Another report from our friend Don Curzio.
* Notes *
It is a promising sign for the future of opera that this year's Merolini were such a strong group. Their finale concert was, with a few exceptions, an exciting and enticing evening, and I think I can look forward to hearing these singers many times in the future.
The evening began with the Prologue from Pagliacci, launched with brio by Antony Walker (whose baton was supportive and subtle all evening) and sung with insight and force (if not with an exceptionally beautiful tone) by Aleksey Bogdanov. The curtain then rose on the set for SFO's upcoming production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail, a charming 18th century "little" theater and appropriately, the next selection was from that opera: the first act duet between Belmonte and Osmin, performed solidly by from both Alex Mansoori and Benjamin LeClair. Later in the evening, the challenging aria "Ich baue ganz," from the same opera, was sung sweetly by Eleazar Rodríguez.
Most of the evening was devoted to duets or ensembles. "As-tu souffert? As-tu pleuré?" from Mignon was given an affecting treatment by Ellie Jarrett and Evan Boyer, who returned later for an impressive rendition of "De son coeur j'ai calmé" from the same opera. The Arabella duet ("Aber der Richtige") was a highlight, as the supple sopranos of Lori Guilbeau and Susannah Biller intertwined and melded together beautifully. Ms. Biller later teamed up with Maya Lahyani and Suzanne Hendrix for the trio from Béatrice et Bénédict, where she floated deliciously over the two mezzo-sopranos. Ms. Lahyani also gave us a well-sung, sexy Seguidilla, with the able Don Jose of Brian Jagde providing support. Wagner was strongly represented by the third-act quintet from Die Meistersinger, gloriously sung by Bogdanov, Mansoori, Hendrix, Kate Crist and Gregory Carroll, and by a tense rendition of the third-act confrontation scene from Der Fliegende Holländer by Carroll and Crist, both whom appear to possess true Wagner voices. Sara Gartland and Nathaniel Peake provided a slightly bumpy but certainly passionate Rigoletto duet. On the lighter side of things, Catilin Mathes and Paul Scholten had great fun as Rosina and Figaro, even if Ms. Mathes' voice is several sizes too small for the role (she also muffed the words at one point). Lara Ciekiewicz and John Chest's performances in the watch duet from Die Fledermaus were also comic highlights.
Especial standouts in solo arias were two rarely-heard Russian pieces: Margaret Gawrysiak was electrifying in Joan's aria from Tchiakovsky's Maid of Orleans and Yohan Yi's powerful bass-baritone was a thrill in a heartbreaking aria from Aleko. Suzanne Hendrix and Brian Jadge each provided plenty of heartbreak in arias from, respectively, Giulio Cesare and Macbeth. Countertenor Ryan Belongie fairly exploded onto the stage for an exciting rendition of an aria from Handel's Serse and Michael Sumuel was charming and assured in the tricky "Là del ciel nell'arcano profondo" from La Cenerentola.
The evening concluded with the "Tutto nel mondo è burla" from Falstaff, sung by the entire group. It was a joyful end to a great year at Merola.
* Tattling *
The program inserts that listed who was singing somehow went missing before they could be inserted into the programs, forcing a stage manager to make an announcement before each of the selections. The papers were handed out at intermission. There were no watch alarms or cell phones in the balcony, but somebody talked over about the first two minutes of music before being repeatedly shushed.