* Notes *
This year's Merola Opera Program ended twelve weeks of training with a Grand Finale last night at the War Memorial Opera House. The performance was staged simply, using a set that included a couple of steps to a rickety parquet floor and a pair of stage right doors. The costumes were standard recital fare, tuxedos for the men and evening gowns for the women. Joel Revzen conducted the San Francisco Opera Orchestra to good effect, everyone sounded in tune and there were only a few moments when the singers were overwhelmed. There were also some synchronization issues during the trio "Una bella serenata" from Così fan tutte and "Hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm" from Die Zauberflöte. The singers and orchestra were just slightly off in these cases, in the former it was probably just nerves as it was the first number, and in the latter perhaps it was because of the stage directions were somewhat complicated. Mozart provoked the strangest staging of the evening, for Così, Barbie dolls were abused and for Die Zauberflöte, a pistol was produced as the flute, and a bag of cocaine stood for the bells. The most laughter, however, erupted from tenor David Lomelí's disrobing during "Un dì se ben rammentomi."
The young singers have improved noticeably since the Auditions for the General Director in June. There were only a handful of problems. Adam Cioffari was slightly quiet as Guglielmo, but was audible. Ellen Wieser was shrill as Inés, though as Gilda, her voice blended very nicely with YoungJoo An's in "Un dì se ben rammentomi." Rena Harms, who was so incredible as Donna Elvira in the Merola production of Don Giovanni, did not sing the First Lady as gorgeously. She cracked, perhaps because of the fake (I imagine, anyway) cigarette she was smoking. Ben Wager was a bit difficult to hear at one point during Luisa Miller's "Tu puniscimi, O Signore," though he was extremely menacing as Wurm. Wager was overwhelmed by the orchestra, and Leah Crocetto's voice was, at times, a good deal louder than his. However, Wager sang Golaud well during "Mes longs cheveux descendent" from Pelléas et Mélisande. Both Joélle Harvey (Mélisande) and Eugene Chan (Pelléas) sounded wonderful during this piece as well, Harvey's flexible voice is clear and light, Chan's high baritone is sweet.
In the first half, standouts included the duets "Ah, mon courage m'abandonne" from Werther and "Nedda! Silvio! A quest' ora" from Pagliacci. Renée Tatum and Nathaniel Peake were well-matched as Charlotte and Werther in the former. Amanda Majeski was had a lovely pure tone as Nedda, and Austin Kness was heartbreaking as Silvio. In the second half, Majeski was haunting as Vanessa in "At last I've found you," and James Benjamin Rodgers was a very fine Anatol. David Lomelí was an outstanding Duke of Mantua in the aforementioned "Un dì se ben rammentomi" from Rigoletto. Though, as mentioned before, quite loud, I was most impressed by the versatile voice of Leah Crocetto, hers is one that is already a force of nature. Her Luisa was strong and resonant, and her performance earned her the longest ovation of the evening.
* Tattling *
The audience was ill-behaved in the Grand Tier, everyone around me spoke during the music, assuring each other about the quality of the singers. Watch alarms and various electronic noises were noted. After the intermission I made my way to the top of the balcony and listened to the rest of the performance in peace, as there was absolutely no one near me.
My foray into the world of the press involved some antics. I appeared at the appointed Grove Street entrance and waited a good long time only to be told my tickets were at the box office. Then I waited in that enormous line for several minutes and was told I should go to the Grove Street entrance as my name was not with the box office. I had to make a fuss, something I do not enjoy, especially since I know all the people at the box office by sight and would rather be on good terms with them. But I did get in without having to wait in any more lines and milled around the press room. Not knowing exactly what to do with myself there, I was advised to eat cheese, and it certainly was pleasant enough.