Merola Opera Program

Merola's Back Home: Through the Stage Door

Merola-stage-door-2021 * Notes *
Last month the Merola Opera Program filmed a series of pieces featuring the 2021 participants in the Herbst Theatre under the title Back Home: Through the Stage Door. Directed by David Paul, the 17 vignettes established a lovely warmth and intimacy.

The banter between bass-baritone Andrew Dwan (Presto) and tenor Gabriel Hernandez (Lacouf) in "Avec vous, vieux Lacouf" from Les mamelles de Tirésias was truly charming, they sang around pianist Anna Smigelskaya and had great chemistry.

I have a soft spot for local mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz and was so glad to hear them sing Sesto in "Son nata a lagrimar" from Giulio Cesare with fellow mezzo Jesse Mashburn as Cornelia. Printz also sang in two Mozart pieces "Ah, perdona al primo affetto" from La clemenza di Tito and "Pria di partir, oh Dio!" from Idomeneo, basically all my favorite repertoire.

Other highlights for me were soprano Catherine Goode being super creepy as the Lady with a Hand Mirror in Argento's Postcard from Morocco and soprano Celeste Morales singing Florence B. Price's "Hold fast to dreams." The latter gave me goosebumps, Morales has a beautiful, clear tone.

The finale of "Contessa perdono... Questo giorno di tormenti" from Le nozze di Figaro (pictured, photograph by Kristen Loken) was rousing. Baritone Laureano Quant is a fine Count, and soprano Mikayla Sager a very sympathetic Countess.

Tattling * 
My spouse caught me watching the end of this video on our television and noted that I even do standing room at home.


Merola Grand Finale 2021

Merola-grand-finale-2021 * 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.

Tattling * 
Since this performance occurred outdoors, the singers all had discreet microphones attached to their heads.


What the Heart Desires Recital

Heart-desires-merola-2021* Notes *
Merola, San Francisco Opera's summer training program, had a first in-person performance (pictured, photograph by Kristen Loken) on July 3, with a filmed version released to donors on July 16. Curated by African American mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller and Asian American tenor Nicholas Phan, the program -- titled "What the Heart Desires" -- features works by women and composers of color.

The recital consisted of six singers accompanied by the apprentice coaches on piano. Nearly all the songs were in English. The new crop of Merolini all have very powerful, clean voices.

Especially impressive is tenor Edward Graves, his soaring notes in Henry Thacker Burleigh's "Among the Fuchsias" were imposing and his rendition of Undine Smith Moore's "I want to die while you love me" was stirring. I also liked hearing baritone Laureano Quant again, he was in the program two years ago, and was the only low voice of the group here. He sang a piece he wrote himself, "Ahora hablo de gaitas," Mohammed Fairouz's "After The Revels," and Viet Cuong's O Do Not Love Too Long."

Mezzo-soprano Gabrielle Beteag had much appeal in Ian Cusson's "Where There's A Wall," and pianist Shiyu Tan did will with all the percussive effects the piece requires. Soprano Celeste Morales both opened and closed the performance with vigor, beginning with Robert Owens' "Havana Dreams" and ending the afternoon with Maria Grever's "Jurame."

Tattling * 
It was great to hear so many different composers that don't normally get programed. That said, a few of the pieces did not do it for me, the text of Chen Yi's "Bright Moonlight" sounded like a word salad while Stacy Garrop's "What Can One Woman Do?" whose text is from Eleanor Roosevelt was rather declamatory as opposed to lyrical.


