* Notes *
This year's Merola Opera Program ended ten weeks of training with a Grand Finale last night at the War Memorial Opera House. Ted Huffman's staging for the performance was not elaborate, using four cypress trees from Act IV of the Le Nozze di Figaro set, designed by Zach Brown. The costumes were what one would expect, tuxedos and evening gowns, for the most part lots of black and turquoise. Dean Williamson kept the San Francisco Opera Orchestra at good volume, we could always hear the singers. There was some squeaking from the woodwinds, and perhaps a lack of clarity in the brass, but nothing terribly embarrassing. Synchronization between the orchestra and singers may have been the most noticeable problem, particularly at the beginning with The Rake's Progress and the chaotic end with Le Nozze di Figaro.
The one Baroque excerpt from Samson sounded surprisingly clean, albeit rather measured. Kevin Ray sang with power here, perhaps with more vibrato than is considered historically informed. Also in English was the scene from Midsummer Night's Dream. Thomas Florio hammed it up as Bottom, Hye Jung Lee sounded sweet as Tytania, and the fairies were perfectly ethereal. Valentina Fleer, Robin Flynn, Abigail Santos Villalobos, and Nadine Sierra entered with some fine tours chaînés déboulés. They also played recorder and percussion impressively.
We heard a good deal of bel canto. Ao Li sang Riccardo from Act I of Puritani with his serious face on, and with a smooth legato. Abigail Santos Villalobos and Eleazar Rodríguez were awfully precious as Marie and Tonio. Santos Villalobos was just so spunky, and Rodríguez charming. Valentina Fleer and Sidney Outlaw were wonderful in their excerpt of Lucia (as Lucia and Enrico, respectively). Renée Rapier was a stately, rich-toned Adalgisa. The only bel canto selection that left me indifferent was the duet between Ben Covey (Malatesta) and Janai Brugger-Orman (Norina). Though they were convincing and funny in this scene from Don Pasquale, I still do not care for this opera, for some reason.
Quite a lot of French repertoire was explored, and it was remarkable how compelling all was. Robin was uttlerly lovely as Mignon. Rebecca Davis sang Thaïs with strength and beauty. Abigail Santos Villalobos offered up a tender, earnest Ophélie and Dan Kempson sang Hamlet prettily. Daniel Montenegro and Nadine Sierra were striking as Roméo and Juliette, their voices blend nicely together, and are well-matched.
* Tattling *
Unfortunately I was unable to get ready in a timely fashion, and did not consider the ridiculous amount of flowers in my possession carefully enough. For the first half of the performance the smell of all the roses in my hair and the various bouquets stuffed under my seat made me feel slightly ill. I am sure the people around me had some unkind thoughts about this too, and justifiably so. I ended up in standing room, wearing stilettos, long suffering companion in tow. The duration of this performance seems uncomfortably long for some, even for those not standing. At least a few audience members started falling asleep almost as soon as the lights went down. There were the usual watch alarms at the hour, and light talking.
After the performance I caught up with many of the Adlers. Tamara Sanikidze is working on Aida and Allen Perriello, on Le Nozze di Figaro. Maya Layhani and David Lomelí have been rehearsing Werther as the covers. Sara Gartland is to sing in Figaro and Butterfly. I also had a chance to talk to David Gockley about the three performances he recently heard in Santa Fe.