I was wishing they'd just continue and perform the whole, wonderful opera, except for the fact that they used adult women as The Fairies when they are expressly written for boy sopranos. This is the third time in a row I've heard this substitution, and I don't want to have to say this again: It doesn't work!

The penultimate number was a duet from Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette," yet another selection from 19th century French opera, a genre that is not on my list of musical favorites. It was sung by Daniel Montenegro and Nadine Sierra (above), the two leads in "The Elixir of Love" earlier this month at Fort Mason, and they were fabulous, though the director had them pawing each other so aggressively, it seemed as if they might end up naked a la Zeferelli's movie version.

(All performance photos are by Kristen Loken Ansley.)

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