Tuesday, August 20, 2013
The Six Tenors at the Merola Grand Finale
This year's group of aspiring opera stars in the Merola summer training program may have been the strongest and most consistent crop in the program's long history. The proof was in a concert last Saturday at the San Francisco Opera House where a couple of dozen singers performed arias both famous and obscure, along with various extended operatic scenes over the course of three hours.
There always seem to be plenty of decent baritones and sopranos in the program, but tenors are a rarer and more problematic voice type for some reason. What was freakish this year were that the six tenors this summer ranged from very good to ready-for-stardom. Casey Finnegan (above left), who performed the small role of a foppish Don Basilio in Le Nozze di Figaro earlier this summer, sang a long aria on Saturday from Weber's Der Freischutz and he brought down the house with a strong, supremely musical rendition. Pene Pati (above center), performing a scene with the excellent Maria Valdes as Manon in Massenet's opera, confirmed that he is ready to be a superstar tenor at the age of 25 in any opera house in the world right now. Robert Watson (above right), who was my favorite voice in this summer's The Rape of Lucretia as the Male Chorus, confirmed his Benjmamin Britten credentials while passionately singing Captain Vere in a scene from Billy Budd with the fine Alex DeSocio as Billy and Thomas Richards as Claggart. (Every year one or two participants get the shaft in terms of performance time, and this year it was Richards who seemed to be treated as Merola's poor relation.)
The Tenorthon continued with Efrain Solis (above left) flexibly singing a funny duet with baritone John Arnold from Rossini's La Cenerentola. His fine performance was marred only by what seemed to be an extended, archaic fag joke from apprentice stage director George Cederquist that was borderline offensive. Issachah Savage (above center) sang Mein lieber Schwann from Wagner's Lohengrin in a huge, ringing voice that is probably going to be seeing a lot of work because voices this big are rare. Finally, Matthew Newlin (above right, with Kate Allen), performed a fleet footed duet from Offenbach's La belle Helene in a light, beautiful tenor.
All the performances were on a set borrowed from this fall's upcoming Falstaff production, and La Cenerentola aside, the simple direction by Cederquist was fine. The conducting by John DeMain was consistently mediocre, and though there probably wasn't a whole lot of rehearsal time, the San Francisco Opera Orchestra is a much better ensemble than we heard on Saturday. It didn't matter, because the Merolini more than compensated musically. (All photos by Kristen Loken.)