Merola's 2021 Participants

Carrie-anne-2400x1200Sopranos
Emily Blair, Hoffman Estates, Illinois
Catherine Goode, Friendswood, Texas
Magdalena Kuźma, New York, New York
Celeste Morales, San Antonio, Texas
Ashley Marie Robillard, Norton, Massachusetts
Mikayla Sager, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Johanna Will, Dresden, Germany

Mezzo-Sopranos
Gabrielle Barkidjija, River Forest, Illinois
Gabrielle Beteag, Atlanta, Georgia
Jesse Mashburn, Hartselle, Alabama
Nikola Printz, Novato, California

Tenors
Victor Cardamone, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Gabriel Hernandez, Tampa, Florida
Philippe L'Esperance, Grafton, Massachusetts
Tianchi Zhang, Huainan, Anhui, China

Baritones
Thomas Lynch, Lynbrook, New York
Samson McCrady, Tucson, Arizona
Laureano Quant, Barranquilla, Colombia

Bass-Baritones
Ben Brady, Denver, Colorado
Andrew Dwan, Mountain View, California

Apprentice Coaches
Erica Xiaoyan Guo, Tianjin, China
Yang Lin, Shanghai, China
Anna Smigelskaya, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Shiyu Tan, Changsha, Hunan, China
Marika Yasuda, Williamsburg, Virginia

Apprentice Stage Director
Audrey Chait, Menlo Park, California

The Merola Opera Program announced participants for 2021, most of whom were to be in the program last year. The program has a new artistic director, Carrie-Ann Matheson (pictured) and new general manager, Markus Beam.

The 2021 season includes three performances including a recital featuring black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and female composers on July 3, a digital format production from film director David Paul on July 30, and the Merola Grand Finale on July 31. Details for the locations of these performances is still to be determined.

Official Site | Press Release


Anything for Love and Honor Recital

Issachah-savage-2021* Notes *
The San Francisco Opera training program Merola successfully held a virtual recital last Sunday using Vimeo. Featuring tenor Issachah Savage (pictured), a Merola alum from 2013, the beautiful singing was entirely in German.

The recital was entitled "Anything for Love and Honor" and included arias and songs by Richard Strauss, Hugo Wolf, and Richard Wagner. Savage and his piano accompanist Laurie Rogers started off strong with "Allmächt'ger Vater" from Wagner's Rienzi. Savage has a bright, focused tone and clear diction. Rogers gets a lot of colors out of the piano, and is an impressive stand-in for a whole orchestra.

Savage went on to sing three pieces by Strauss and three selections from Wolf's Italienisches Liederbuch. His voice is powerful and open. I particularly liked the bouncy and dance-like "Ein Ständchen Euch zu bringen." The two most memorable offerings were certainly at the end, both showstoppers from Wagner operas. His renditions of "Winterstürme" from Die Walküre and "Nur eine Waffe taugt" from Parsifal piqued my curiosity about hearing Savage sing a whole opera by Wagner. He's scheduled for LA Opera's Tannhäuser in October, and hopefully the Covid pandemic will be contained enough for us to be back at indoor performances by then.

Tattling * 
There were a few crackles and pops in the Vimeo live transmission of this performance, but it was nothing like the first attempt with this virtual venue back in February with Karen Slack's recital.

Savage wore some dapper blue shoes for his recital, and Rogers matched with a sparkly blue cardigan.


Of Thee I Sing! Songs of Love and Justice Recital

Karen-slack-2021-scott-grieder* Notes *
The Merola Opera Program of San Francisco Opera tried to hold a virtual recital back at the beginning of February using Vimeo. Featuring soprano Karen Slack (pictured, photograph by Scott Grieder) with pianist Mary Pinto, the weather in Philadelphia interrupted the performance several times and ultimately they had to rerecord the recital for on demand viewing.

Entitled "Of Thee I Sing! Songs of Love and Justice" the recital was entirely made up of songs in English, many either composed by African Americans, such as H. Leslie Adams and Adolphus Hailstork or with texts by or about African Americans. Langston Hughes' "Kids Who Die" set to music by Scott Gendel is viscerally disturbing and made me squirm in my seat.

