Merola Opera Program

Merola's Transformations

7.19.16_Merola-1148* Notes * 
Conrad Susa's Transformations was performed by the Merola Opera Program at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music last night. Neal Goren conducted the jazz and pop influenced score with aplomb, the music sounded idiomatic. The production from Roy Rallo was very consistent with his style.

The piece is based on ten poems by Anne Sexton, from her book also entitled Transformations. The work consists of re-tellings of Grimm fairy tales, which are already rather dark, and take on an even more sinister meaning here Sexton is wry and very disturbing. Susa's music spreads the lines between eight singers who sing up to thirteen characters a piece. There's a surprising amount of singing together, which is quite nice.

Rallo's production is not, as far as I could tell, in a psychiatric hospital, its normal setting. Act I used only the downstage, everything else hidden behind a white curtain, and looked to be someone's living room with white Rococo style couch and cabinet, with a pink kitchen area stage left. In Act II a cave of grey plastic is revealed, and the couch turned around. As in Rallo's 2011 Barbiere for Merola, there was a lot of tinsel used. Tinsel stands in for Rapunzel's hair and for Rumpelstiltskin's straw spun into gold. The direction had a fair amount of slap-stick to it, a whole apple held in the mouth of Snow White to signify the apple stuck in her throat (pictured above, photograph by Kristen Loken) and straw thrown at the head of the miller's daughter.

The chamber format of the opera and its many parts makes it a good fit for Merola. Unfortunately lead soprano Shannon Jennings, who plays Anne Sexton, was ill. She did remarkably well in Act I, though sang with some strain. Her part was taken over in the pit by Mary Evelyn Hangley, but Jennings continued on stage, acting and mouthing the words.

Soprano Teresa Castillo was a game Princess and Gretel. Mezzo Chelsey Geeting as a plush, lovely sound as the Good Fairy and Witch. Tenor Boris Van Druff was very creepy as Rumpelstiltskin. Also impressive was baritone Andrew G. Manea as Iron Hans.

* Tattling * 
The audience was fairly quiet. There was noticeable attrition after the intermission.


Merola's 59th Season Participants

Sopranos
Adelaide Boedecker, Sarasota, Florida
Sarah Cambidge, Vancouver, Canada
Teresa Castillo, Denver, Colorado
Yelena Dyachek, Vinnytsya, Ukraine
Mary Evelyn Hangley, Long Beach, New York
Shannon Jennings, Orlando, Florida
Jana McIntyre, Santa Barbara, California

Mezzo-Sopranos
Tara Curtis, Kansas City, Missouri
Chelsey Geeting, Portland, Maine
Taylor Raven, Fayetteville, North Carolina
Alexandra Schenck, Long Beach, California

Countertenor
Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, Brooklyn, New York

Tenors
Isaac Frishman, Omaha, Nebraska
Josh Lovell, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Brian Michael Moore, Cincinnati, Ohio
Amitai Pati, Auckland, New Zealand
Boris Van Druff, Olean, New York
Kyle van Schoonhoven, Lockport, New York

Baritone
Andrew G. Manea, Troy, Michigan

Bass-Baritones
Nicholas Boragno, Newport Beach, California
Cody Quattlebaum, Ellicott City, Maryland
Josh Quinn, Tampa, Florida

Bass
Matthew Anchel, New York, New York

Apprentice Coaches
Jonathan Brandani, Lucca, Italy
John Elam, Cleburne, Texas
Noah Palmer, Baltimore, Maryland
SNicolò Sbuelz, Udine, Italy
Jennifer Szeto, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Apprentice Stage Director
Aria Umezawa, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The Schwabacher Summer Concert at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music is on Thursday, July 7. The free outdoor afternoon Schwabacher will be held at Yerba Buena Gardens on Saturday, July 9.

The Merola artists perform Conrad Susa's Transformations on Thursday, July 21 and Saturday, July 23 and Mozart's Così fan tutte on Thursday, August 4 and Saturday, August 6. All of these operas are to be performed at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

The season ends with the participants singing in the annual Merola Grand Finale on Saturday, August 20 at the War Memorial Opera House.

