Saturday, January 09, 2016

Patricia Racette, Merola Diva

An awards reception was held at the newly retrofit Veterans Building's Green Room on Thursday evening, honoring American soprano Patricia Racette with the Merola Distinguished Alumni Award. (Pictured above left to right are former Merola president and current Board member Donna Blacker, Racette, and Merola Executive Director Jean Kellogg.)

The Merola program is an independent adjunct of the San Francisco Opera, which runs an annual summer training boot camp in San Francisco for young opera singers who are aspiring to turn professional. The three dozen or so singers and coaches and directors from around the world are given a stipend rather than having to pay for the experience, and are usually housed at the homes of Merola donors, many of whom were in attendance on Thursday.

Patricia Racette was in the program in 1988, when through a series of fateful accidents, she ended up on a tour with Merola's Western Opera Theater singing the demanding title role of Madama Butterfly way before she probably should have been. She then graduated to the main stage of the SF Opera as an Adler fellow, playing small roles like the Celestial Voice in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake Aida and the Fifth Maidservant in Elektra with Gwyneth Jones before forging a great international career of her own.

I was transformed from a Racette admirer to a full-fledged worshiper after appearing onstage as a supernumerary in a 2007 production of Madama Butterfly in the old Ron Daniels production with Brandon Jovanovich making his SF Opera debut as Pinkerton. I don't even like Madama Butterfly but the performance was so moving that some of us were relieved to have black veils over our faces as Kabuki kurokos because we were crying.

Racette is also smart, funny, and clear-eyed about her art. Her speech to the Merola donors and former colleagues about the program was gracious, as she noted how outrageously naive and green she was when they all first met. "You turned what was a hobby into a profession. Thank you from the bottom of my heart." Racette just performed in a new production of Shostakovich's wild Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at London's English National Opera, where she got raves from the critics. It would be great to hear her in the same role at the San Francisco Opera.


Janos Gereben said...

Kudos to the writer and to the singer. The "Butterfly" you write about was a strange and wonderful happening, I called it a "shock" -

Lisa Hirsch said...

There's a rumor of Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk at SFO....with Brandon Jovanovich, with whom Racette has known chemistry.

And yeah about that Butterfly. I saw the first performance, probably the single most perfect opera performance I will ever see.

Michael Strickland said...

Dear Lisa: Racette and Jovanovich in those roles would be great casting. I love that opera, though I wasn't crazy about the last Expressionist stylized production they put on at SF Opera during Rosenberg's reign. One of the greatest performances I've ever seen delivered by anyone, anywhere, was the British soprano Josephine Barstow at the SF Opera as the title character. She started off looking prim and repressed, then wildly sensual after the adulterous sex scene, and finally like the Cold Heart of Death and Darkness at the end, and you believed her every step of the way. I think I saw all half dozen performances.

Hattie said...

Wow. Would I have loved to see those performances. You are so lucky. That room is gorgeous, too.