San Francisco Opera's Adler Fellows gave their annual concert earlier this month at Herbst Theatre and I felt the usual mixture of excitement for the young singers mixed with sadness that only a handful will actually make a living as an operatic, classical music singer. It's a tough, competitive career. The programming of arias, duets, and scenas at these concerts tend to skew towards obscure selections, and this year that was true to the extreme. After an overture by Verdi from his first opera, Un Giorno di Regna, Natalie Image, soprano, and Ashley Dixon, mezzo, performed a non-famous scene from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Later in the program the two joined up for another Donizetti duet scena from L'Assedio di Calais, an opera I had never even heard of before.
Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen is in his first year as an Adler. The training program usually runs for two to three years, but Cohen sounds ready for the major leagues already. Countertenors at their best sound like a magical mixture of a pure boy soprano combined with the heft of an adult mezzo-soprano, and great ones are rare and valuable. Cohen sang arias from Admeto by Handel and Tancredi by Rossini. The latter was an odd choice since it was originally written for a mezzo rather than a castrati, but hey, why not?
Christian Pursell, bass-baritone, sang an amusing aria about a besotted opera fan from Rossini's Il Viaggo al Riems.
Second-year Adler Fellow Amitai Pati is one of my favorite young tenors ever. His voice is not Pavarotti sized like his tenor brother Pene Pati, but it's a sweet, smooth sound buttressed by unteachable musical instincts. Unfortunately, at this concert he was given arias from the operettas Martha by von Flotow and Das Land des Lacheins by Lehar, which didn't fit his voice, and I kept wishing we were hearing him in Mozart, Rossini, or Donizetti.
Soprano Sarah Cambidge sang an aria from Richard Strauss's Die Agyptische Helena, and though her huge voice doesn't hit any of my pleasure centers, my friend Janos Gereben was thrilled by her performance.
Another huge voice belongs to tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven who performed a scene from Wagner's final opera, Parsifal with Andrew Manea as the wounded Amfortas. Kyle might be one of the next big Wagnerian heldentenors, singing roles like Siegfried, or he might not. He doesn't quite have control of his instrument yet, but I really like its sound, which has an uncanny echo of controversial, legendary tenor Jon Vickers.
The first half of the concert had Christian Pursell and Andrew Manea singing a manly bromance duet from Bellini's I Puritani, and it was delightful.
After intermission, we moved on to Ashley Dixon singing Marguerite's aria from La Damnation de Faust by Berlioz
Andrew Manea then tackled an aria from Verdi's Atilla, and in the photo above he's head to head with conductor Christopher Franklin, who did a wonderful job with the great SF Opera Orchestra onstage behind the singers.
The evening ended with Kyle van Schoonhoven and Sarah Cambidge singing a love duet from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde and though it seemed a hurdle too high for the young singers, I was again charmed by Kyle's invocation of Jon Vickers.