Official Site | Press Releases


Merola Grand Finale 2015

MGF 7*Notes*
As another
The Merola Grand Finale (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken) marked the end of the San Francisco Opera Center's training program this year last night. This is a chance to hear everyone after weeks of work and to speculate on who might be chosen to come back to be part of San Francisco Opera's apprentice program as Adler Fellows in 2016.

As such, it is always fascinating to hear how the voices have developed, but it presupposes, perhaps, a certain amount of knowledge and interest in singers. The singing is strong, these are among the best out there, having gone through tough auditions. It is also when we get to see the apprentice stage director's work, in this case, Mo Zhou.

It is striking that each year this young artists program of people between the ages of 20 to 34 attracts a rather elderly viewership. Many of the younger people seen in the audience for Merola performances seem to be singers or employees of the opera. Of course, this is not lost on the administration of Merola, and there was only recently an outreach event at Chez Poulet in Bernal Heights the previous Thursday.

As described to me, the event was a mixer for people with an interest in opera, there were young opera singers there, drinks, and 80s music. One of the biggest barriers to going to arts events is not having anyone to go with, so certainly this makes sense. However, at the intermission of the Merola Grand Finale, as an aged opera neophyte seated next to me asked if I was able to follow what was going on, it occurred to me this was not the best experience for those without a lot of background in opera already.

Since the program is designed to showcase the voices of the Merola participants, the assortment of pieces is eclectic and we are dropped into different scenes of all sorts of operas in a variety of languages. We heard selections from no less than 15 operas in French, German, Italian, Russian, and English.

Stage director Mo Zhou used what looked to be the set for Sweeney Todd. Her production made much use of umbrellas, a bird cage with a candle in it, and red roses. This did not help much in explaining the action to someone unfamiliar with the operas at hand, but definitely showed her point of view and aesthetic.

The evening was not terribly consistent. There were times when the orchestra and singers became off track entirely, most noticeably in "Vy tak pyechalni... Ya vas lyublyu" from Queen of Spades and "Condotta ella in ceppi" from Il Trovatore. There were many intonation problems from the singers.

On the other hand, there was much singing that impressed. Toni-Marie Palmertree was arresting as Medora in "Non so le tetre immagini" from Verdi's Il Corsaro. Her voice is exquisite and she stood out as the Sandman in a scene from Hansel und Gretel in the second half of the night.

Both Michael Papincak and Alex DeSocio did well with scenes from Jake Heggie's Moby Dick. Papincak seems suited for the role of Ahab, which makes him quite a rarity, given that so few people have this vocal type. DeSocio sounded solid as Starbuck.

The high point of the performance came with Raehann Bryce-Davis (Santuzza) and Kihun Yoon (Alfio) in "Oh, il signore vi manda" from Cavalleria Rusticana. The evocative singing had a palpable reality, both singers utterly present in the moment.

* Tattling *
Surrounded by music critics, there was not much bad behavior in my immediate vicinity, other than the aforementioned confused person in Row L Seat 5, who was vocal and counted in German during "Papagena! Papagena!." There were lots of cellular phone rings heard whenever a particular piece did not have heavy orchestration.


Merola's Don Pasquale

Don Pasquale 5* Notes * 
Don Pasquale was performed by the Merola Opera Program at Cowell Theater recently. Warren Jones conducted a swift and lively performance on Saturday afternoon. The production from Nic Muni was entertaining but not entirely coherent.

Muni's direction involved the action taking place on a film set, complete with tempestuous starlet and mollifying director that appear between scenes in the middle of Act I. The author of the screenplay is Ernesto, while Norina is a cleaning lady behind the scenes.

In Act II, for some reason Norina takes the leading role while the starlet, director, and others observe. The garden scene of Act III has many of the extra characters dressed in green, with green stockings over their faces. This does not connect to the earlier action in a meaningful way, though it was amusing.

Of course the main attraction of any Merola performance is the singing, which was impressive and rather loud. Soprano Amina Edris (Norina) has a voice as clear as a bell, and she was able to characterize her part as Sofronia with a distinctive shrill sound. Tenor Soonchan Kwon makes for an endearing Ernesto, but seemed to struggle with intonation during Act III. Baritone Alex DeSocio was a robust and funny Dr. Malatesta. Bass-baritone James Ioulu likewise was strong in the title role and did a fine job with the patter.

