Saturday, August 26, 2017

Merola Opera Grand Finale

The Merola Opera Program summer bootcamp for aspiring professionals came to an end last Saturday with a Grand Finale concert at the San Francisco Opera House. In many respects, the annual concert is a bittersweet affair, because making a living as an opera singer may be one of the trickier career goals in the world, requiring extraordinary musical talent, a deity provided voice, a huge amount of work, connections, and luck. On the other hand, the highly competitive program is offered for free, with places to bunk at the homes of patrons, a small stipend, and colleagues who often stay supportive friends for life. (All production photos are by Kristen Loken.)

The Grand Finale concert is always a strange grab-bag of arias and scenes from operas that span centuries, styles, and languages. This year the selections were tilted towards the obscure, with a few exceptions such as a duet from Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci sung with feeling and grace by baritone Dimitri Katotakis above and soprano Alexandra Razskazoff (not pictured), making one actually care about the characters.

After a lovely aria from Massenet's Cendrillon by mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon, tenor Andres Acosta above sang an aria of joy at being free of his wife, from Donizetti's one-act opera Rita. Student stage director Victoria Crutchfield turned it into a production number where our hero is finally free to be gay, which was borderline offensive, but not as offensive as the original story which is a comedy about domestic abuse. Acosta sang and danced all over the David Hockney Turandot stairs which were the backdrop for the second half of the evening, and he and his buddies performed with such panache that the number was a triumph. Plus, Acosta has a beautiful voice.

Another highlight was a scene from Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, with mezo-soprano Samantha Hankey as the serious drag king composer and soprano Jana McIntyre as the frivolous and flirtatious Zerbinetta. Hankey in particular sounded gorgeous and it made me wish for a full production of my favorite Strauss opera.

The penultimate scene before the all-hands-on-stage finale involved a quartet of singers from Donizetti's La Favorite. Acosta returned as Don Gaspar, as did Ashley Dixon as Leonor, accompanying bass-baritone Szymon Wach as the king, and tenor Addison Marlor above as the young lover Fernand. They were all wonderful, especially Marlor who had already impressed everyone during the first half of the program in a scene from Ambroise Thomas' Mignon.

The conducing by Antony Walker was very Goldilocks, sometimes too fast, sometimes too slow, and sometimes just right. Overall, I thought he and the orchestra did a fine job with the many kinds of music they were performing. Crutchfield directed the scenes so they flowed smoothly from one to the next, and managed not to be completely overwhelmed by the weirdly inappropriate Turandot sets. Good luck to all the Merolini, and may some of them make it all the way upstream to a professional singing career.


Lisa Hirsch said...

Victoria Crutchfield has got to be Will Crutchfield's daughter. She has directed twice at Caramoor, for one thing.

Michael Strickland said...

Interesting. I was introduced to her at intermission where she looked like she was going to have an anxiety attack. She did just fine.

Janos Gereben said...

Where are the photos?

Michael Strickland said...

Dear Janos: Thanks for the heads up. The photos were showing up on my computer but nobody else's, so I relinked them all and they should work now.