* Notes *
The Merola Grand Finale (pictured, photograph by Kristen Loken) returned to the War Memorial Opera House last night for the first time since 2019. It was a joy to hear all these talented singers in person and in the opera house.
The stage was simple, basically three white screens and different colored lights for the various scenes. Only the duet "Vogliatemi bene" from Act I of Madama Butterfly had some static projections that looked like raindrops or petals. Matthew J. Schultz's stage direction had appeal, it was direct and unfussy.
I liked how mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz as Kitty Oppenheimer interacted with bass-baritone William Socolof in their aria "Am I in your Light?" (from Dr. Atomic) though he did not sing. It made sense to have Socolof play J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Printz did very well with both singing and acting. Also interesting was Schultz's choice to have the Card Trio from Carmen start with only Frasquita and Mercédès onstage, and then have Carmen join only later.
While there were many strong arias, such as countertenor Cody Bowers singing "D'un sventurato amante...Pena tiranna" from Handel's Amadigi di Gaula and bass-baritone Le Bu in Verdi's "O tu Palermo," the most impressive were the duets. Singers were well-matched and sang pieces nicely suited to their abilities. "Listen, Mary, trust me!" from Highway 1, U.S.A. by William Grant Still was sweeping and beautiful when sung by soprano Adia Evans and baritone Scott Lee. Soprano Maggie Kinabrew as a spunky Adina with bass-baritone Seungyun Kim as a very silly Dulcamara were charming in "Quanto amore!" Strongest of all in the first half of the evening though was undoubtedly soprano Amanda Batista and tenor Moisés Salazar in "Vogliatemi bene," the raw power yet total ease of their voices was arresting. They blended their sounds nicely as well.
In the second half, I found soprano Ariana Rodriguez and tenor Chance Jonas-O'Toole very adorable in "Tornami a dir che m'ami" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale. Rodriguez has some lovely resonances to her voice and Jonas-O'Toole is distinctive, warm and woodwind-like. Also notable was the Puccini duet from La bohème "Dunque è proprio finita" with soprano Adia Evans and tenor Daniel Luis Espinal which was vivid and very loud. As I'm a ridiculous fan of Gounod's Faust, I was very glad to hear soprano Chelsea Lehnea and bass-baritone Seungyun Kim sing "Alerte! Alerte!" with tenor Moisés Salazar acting the part of the title character.
It was fun seeing all the supporters of Merola that we've missed in the last two years, even if it was behind masks.
There was a bit of light talking on occasion, and someone's hearing aids made a lot of squeaky sounds during the performance. I must say I wasn't too annoyed by it, as I had sort of forgotten this could be an issue after all these months of pandemic precautions and staying inside. In a way I'm grateful to be able to even hear those high-pitched sounds still.