* Tattling * 
There were squeaking electronics for much of the first half, but this was resolved for the second. As usual there were seagulls heard. Also audible was a small child fishing with his father just outside the theater.


Merola's The Medium and Gianni Schicchi

Gianni Schicchi 3* Notes * 
The Merola Opera Program recently returned to Cowell Theater with a double-bill of The Medium and Gianni Schicchi. Directed by Peter Kazaras and conducted by Mark Morash, the Saturday afternoon performance was engaging and energetic.

The Medium is a stark, tense work, and Donald Eastman's simple scenery was enhanced by the Kazaras' straightforward direction. The set is two full walls arranged at angles from an upstage platform with a curtained scrim above it. A few solid pieces of furniture and pretty period costumes completed the ambiance, letting the singers shine.

Mezzo-soprano Nicole Woodward was impressively unhinged as Madame Flora (Baba). Her voice is rich. Soprano Madison Leonard made for a devastating Monica, her resonant sound has bite without being harsh. Soprano Kathryn Bowden (Mrs. Gobineau), bass-baritone Austin Siebert (Mr. Gobineau), mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon as Mrs. Nolan sang well together. Alasdair Kent did a fine job as Toby, a mute role. His movements were convincing and he was unrecognizable when he reappeared as Gherardo in Gianni Schicchi.

Gianni Schicchi (pictured above, photograph by Kristen Loken) happens in essentially the same space, but with the full walls pushed further from the center to make room for Buoso Donati's bedroom. The platform is now a terrace with patio furniture and a bird cage. Baritone Kihun Yoon fully embodied the title role. His voice is strong, with some grit to it. His stage presence is superb. His charisma was palpable from the very moment he stepped on stage.

The others did not perfectly match Yoon, but made fine efforts. Soprano Cree Carrico sang Lauretta prettily, and her big aria ("O mio babbino caro") went nicely. Christopher Bozeka (Rinuccio) sounded bright and pleasant. Kathryn Bowden (Nella), Ashley Dixon (Ciesca) and Tara Curtis (Zita) sang beautifully together as they veiled Yoon changing into Donati's clothes.

As the orchestra is on the same level as the audience, and Cowell is small, the music was loud. All the singers have a ton of volume, so by the time the matinée was over, my ears were ringing. Though not the most subtle of performances, it was certainly gripping.

* Tattling * 
I gave myself an hour and forty minutes to make it the 17.3 miles to the venue from my abode. Unfortunately it took me two hours, so I missed much of Act I of The Medium. The staff at Merola and Cowell were helpful and kind. Next time I will plan for lunch in the Marina.


Merola's 58th Season Participants

Sopranos
Kathryn Bowden, Glastonbury, Connecticut
Cree Carrico, Detroit, Michigan
Amina Edris, Christchurch, New Zealand
Madison Leonard, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Meredith Mecum, Hershey, Pennsylvania
Toni Marie Palmertree, Fleetwood, Pennsylvania

Mezzo-Sopranos
Raehann Bryce-Davis, Keene, Texas
Tara Curtis, Kansas City, Missouri
Ashley Dixon, Peachtree City, Georgia
Nicole Woodward, Quincy, Florida

Tenors
Christopher Bozeka, Akron, Ohio
Alasdair Kent, Perth, Australia
Soonchan Kwon, Daejeon, South Korea
Michael Papincak, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Baritones
Alex DeSocio, Wichita, Kansas
Sol Jin, Seoul, South Korea
Kihun Yoon, Seoul, South Korea

Bass-Baritones
Zachary Elmassian, East Lansing, Michigan
James Ioelu, Auckland, New Zealand
Austin Siebert, Shelbyville, Indiana
Brad Walker, Lake Zurich, Illinois

Basses
Scott Russell, Roanoke, Virginia
Ming Zhao, Kaifeng, China

Apprentice Coaches
Edoardo Barsotti, Lucca, Tuscany, Italy
Robert Bosworth, Fort Worth, Texas
Aaron Breid, Del Mar, California
Samuel Emanuel, New Rochelle, New York
Kirill Kuzmin, Moscow, Russia

