Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The 2015 Merola Grand Finale

An annual ritual, the Merola Opera training program for young professionals completed its summer-long session with a concert on the San Francisco Opera stage of various arias and scenes with all the participants wearing fancy dress. This year's crop of singers were not as deep as some previous editions, but there were a few obvious standouts. (All photos in this post by Kristen Loken.)

Alex DeSocio as Starbuck and Michael Papincak as Captain Ahab performed a scene from Jake Heggie's Moby Dick, an opera that strikes me as Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd Lite, without any of the genius. Papincak was much more comfortable in the role and on the big stage than he had been earlier this summer at the Schwabacher Concert, and DeSocio reinforced the good impression he made in Don Pasquale.

It was during this scene that the stark set for this fall's upcoming Sweeney Todd was graced with a new prop, a birdcage with a white candle inside, as part of some obscure concept by director Ma Zhou, who overall did an efficient, fairly seamless job of putting together what is essentially an operatic variety show with one damned thing after another.

The birdcage started becoming ridiculous after a while as various singers started draping themselves around it during their scenas. Toni-Marie Palmertree got away with it, though, because she did a sensational job singing an obscure Verdi opera from Il Corsaro.

Earlier this summer, the New Zealand tenor Alasdair Kent played a mute in The Medium, small character roles in Gianni Schicchi and Don Pasquale, was mute again for a scene from La Sonnambula early in the Grand Finale, a character tenor in Barber of Seville later on, and finally got to sing an aria straight, so to speak, Horch! Die Lerche sing im Hain, from Nicolai's operetta version of The Merry Wives of Windsor. It's a pleasure to report that Alasdair actually has a very sweet tenor voice.

The two stars of the summer for me were mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davies and baritone Kuhun Yoon above, so it was thrilling to have them thrown together for a duet from Cavalleria Rusticana. I don't even like the opera but wanted the scene to go on forever.

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