* 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.
There 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.
Mezzo-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.
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.