Apprentice Stage Director
Mo Zhou, Nanjing, China

The Schwabacher Summer Concert, directed by Roy Rallo and conducted by Valéry Ryvkin, at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music is on Thursday, July 9. The free outdoor afternoon Schwabacher will be held at Yerba Buena Gardens on Saturday, July 11. The Merola artists perform a double bill of Menotti's The Medium and Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, on Thursday, July 23 and Saturday, July 25 in the newly-renovated Cowell Theater at Fort Mason. Mark Morash conducts and Peter Kazaras directs.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale, led by director Nic Muni and conducted by Warren Jones, will be presented on Thursday, August 6 and Saturday, August 8 at the Cowell Theater. The season ends with the participants singing in the annual Merola Grand Finale, led by conductor Antony Walker and directed by Merola Opera Program apprentice stage director Mo Zhou on Saturday, August 22 at the War Memorial Opera House.

Official Site | Press Releases


Brian Asawa Interview

Brian Asawa010Brian Asawa (pictured left) recently released a recording entitled "Spirits of the Air" with mezzo-soprano Diana Tash. The Merola Program is hosting a CD release celebration on November 7, 2014, honoring both singers, who are to attend and be interviewed.

How did you get your start in opera and how did you discover that you were a countertenor?
I was always very interested in music. I took piano lessons on and off since the age of 5. I sang in my elementary school chorus. In junior high school I took up cello and played in the junior high school orchestra. In high school I took up trombone and played in the award winning jazz band and award winning marching band at Venice High School in Los Angeles.

I attended UC Santa Cruz as a piano major, but my passion was singing. I sang in both the Chamber Singers and Concert Choir. My choral director and mentor gave me my first solo as a countertenor after I discovered my strong falsetto voice. I transferred to UCLA and focused entirely on my countertenor voice, graduated with a BA, then began a Master's degree at USC in Early Music, but left the program when I won the Met Auditions to start my career. The Met win was followed with my life changing participation in San Francisco Opera Center's Merola and Adler Fellowship programs, which provided me with musical, language, movement coachings, as well as performance opportunities that I never could have found elsewhere.

Regarding my early stages in opera, my first mentor was John Hall, the opera workshop director at UCLA. I performed in several productions there. At USC, I studied Baroque opera and performed arias with lutenist and early music specialist James Tyler and his Early Music Ensemble.

The first time I heard you sing was in Bayerische Staatsoper's Saul because David Daniels was indisposed. Does this sort of thing happen often as there are relatively few countertenors?
Countertenors used to be few and far between, especially in the United States, but now they is more supply of countertenors than demand. Countertenors like Jeffrey Gall, Derek Lee Ragin, Drew Minter, and myself brought the vocal category to the forefront in the US in the late 80's early 90's.

Regarding singers that are sick and unable to perform and replaced, it happens all the time. This is why singers in Europe are at such a huge advantage over American singers. Most European travel times are a two-hour flight or less. Jumping in for ailing singers is very common, especially in the winter.

I was at the right place at the right time. I just happened to be in Germany doing a concert tour in Baroque pitch of Handel's Saul, the last show in Wuppertal, when I got a call from my manager, saying I wasn't flying home to SF, but rather going to Munich to step in for David Daniels, who was ailing from bronchitis. There was no time to learn the staging, but I was able to quickly learn an aria which was cut from the concert tour version, and I had to sing the whole role up a half step.

It was crazy! I sang the part on the side of the stage, and the stage manager acted the part on stage. This is the best we could do. Singers are not robots. We get sick too, and the intelligent singers cancel, and the not so intelligent go on, and sometimes to catastrophic results. We don't have the luxury and assurance of pulling out our instruments from cases, or just opening a lid. No matter what instrumentalists say, they don't have the same stress that singers do. Many pianists or violinists have gone on with colds and even the flu because they can unless they are deathly ill. I have had numerous arguments with instrumentalists about this topic, but their instruments are not living in their throats.

Your repertoire includes many Händel operas, but you have also worked with contemporary composers such as Peter Eötvös and Daron Hagen. How do these roles compare?
Certainly the technical demands of contemporary opera are much different than Baroque opera. And more specifically, each role within Baroque and contemporary works presents different technical challenges. I found the roles of my lifetime in Peter Eotvös' Tri Sestri (The Three Sisters) as Masha, and in Georg Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre as Prince Go-Go.

