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Festival Opera's Carmen

Carmen_stefancohen_021* Notes *
Festival Opera put on a visceral production of Carmen at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek last weekend. The staging was effective and there was a lot of great singing.

The small orchestra was conducted by Robert Mollicone, who is on the music staff at San Francisco Opera and was a Merolino back in 2011.

The staging relied heavily on projections to set the scenes, it looked to be a contemporary urban environment, replete with graffiti, highway overpasses, and the like. It did seem like the projections were on a loop, there seemed to be constant clouds of smoke in the background, which was unsettling.

Michael Mohammed's direction included two dancers, Stuck Sanders and Anthéa Colot (pictured with the chorus in Act IV, photograph by Stefan Cohen) who were very impressive. I loved how fluidly Sanders was able to move in particular, and there was such joy to the movement. They really drew me into the piece.

The cast for this was likewise engaging. Bass-baritone Matthew Lovell was suitably brutal as Zuniga. The quintet "Nous avons en tete una affaire" was memorable, baritone Daniel Cilli as the Le Dancaïre, tenor Taylor Thompson, mezzo-soprano Lily Bogas as Mercédès, and soprano Lila Khazoum as Frasquita were all very distinct but also cohesive. Baritone Young-Kwang Yoo was a charming Escamillo and soprano Hope Briggs a very sweet Micaëla.

Carmen_stefancohen_025Mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz is convincing as Carmen, they certainly are seductive. But most appealing was tenor Dane Suarez as the otherwise fairly repellant Don José. Suarez's voice has plaintiveness and bright warmth, but also an interesting rawness that works for this role.

*Tattling * 
I haven't been to a Festival Opera performance since 2015, and I was surprised how easy it was to get to the theater from the BART station. I brought Axel Feldheim with me to the performance and managed not only to get on the same train as him but also found the exact car he was on. We got there so early that we were able to go to a nearby farmers market and to a boba tea place beforehand. There were also activities happening outside the theater that involved many children.

There was some pretty loud talking from some audience members but it was usually about the performance. It's always very funny to me that people need to express their thoughts aloud about how beautiful something is and they interrupt other people's experience of that very beautiful thing.

Merola Grand Finale 2023

8.18.23-2674-1-scaled * Notes *
The Merola Grand Finale (participants pictured, photograph by Kristen Loken) was held Saturday night on the main stage of the War Memorial Opera House. It was great to hear the singers with the full orchestra conducted by Kelly Kuo.

The set looked to be a scene from Il Trovatore, which opens the San Francisco Opera season next month and consisted of a tilted grey concrete structure with rows of windows. The background was illuminated with different colored lights depending on the piece. I enjoyed the direction from Tania Arazi Coambs, there were lots of arm gestures, dancing, and the like. It was especially effective for the sextet "Siete voi...Questo è un nodo avviluppato" from Rossini's La Cenerentola.

There were many charming moments in this concert. It was great to hear "Ai capricci della sorte" from L'Italiana in Algeri also by Rossini, though the patter was not completely effortless, mezzo-soprano Cecelia Steffen McKinley as Isabella and bass-baritone Finn Sagal as Taddeo sang nicely and clearly can act. I felt the text was obvious and did not need to look at the supertitles to know what was happening.

8.18.23-1505-1-scaledThere were some interesting choices as far as repertoire, I liked the contrast of the duet "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles with the one from Gregory Spears' Fellow Travelers "I should take you to Bermuda." Both have to do with with love and feature a tenor and a baritone, though in Bizet the two characters are romantically interested in the same woman rather than each other. Tenor Sahel Salam has a reedy sound that works well for Nadir and tenor Demetrious Sampson, Jr. (pictured with baritone Cameron Rolling, photograph by Kristen Loken) has an effective voice for Timothy Laughlin. Sampson's sound has very pleasing resonances and was equally lovely in his duet in the second half of the performance, "In un coupé... O Mimì tu più non torni" from La Bohème.

It does seem that many of the Merolini have exceedingly powerful voices. We started the performance with soprano Georgiana Adams singing "Dich teure Halle" from Tannhäuser, and her icy sound is very strong. When she came back for "Sola, sola in bui loco" as Donna Anna, her voice was most prominent, though soprano Simona Genga was also pretty loud as Donna Elvira. After the intermission we heard these two in "Die selige Morgentraum...Selig, wie die Sonne" with Adams as Eva and Genga as Magdalene, both were impressive. Genga also had a memorable turn in "Carceleras" from Ruperto Chapi's zarzuela Las hijas del Zebedeo.

8.18.23-2524-1-scaledMezzo-soprano Natalie Lewis exuded a certain dignity as Margaret Garner in "A quality of love," from the opera by Richard Danielpour. Lewis showed her dramatic range as Luce in "Sing for your supper" along with soprano Juliette Chauvet as Adriana and Joanne Evans as Luciana (pictured from left to right Chauvet, Evans, and Lewis, photograph by Kristen Loken). This trio from The Boys of Syracuse by Rodgers and Hart could not be more different in tone from Margaret Garner.

The evening ended with "Overhead the moon is beaming" from the 1924 operetta The Student Prince. The piece featured tenor Sahel Salam as the Prince, along with Natalie Lewis, Joanne Evans, and Finn Sagal. It was very entertaining and all of the Merolini joined them as the chorus.

*Tattling * 
Instead of an overture to kick off the performance, current Adler Fellow Moisés Salazar addressed the audience about how being in the Merola Opera Program changed his life.

The audience was fairly quiet but I did hear a cellphone ring during the duet from L'Italiana. There was also some light talking but nothing terribly egregious.