Slack's voice is crystalline, every note perfectly clean and strong. Her rendition of Undine Smith Moore's "Love Let The Wind Cry… How I Adore Thee" was utterly lovely, her soaring high notes showed no strain. I also found H.T. Burleigh's "Lovely, Dark, and Lonely One" particularly beautiful. Pinto's accompaniment was restrained and supportive but sufficiently lush as well.

Tattling * 
Since this was not a live event, the recording is quite smooth and without technical glitches.

Pinto wore two different black dress shoes, a stiletto on her left foot and a more blocky heel on her right.


Very Merola Christmas Virtual Recital

Merola-christmas-2020 * Notes *
Merola, San Francisco Opera's training program, held a third virtual recital yesterday afternoon via Zoom with pianist Ronny Michael Greenberg, soprano Maria Valdes, mezzo-soprano Alice Chung, tenor Casey Candebat, and bass-baritone Christian Pursell. It was a lovely 50 minutes of wide-ranging music from these musicians that live all over the country.

Candebat and Chung began the performance with a warm rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" accompanied by Greenberg. They were video edited to be in the same scene by Pursell, who did this work for the whole recital in addition to his contribution as a bass-baritone. Greenberg did the introductions for the rest of the pieces, starting with Pursell singing "Sibilar gli angui d'Aletto" from Händel's Rinaldo, with a bit of Messiah interpolated in before the da capo. It was a bit startling to hear the English text pop up in the middle, but Pursell sang robustly. Valdes joined him for the beautiful duet from Die Zauberflöte "Bei Männern," after she sang "O Holy Night" as a solo. Her voice is very clean and has a precise delicacy.

Chung sang "Mon Coeur S’ouvre à ta voix" from Samson et Dalila. Her rich tones and the depths of her voice are evident even over Zoom. Candabat gave a vivid performance of "Ch'ella mi creda" from La fanciulla del West. The encores were Greenberg playing "La campanella" by Liszt and "Carol of the Bells." It was impressive how bell-like the piano and the voice can sound.

Tattling * 
There were a few small glitches in the sound every now and again. Candabat joked that we don't want the virtual recitals to be too good, or else no one will get back to the theater in person.

I cried during  the Mozart duet, I so miss going to the opera house. Seeing The Magic Flute at the Met last year seems so remote from now, when we can't even go to the drive in to see Tosca because of the huge spike in Covid cases and subsequent safer at home order.


Sanikidze/Barsotti Virtual Merola Recital

Sanikidze-2020 * Notes *
San Francisco Opera's training program Merola held another virtual recital yesterday afternoon via Zoom with vocal coaches and collaborative pianists Tamara Sanikidze (pictured left) and Edoardo Barsotti. It was lovely to see these artists usually behind the scenes highlighted.

Sanikidze opened the performance with Three Intermezzi for piano, Op. 117 by Johannes Brahms, playing with richness and lyricism. She was in Merola in 2009 but has done musical preparation for San Francisco Opera as recently as Manon Lescaut and Rusalka last year. It was nice to see both her Ring posters from 2011 and 2018 in the background of her studio in Austin, Texas. She dedicated her second offering, Chopin's Nocturne in C-sharp minor, to Suzanne Turley, a devoted San Francisco Opera patron who recently died.

The second half of the program was three pre-recorded pieces from Edoardo Barsotti (Merola '14/'15), who is in Florence working at the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Barsotti started with Jeux d'eau by Maurice Ravel, playing with a good deal of fire. His collaborative piano skills were on full display for Paraphrase on Verdi’s Rigoletto by Franz Liszt, he gets a lot of sound out of the instrument and a range of colors. I only know Morricone's music for Sergio Leone, so it was fun to hear Ennio Morricone's "Magic Waltz" from the film The Legend of 1900 as the last piece of the afternoon.

Tattling * 
I couldn't get Zoom to play through my entertainment room's speakers, though I could watch it on my television. There was a bit of static during Sanikidze's portion of the performance, but nothing too terrible. My daughter listened attentively to her as she sat on my lap, but wandered off during Ravel to go play outside.