Baroque opera is more exposed and technically challenging with fast coloratura arias, as well as slow, legato arias, often with long lines, requiring endless breath support. Contemporary opera often requires more vocal colors and heft, and the ability to count!

How was singing it working with West Edge Opera on Hagen's Vera of Las Vegas?
It was great fun. A professional drag artist was hired to teach me how to walk in high heels, and move like a drag performer. The make-up and wig alone took about 90 minutes to apply. Technically it was challenging to sing, because the role was written for a male soprano, and since I am a male alto, the aria was transposed a minor third down, making the role feel like there were two different tessituras.

How did the CD Spirits of the Air come together?
My duet partner Diana Tash and I met in Los Angeles Opera's 1995 production of Handel's Xerxes. We performed together at San Diego Opera in 2005 and were in different productions there the following season. I invited Diana to join me in a few benefit recitals for my church. We then performed in a duo recital at the Colburn School of Music in 2011. Subsequently we decided to do an all Baroque program, which we performed in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Guadalajara. We recorded this with our continuo team and released it this month on LML Music.

What are your favorite operas?
My favorite operas are Elektra (I saw Gwyneth Jones in the title role blow the roof off of SF Opera in 1991), Xerxes, Giulio Cesare, Mitridate, Ascanio in Alba, Madama Butterfly, and L'incoronazione di Poppea.

Who do you look up to as far as musicians are concerned?
A partial list of singers that I admire are Mirella Freni, Leontyne Price, Pavarotti, Edita Gruberova, Carol Vaness, Domingo, Emma Kirkby, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Janet Baker, Marilyn Horne, Natalie Dessay, Jennifer Larmore, Jochen Kowalski, Reneè Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli, John Tomlinson, and Joyce di Donato.

As for conductors, I admire Sir Colin Davis, Sir Neville Marriner, Esa Pekka Salonen, Emmanuelle Häim, Ivor Bolton, and Gustav Dudamel.

We in the Bay Area were so sorry to lose your aunt Ruth Asawa, the amazing sculptor and arts education activist last year. Was she an influence for you?
She was such a generous woman. When I was young, we used to come up and visit her from LA, and she would keep us entertained with all kinds of arts and crafts activities, trips to museums, and even a lecture with Buckminister Fuller, a close friend of hers. She always was so gracious and showed such humility with regard to her gifts as an artist. When I started performing in my later years, she was so supportive and always came to my performances. She even came all the way to Mexico City for the Domingo Competition.

What are the challenges for opera singers in our age of social media and live high definition broadcasts?
With social media everything is instant. When people attend performances, they are tweeting and Facebooking at the intermissions about how everyone is singing, who the standouts are, how the conductor is conducting, how the orchestra sounds, and what the production is like. I have to say, it is refreshing that the audience has to put their devices away for classical performances! We are so attached and addicted to our phones, laptops, tablets that it's nice to see a forced break imposed, if even for a few hours.

I must say there are more benefits to the arts rather than challenges with regard to social media and the advancements of technology. Performances of operas and concerts are reaching so many more people than ever before through hi def performances. Musicians are now able to promote and publicize themselves so much more effectively than before the advent of social media. Luckily, there are very few incidences of cyberbullying amongst musicians. Most musicians seem very supportive of one another on social media. Sometimes fans can play favorites or be unnecessarily rude or critical, but one takes the good and ignores the bad.

Do you have a theory on why some many opera fans are also baseball fans?
It seems like opera fans are into many different types of sports. I personally love watching tennis and gymnastics, women's volleyball, and cheerleading. However, I know a lot of SF Opera chorus members who are completely obsessed with the SF Giants. On the topic of baseball, my father used to take me to LA Dodger games when I was a kid. I was probably more into the spectacle of being there, the chanting and singing, the Dodger dogs, and ice cream than the actual game!


2015 Adler Fellows

2014-AdlersThe incoming 2015 Adler Fellows are mezzo-soprano Nian Wang, tenor Chong Wang, baritone Edward Nelson, bass-baritone Matthew Stump, bass Anthony Reed, and coach and accompanist Ronny Michael Greenberg. They join current Adlers Julie Adams, Maria Valdes, Zanda Švēde, Efraín Solís, and Noah Lindquist. Soprano Julie Adams joined the 2014 class of Adler Fellows in Fall 2014 and will continue as a first-year Adler Fellow in 2015. The outgoing 2014 Adler Fellows are Erin Johnson, Jacqueline Piccolino, A.J. Glueckert, Chuanyue Wang, Hadleigh Adams, and Philippe Sly.

