Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Merola Opera Grand Finale 2014
The annual summer boot camp in San Francisco for aspiring opera professionals finished with the traditional Grand Finale where all the young singers performed an aria and/or duet and/or ensemble with an orchestra at the San Francisco Opera House. Last Saturday's edition was one of the best I've seen, partly because of the crisp, unfussy direction by apprentice stage director Omer Ben Seadia which kept the disparate numbers moving along swiftly. It also helped that this year's crop of Merolini were mostly very good singers. (All of the press photos are by Kristen Loken, who did an especially excellent job this year.)
The most effusive praise from some critics was for Julie Adams and Casey Candebat above in a duet from Mascagni's L'amico Fritz. They both sounded lovely, though I didn't buy Ms. Adams in her sparkly concert gown as a young peasant girl picking cherries for her employer.
There were plenty of equally good performances, including Karen Chia-ling Ho as Margherita in Boito's Mefistofole, where she sang the doomed, crazy character with no holds barred and got away with it. After her performance as Donna Elvira in last month's Don Giovanni, I'd happily watch her sing just about anything.
Two other stars of Don Giovanni, Amanda Woodbury and Edward Nelson above sounded great as Ophelia and Hamlet in a duet from the dreary Ambroise Thomas operatic version of the Shakespeare play.
Shirin Eskandani and Szymon Wach sang a duet as Cinderella and her Fairy Godfather Alidoro from Rossini's La Cenerentola, and it was a particular treat hearing Wach's young, pretty, pliable bass-baritone in music that is usually assigned to gruffer, older singers.
There were three excerpts from operas that made me want to hear them done whole by the Merola program some upcoming summer, including Richard Strauss' chamber opera, Ariadne auf Naxos, which was nicely performed by Talya Lieberman as Zerbinetta seducing the serious Shirin Eskandani as the Composer.
It would also be wonderful to see Mozart's rarely performed final opera, La Clemenza de Tito, which is ripe for an interesting staging and has at least half a dozen juicy parts for young singers, as Niam Wang and Casey Candebat demonstrated, in Sesto's pleading aria for forgiveness to the Emperor Tito.
The conducting by Ari Pelto was barely adequate, especially the leaden Nabucco overture, but he must have been doing something right because the actual sound of the orchestra all evening was rich and delightful. They were also able to switch stylistically on a dime from Italian Verismo to Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress above, another perfect opera for a young Merola cast, in the above scene performed well by Benjamin Werley as Tom Rakewell and Matthew Stump as Nick Shadow.