Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Merola Grand Finale 2012

The Merola Opera Program's summer training of young professionals came to an end on Saturday evening with their annual Grand Finale, which involves standing, singing and sometimes acting out various Arias and Scenes from operas that have nothing to do with each other. This summer's crop of singers was unusually strong overall, with a couple of star standouts in soprano Jennifer Cherest and tenor Chuanyue Wang. (All photos in this post are by Kristen Loken.)

In fact, all the tenors in this year's program were very good, including Andrew Stenson, Theo Lebow, AJ Glueckert, Yi Li, Casey Candebat, and Joshua Baum (above left, with Seth Mease Carico and Gordon Bintner in an amusingly staged trio from Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri.)

The conducting by the Philharmonia Baroque's Nicholas McGegan of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra was all over the place, sometimes superb and occasionally running off the tracks. The same can be said for the stage direction by apprentice stage director Jennifer Williams. Most of the acting was great, such as the lascivious duet between Rose Sawvel as Eurydice and Joseph Lattanzi as Jupiter, above, in a scene from Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld. Other scenes, like a chunk from Britten's The Rape of Lucretia, didn't fare as well.

If there was any serious criticism to be made of the evening, it was the physical production itself. They used a huge wall backdrop with handholds on it from the upcoming Moby Dick production this fall, which served as an acoustically friendly backdrop for the singers. The problem was that the lighting was godawful, with the singers wandering in and out of visibility all evening.

There was also a single, piercingly annoying ghost light in the middle of the stage all evening (it's being hugged above by tenor Andrew Stenson during an aria from The Merry Widow). The only other props were some overturned chairs and an overturned divan. This is the third Merola production in the last year where I have seen overturned furniture as part of the concept, and I still don't get it. When an upstage chair was picked up and sat on properly by one of the singers an hour into the evening, a gentleman behind me muttered, "It's about time."

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