Press Release | Official Site


Merola Grand Finale 2014

Tutti Merolini. _Un coro e terminiam la scena…Tutto nel mondo è burla_ from Falstaff by Verdi. Merola Grand Finale. Photography by Kristen Loken. * Notes *
The Merola Opera Program concluded 2014 with the Merola Grand Finale last night. The standouts were certainly sopranos. Amanda Woodbury's Ophélie was translucent in "Hélas! votre âme" and her duet ("Doute de la lumière") with Edward Nelson as Hamlet. Karen Chia-Ling Ho made for an impressively deranged Margherita in "L'altra notte in fondo al mare" from Boito's Mefistofele. Adelaide Boedecker was a sweet Gilda in "Ah padre mio!" Julie Adams sounded resonant in "Suzel, buon di...Tutto tace" from L'amico Fritz. This duet with Casey Candebat was quite lovely. Candabat sounded clear and warm.

Mezzo-sopranos Shirin Eskandani and Eliza Bonet also gave memorable performances. Eskandani sang "Sie Hält Ihn für den Todesgott...Ein Augenblick Ist Wenig" with Talya Lieberman as Zerbinetta. Bonet has a lot of personality and was hilarious as the Duchesse in "Vous aimez le danger...Ah! que j'aime les militaires!"

Bass-baritone Matthew Stump showed much charm as Nick Shadow in "Come master" from The Rake's Progress and as Falstaff in "Un coro e terminiam la scena....Tutto nel mondo è burla" (pictured above, photograph by Kristen Loken).

Stage director Omer Ben Seadia used the set for Susannah and seemed to favor the use of many props.

* Tattling *
There was some talking from an aggressive couple next to me in Row F Seats 6 and 8. They did not have tickets for these seats, but managed to find even nicer ones on the center aisle after intermission. They were rather concerned about the brass being out of tune and the unexplained omission of "Nel veneto corteggio lo ravvisasti?...Vieni la mia vendetta" in the first half of the program.


Julie Adams Interview

Adams, JulieSan Francisco Conservatory of Music alumna Julie Adams (pictured left) was one of the winners of Met Council Auditions this year. She sang the role of Blanche DuBois in André Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire as a participant of the Merola Opera Program this summer. The program concludes this Saturday with the Grand Finale.

What was the first opera you sang in?
I was in the chorus of Die Fledermaus at L.A. County High School for the Arts. I initially went there for musical theater, but I don't dance, so that didn't work out so well. Stephanie Vlahos, who is in the music faculty there still, introduced me to opera.

Did you go to the recent performance of A Streetcar Named Desire in Los Angeles?
Yes, I managed to go to the last performance. I was on the edge of my seat, since I knew the music and was curious to hear how Renée Fleming tackled the role of Blanche. Her artistry is amazing.

How was it singing Blanche for Merola?
It was really hard but so rewarding. It was difficult to learn and I had to rely on muscle memory to get the starting pitches, as Previn didn't score things so that the orchestra is there to help. I miss the role now as I was living with it for so long. It was very intense. The movie version is obviously iconic, we had to bring something different to the roles and to make them our own.

What are your favorite operas?
I love Puccini. Bohème is one of my favorites and Mimì is a dream role for me. I also love Marriage of Figaro. Magic Flute, I know not everyone likes that one, but I do. Mozart is, of course, a genius. Traviata. Manon. Susannah. I am so excited that San Francisco Opera is doing this one. This is another dream role. I love Carlyle Floyd.

Is there a particular singer to you look up to?
Pat Racette. I admire her with my whole heart. She always gives 110 percent. She always moves me, and I think that is why people go to the opera, to be moved.

What do you think of musical theater as opera?
I think it is great, it gets people into the opera house. Obviously the opera wouldn't take on contemporary Broadway works. For Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kern and Hammerstein, or Gilbert and Sullivan, it completely makes sense. It is great music and is accessible.

