* Notes *
The Merola Grand Finale took place in person on July 31, with a filmed version released to donors on August 20. Directed by Merola Stage Director Audrey Chait, the performance at the Bandshell in Golden Gate Park looked and sounded delightful.
The recital featured five singers accompanied by two of the apprentice coaches on piano. Each piece was introduced by Ms. Chait, who seems personable and looked very sprightly in a bright red suit. I liked her stage direction which employed simple props such as a parasol or broom, it wasn't clunky or too elaborate.
My favorite singers are definitely the mezzo-sopranos. Right away Gabrielle Beteag (Ino) and Jesse Mashburn (Athamas) had my attention with the duet "You've undone me" from Händel's Semele. Mashburn's voice has a rich sweetness, and Beteag's is a touch darker but also wonderfully warm. Chait had them get uncomfortably close to each other at points, which was dramatically effective.
Mashburn was also great with bass-baritone Andrew Dwan (pictured with pianist Shiyu Tan, photograph by Kristen Loken) in "Ai capricci della sorte" from Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri. Dwan is a good actor with a clear presence and good facial expressions.
Tenor Victor Cardamone may have been less charismatic, but his voice is beautiful, very strong and clear when singing "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles with Dwan. I was less keen on the soprano, Catherine Goode, whose "Glitter and Be Gay" started off with an incisive shrillness but grew more bird-like as she continued. I did like her as Frasquita in "Mêlons! Coupons!" with the two mezzos.
The last piece of the recital was "Ah, sweet mystery of life" from Victor Herbert's Naughty Marietta, an operetta from 1910 that was made into a film in 1935. It brought me to tears for some reason, all the singers participated as pianist Anna Smigelskaya played, even pianist Shiyu Tan joined in the singing at the very end. Somehow it was unexpected but also apt, and I enjoyed the scattering of dark red rose petals that occurred three times throughout the song.
Since this performance occurred outdoors, the singers all had discreet microphones attached to their heads.