Sunday, July 12, 2015

Schwabacher Summer Concert 2015

San Francisco Opera's summer boot camp for young professionals, the Merola Opera Program, inaugurated its annual series of public performances on Thursday evening at the SF Conservatory with the Schwabacher Summer Concert. Nine singers performed long chunks from four operas in front of a full orchestra: Carlisle Floyd's Susannah, Verdi's La Traviata and Don Carlo, and Wagner's Die Walkure. Some of the student singers were overmatched in difficult roles, others showed great promise, and a few completely triumphed. (Pictured above left to right are bass Ming Zhao, soprano Toni Marie Palmertree, mezzo Raehann Bryce-Davis, conductor Valery Ryvkin, bass Scott Russell. baritone Sol Jin, tenor Michael Papincak, and soprano Meredith Mecum.)

Susannah, in a scene where the innocent young country girl is being seduced by the twisted Reverend Olin Blitch, began the evening, and Meredith Mecum had such a huge soprano voice that she virtually overpowered Scott Russell as the baddie. This was followed by Act Two of La Traviata, with another large-voiced soprano in Tonie Marie Palmertree as the Parisian courtesan and Michael Papincak having troubles with his tenor voice as her lover Alfredo. The highlight of the act was the baritone Sol Jin as old daddy Germont pleading with Violetta to break up with his son for propriety's sake. Germont is usually cast with an older baritone, and it was a delight hearing his music sung by a light, younger, handsome voice. (Pictured above left to right are Ming Zhao as the Commissario, Scott Russell as Giuseppe, Raehann Bryce-Davis as Annina, Tonie Marie Palmertree as Violetta, Michael Papincak as Alredo, and Sol Jin as Germont.)

The Die Walkure excerpt was from Act 2, Scene 4, between Michael Papincak as Siegmund and Meredith Mecium as Brunnhilde. Mecum had no problem soaring over the slowly paced orchestra, but Papincak again seemed overmatched. Much more successful was the opening thirty-plus minutes from Act 4 of Don Carlo. Bass Ming Zhao did a beautiful job as King Filippo with his opening tragic aria accompanied by Victoria Ehrlich on cello, and his fine voice will probably only get stronger and darker as the years go on. Tonie Marie Palmertree tore it up as his queen Elisabetta, and Scott Russell and Sol Jin offered fine support as The Grand Inquisitor and Rodrigo respectively.

Every year, among the two-dozen plus participants in the program, somebody gets slighted in terms of public performance time, and this year it seems to be mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis above. She sang a few lines as the maid in La Traviata, and was finally given an aria, O Don Fatale, at the end of the Don Carlo excerpt, where she essentially stole the evening. The sound ranged from a rich, deep, contralto to a creamy, hall-ringing high soprano, and everything in between. This was a voice I could happily hear sing just about anything, with its hints of Ewa Podles, Shirley Verrett and other great mezzo-sopranos. She also invested the character with real passion, sending the audience out buzzing.

Standing to her left above was the director for the evening, Roy Rallo, whose work was straightforward and not as silly as it has been in the past. There were no overturned pieces of furniture, for instance, though the three trees that seemed to wander about the stage like refugees from Macbeth's Birnham Wood were a puzzlement. There are three more chances to see and hear the Merola singers in action over the next couple of months, at Fort Mason's Cowell Theater and at the SF Opera House. Click here for the Merola website with more info.

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