What was it like to sing at the Met?
It was a great experience, very glamorous and thrilling. I was so nervous, so it was hard to be in the moment, but my favorite part was the Sitzprobe, when we rehearsed with conductor and orchestra. I sang "L'annee en vain chasse l'annee" from Debussy's L'Enfant Prodigue, which the orchestra wasn't familiar with, obviously, as the opera isn't done that much. The conductor, Marco Armiliato, asked me to bear with them, but the Met Orchestra is incredible. The musicians are such lovely people too.

What are you singing for the Merola Grand Finale?
The "Cherry Duet," "Suzel, buon dì…Tutto tace," from L'amico Fritz with Mr. Casey Candabat. I am also singing Alice in the final piece, "Volgiti e mira…Tutto nel mondo è burla." We are singing on the Susannah set, so we are all in formal wear on a desolate, stark stage.

One of your interests is watching professional hockey games. Do you support a particular team?
The Los Angeles Kings, sorry Sharks fans. Hockey is exciting and I enjoy watching games with my dad and brother.


Merola's Don Giovanni

  Merola-don-giovanni-2014* Notes *
Merola Opera Program's latest production of Don Giovanni (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken) opened with the first of two performances on Thursday night. Director James Darrah's production goes against the text and the drama, with most of the action taking place in an artist's studio, designed by Emily MacDonald and Cameron Mock. There is lots of face touching, crawling about, and getting up on tables. While enjoyably amusing, this does little to elucidate the narrative. I did laugh a lot when the chorus banged on the table in the last scene.

Admittedly, there are some effective devices and times when the space was used inventively. It is cute when Leperello walks out into the audience for the line "Anch'io, caro padrone, esibisco la mia protezione" and chooses someone to "protect." Also, Don Giovanni's descent to the netherworld is handled convincingly enough, with the chorus simply overwhelming him.

Martin Katz conducted a tentative and somewhat muddy sounding orchestra. The strings were problematic. Act II was an improvement over Act I, however. In any case, the impressive singing was certainly the main attraction, as it is for all Merola events. Yujin Kim and Rhys Lloyd Talbot made for a perfectly nice Zerlina and Masetto. Kim was particularly jaunty. Szymon Wach was a roguish but not especially lovable Leporello. His voice has a husky quality but is sufficiently loud. Scott Russell sang the Commendatore with power. Karen Chia-Ling Ho made for a strong Donna Elvira. She definitely seemed unhinged.

Benjamin Werley sang Don Ottavio's two arias with great beauty, there were times when his voice truly seemed seamless. Amanda Woodbury (Donna Anna) has a bright, lovely voice. Her arias were some of the best moments of the evening. Edward Nelson has an attractive voice and radiated confidence as a rather unlikeable Don.

* Tattling *
The audience was fairly silent and still. A girl in E7 had to exit the hall in Act I but returned quickly. The most ill-behaved person I observed was myself, as I had difficulty containing my mirth at the production.

As we were leaving, I also got in the way of the director as he rushed out of the theater to take his bow on stage. While this was happening, we admired an adorable sleeping newborn in a young woman's arms backstage, oblivious to the ovation.


Merola's A Streetcar Named Desire

Casey Candebat (Harold _Mitch_ Mitchell) and Julie Adams (Blanche DuBois). A Streetcar Named Desire. Merola Opera Program. Photography by Kristen Loken. 2* Notes * 
André Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire was performed Thursday night by the Merola Opera Program at Everett Middle School in San Francisco. The production (pictured left with Julie Adams as Blanche DuBois and Casey Candebat as Harold "Mitch" Mitchell, photograph by Kristen Loken) directed by Jose Maria Condemi, is attractive. The set has two levels and is rather detailed. The costumes are straightforward and pretty. Mark Morash conducted a reduced orchestration by Peter Grunberg. The ensemble sounded rather vigorous.

There was much beautiful singing, though the first act was somewhat rough. The performances were engaging. Baritone Thomas Gunther was a suitably brutish Stanley Kowalski. Adelaide Boedecker has a lovely sweet voice, and was a believable Stella Kowalski. Casey Candebat sounded great as Harold "Mitch" Mitchell, wonderfully lyrical. Julie Adams makes for an impressive Blanche DuBois. Her voice is well-supported and brilliant. Her acting was also spot-on.