I cried during the Chopin, not only was Sanikidze's playing very moving, it made me think of my mother, who loves this composer and plays his nocturnes. I haven't seen her in person since February. I also will miss seeing Suzanne around, I never spoke to her but always liked seeing her jaunty hair bows when she was in the audience.


Lucas Meachem's Virtual Merola Recital

Lucas-meachem-natasha-sadakin* Notes *
Merola, San Francisco Opera's training program, kicked off a virtual recital series last Sunday via Zoom with baritone Lucas Meachem (pictured left, photograph by Natasha Sadakin) and his piano accompanist and wife Irina Meachem. They were very charming and it was a stark reminder of just how strange these pandemic times are.

Lucas Meachem was in Merola in 2003 and went on to be an Adler, he's performed most recently in San Francisco as Mercutio in Roméo et Juliette last season. He pretty much sang from operas he has performed in at San Francisco Opera, so there was “Mab, la reine des mensonges” from the aforementioned Gounod, “Bella siccome un angelo” from Don Pasquale, and such.

Irina Meachem introduced the pieces, and we got to hear about how it is to be in the same industry as your romantic partner and a little bit about the challenges of having a one-year-old.

I loved hearing him sing “Hai già vinta la causa” from Le Nozze di Figaro and “Deh, vieni alla finestra” from Don Giovanni. Meachem channels rakishness well and the richness of his voice came through even in Zoom. Best of all was "Mein Sehnen, Mein Wähnen" (Pierrot’s Tanzlied) from Die Tote Stadt. It brought back to mind San Francisco Opera's dazzling production of this opera back in 2008.

I definitely felt a pang of loss as I heard this recital from our camper van as we drove from Vernal, Utah to Reno, Nevada, the penultimate leg of a cross country trip from Nantucket, where we've been sheltering in place for the summer. 2020 has been a tough year, as much as I feel my privilege acutely, I do miss live performing arts so much. And I feel for all the artists who have had so many gigs canceled and whose livelihoods are on the line.

Lucas and Irina Meachem took the opportunity of this recital to present a piece by a black female composer, namely, Undine Smith Moore. The art song “Love Let the Wind Cry” is as beautiful as anything in the standard repertoire, and was a welcome addition to the program.

* Tattling * 
There were some technical difficulties, though I'm not entirely sure if they were all on my end, since cellular coverage can be spotty in rural areas of our country. I got kicked off Zoom during an aria from Eugene Onegin, but was able to rejoin within a few minutes.


Merola Opera Cancels Summer 2020

8.18.17_finale-1845_resizedThe Merola Opera Program announces the cancellation of the 2020 training program and Summer Festival, including all public performances, public master classes, and events scheduled, in accordance with local and global efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This is the first time in 63 years that San Francisco Opera's summer training program for singers, collaborative pianists, and directors has been canceled.

Press Release | Merola Artists Emergency Fund


Merola's 63rd Season Participants

4.Sheri_Greenawald_Photo_Kristen_Loken-1-scaledSopranos
Emily Blair, Hoffman Estates, Illinois
Catherine Goode, Friendswood, Texas
Magdalena Kuźma, New York, New York
Celeste Morales, San Antonio, Texas
Mikayla Sager, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Johanna Will, Dresden, Germany

Mezzo-Sopranos
Gabrielle Barkidjija, River Forest, Illinois
Gabrielle Beteag, Atlanta, Georgia
Jesse Mashburn, Hartselle, Alabama
Nikola Printz, Novato, California
Isabel Signoret, Miami, Florida

Tenors
Victor Cardamone, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Gabriel Hernandez, Tampa, Florida
Philippe L'Esperance, Grafton, Massachusetts
WooYoung Yoon, Seoul, South Korea
Tianchi Zhang, Huainan, Anhui, China

Baritones
Thomas Lynch, Lynbrook, New York
Samson McCrady, Tucson, Arizona
Laureano Quant, Barranquilla, Colombia

