Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Splendid Schwabacher Summer Concert

The Merola Opera Program for aspiring young professionals starts their 12-week boot camp every summer with The Schwabacher Concert. Backed by a full orchestra, young singers perform excerpts from various operas with limited staging. Usually it’s a hit-and-miss affair, but this year’s installment at the SF Conservatory was wildly successful, thanks to an unusually strong roster of vocalists (left to right above Nicholas Boragno, Mary Evelyn Hangley, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, Jana McIntyre, Taylor Raven, Josh Lovell, Tara Curtis, Kyle van Schoohoven, and Sarah Cambidge).

The Saturday afternoon concert started with the first six scenes from Handel’s Serse, where all the characters who are in love with the wrong person are introduced. Countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen above has a strong, spectacularly beautiful voice, and his opening aria to a tree, Ombra mai fu, was enchanting.

The conducting all afternoon by Eric Weimer (above center, flanked by Cohen and Jana McIntyre) was sensitive and idiomatic in operas ranging from Baroque Handel to 20th Century Stravinsky and Poulenc.

Stravinsky was represented by the two dullest scenes from The Rake’s Progress, enlivened by Josh Lovell with a superior tenor voice and diction and bass-baritone Nicholas Boragno as Nick Shadow a.k.a. Satan.

Also appearing was mezzo-soprano Tara Curtis as Baba the Turk in an amusing cameo.

One of my least favorite Richard Strauss operas, Arabella, was well represented by Mary Evelyn Hangley singing a long, difficult aria as the title character superbly. It almost made one want to hear the entire piece.

After intermission, the first scene from Act Three of Wagner’s Lohengrin ensued. Sarah Cambidge as Elsa on her wedding night pleaded with her new husband Lohengrin to reveal his real name even though he’d warned her that would ruin everything. Cambidge has a strong, beautiful soprano but she oversang a bit into shrillness, while Schoonhoven’s tenor sounded mostly effortless and ready for the major leagues.

The sweet-and-sour sonorities of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmelites were a welcome contrast, and Tara Curtis on the bed chewed the scenery with her huge voice as the Mother Superior who is terrified of dying. Mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven (above left) was wonderful in supporting stints all afternoon, and it would have been nice to hear her in a starring role.

Raven was backup again to Jana McIntyre and Josh Lovell (in drag) in a very funny, well-sung scene from Rossini’s Le Comte Ory, which ended with the entire cast from the afternoon joining in as a finale chorus. The stage direction at these Schwabacher concerts is usually a mixture of clunky and silly, but the young Omer Ben Seadia, a Merola alumnae herself, did a brilliant job of creating fully realized scenes with a minimum of schtick and a maximum of focus. Please bring her back. (Production photos by Kristen Loken.)


Patrick J. Vaz said...

Which do you think are the dull scenes in The Rake's Progress?

Michael Strickland said...

Dear Patrick: Scenes 1 in Act Two, where our rake is bored and useless, so Nick Shadow convinces him to marry Baba the Turk as a bit of perverse "freedom." Scene 3 in Act Two where the stones-into-bread machine is introduced. Everything else in the opera I pretty much love.