* Tattling * 
Any missed lines were all too apparent since the libretto is in English and there were supertitles.


Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions 2014

Met-auditions-2014The 2014 winners of the Metropolitan Opera (pictured left) National Council Auditions are sopranos Julie Adams and Amanda Woodbury; tenor Yi Li; bass-baritone Ao Li; and bass Patrick Guetti. Four of these five are associated with the Merola Opera Program. Adams and Woodbury are Merolini this year. Yi Li was in Merola in 2012 and Ao Li was in Merola in 2010. Ao was, of course, also an Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera for three years. Adams recently graduated from San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

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NY Festival of Song Schwabacher 2014

Schwabacher-festival-song-2014* Notes * 
The artistic director of New York Festival of Song, Steven Blier, presided over a Schwabacher Debut Recital entitled In the Memory Palace yesterday evening. The program included diverse selections from song cycles and vocal quartets with an underlying theme of courtship. Blier accompanied four Adler Fellows on piano.

The structure of the evening was divided in fourths, starting with a quartet, then featuring each singer in turn. We began with Heitor Villa-Lobos, first "Canção da folha morta" followed by soprano Maria Valdes singing three songs from Floresta do Amazonas. All four singers have powerful voices, but they were able to blend their sounds nicely. Valdes has an airy lightness but has a tawny warmth as well. She showed her versatility in these cinematic songs. Next we traveled to Northern Europe with the ensemble singing a Danish text set by Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar, Jens Peter's poem "I seraillets have." Then mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde sang four Grieg songs with German texts. Her voice is incredibly rich and gorgeous, with a brilliant clarity.

After intermission we heard exclusively songs in English, starting with "Come live with me" by William Sterndale Bennett. Tenor AJ Gluekert did a fine job bringing his voice out for particular phrases, and then blending back in with the ensemble. Gluekert went on to sing four rather distinct songs by Frank Bridge, showing a range of emotions and styles. The fourth part of the program commenced with Sondheim's dizzying Two Fairy Tales. The singers were clearly listening to one another and working together. The last series of songs were by Gabriel Kahane, from the cycle The Memory Palace. Baritone Hadleigh Adams seemed at ease with both music and text. The last piece on the program was Smokey Robinson's "You've Really Got a Hold On Me," and it was slightly awkward, as Glueckert and Adams seemed perfectly comfortable singing this, but Valdes and Švēde simply sounded like opera singers. The encore, from Bernstein's Candide, was much more convincing. One would love to hear the Adlers sing the entire opera.

* Tattling * 
Blier was characteristically amusing despite the many electronic interruptions from the audience while he went through the pieces with us.


Merola's 57th Season Participants

Sopranos
Julie Adams, Burbank, California
Adelaide Boedecker, Sarasota, Florida
Maria Fasciano, Niagara Falls, New York
Karen Chia-Ling Ho, Taipei, Taiwan
Yujin Kim, Deajeon, South Korea
Talya Lieberman, Forest Hills, New York
Amanda Woodbury, Dallas, Texas

Mezzo-Sopranos
Eliza Bonet, Atlanta, Georgia
Shirin Eskandani, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Nian Wang, Nanjing, Jiangsu, China

Tenors
Casey Candebat, New Orleans, Louisiana
Mingjie Lei, Hengyang, Hunan, China
Chong Wang, Shijiazhuang, Hebei, China
Benjamin Werley, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Baritones
Gideon Dabi, Highland Park, New Jersey
Alexander Elliott, Florence, South Carolina
Thomas Gunther, Muscatine, Iowa
Edward Nelson, Santa Clarita, California

Bass-Baritones
John Arnold, Cumming, Georgia
Matthew Stump, Goshen, Indiana
Rhys Lloyd Talbot, Cedar Falls, Iowa
Szymon Wach, Lublin, Poland

Basses
Anthony Reed, Alexandria, Minnesota
Scott Russell, Roanoke, Virginia

Apprentice Coaches
Edoardo Barsotti, Lucca, Tuscany, Italy
Ronny Michael Greenberg, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Kirill Kuzmin, Moscow, Russia
Sahar Nouri, Tehran, Iran
Blair Salter, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada

Apprentice Stage Director
Omer Ben Seadia, Tel-Aviv, Israel

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