Bass-Baritones
Ben Brady, Denver, Colorado
Andrew Dwan, Mountain View, California
Seungyun Kim, Cheong-ju, South Korea

Apprentice Coaches
Yang Lin, Shanghai, China
Michael McElvain, Chicago, Illinois
Anna Smigelskaya, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Shiyu Tan, Changsha, Hunan, China
Marika Yasuda, Williamsburg, Virginia

Apprentice Stage Director
Audrey Chait, Menlo Park, California

The Merola Opera Program announced participants for 2020, the last for San Francisco Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald (pictured, photograph by Kristen Loken), who is also the Artistic Director of the program.

The Schwabacher Summer Concert at the Presidio Theatre (99 Moraga Avenue, San Francisco) is on Thursday, July 9 and Saturday, July 11.

The Merola artists perform Postcard from Morocco on Thursday, July 23 and Saturday, July 25 and Le nozze di Figaro on Thursday, August 6 and Saturday, August 8. All of these operas are to be performed at the Presidio Theatre.

The season ends with the participants singing in the annual Merola Grand Finale on Saturday, August 22 at the War Memorial Opera House.

The Merolini arrive June 2, 2020, though the COVID-19 situation is being monitored, and the season may be postponed or canceled as a result.

Official Site | Press Releases


Merola Grand Finale 2019

Merola-monroe-2019*Notes*
Last night's Merola Grand Finale showcased a variety of strong voices from the set of San Francisco Opera's upcoming Billy Budd. The stage direction certainly had a ton of ideas and I especially enjoyed hearing the singers cast in the contemporary opera this summer sing more standard repertoire.

Apprentice stage director Greg Eldridge started the evening with different singers as the opening chorus of Shakespeare's Henry V. He did a lot to connect one aria or ensemble to another by having singers enter before their scene or linger afterward. The most successful example of this was having baritone Edward Laurenson in drag come out with the Merola ladies for Dialogues des Carmélites (Esther Tonea, Anne-Marie MacIntosh, Elisa Sunshine, Patricia Westley, and Amber R. Monroe pictured, photograph by Kristen Loken). Laurenson hides in the back, and when the women exit, he launches into Don Alfonso's "Non son cattivo comico" from Così fan tutte.

Soprano Esther Tonea returns shortly after to sing "L'abito di Ferrando" and her clear, clean sound was gorgeous. I really liked hearing her sing Diana in Jake Heggie's If I Were You, and it was nice to hear that she can sing Mozart so well also. The same goes for her Ferrando, tenor Michael Day, who was Fabian in the opening night cast of the Heggie. Their duet, "Fra gli amplessi," was lovely and very consistent.

Merola-porto-lehnea-atti-2019Another strong moment of the evening followed directly after, a scene from Donizetti's Maria Stuarda (pictured, photograph by Kristen Loken). Soprano Chelsea Lehnea gave a regal and bloodthirsty portrayal of Elisabetta in "E pensi? e tardi" and tenor Salvatore Atti gave an impassioned, plaintive performance as Conte di Leicester while bass-baritone Rafael Porto was deliciously evil as Lord Cecil. Lehnea certainly has some great high notes.

The second half of the program started with a charming scene from La fille du régiment, bass-baritone Andrew Dwan as a funny Sulpice with the very aptly named soprano Elisa Sunshine as a bright, sparkly Marie.

It was amusing to hear "In einen Wäschkorb?...Wie freu' ich mich" from Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, Laurenson (Fluth) and Porto (Falstaff) were cute and their German diction was easy to understand.

Merola-murray-chung-2019One of the best performances of the evening came from mezzo-soprano Alice Chung (pictured, photograph by Kristen Loken) as Gertrude in Thomas' Hamlet. Her voice is simply vivid and I loved hearing her sing "Hamlet, ma douleur est immense." Baritone Tim Murray held up well as Hamlet, their interaction seemed genuine.

Before the finale from Verdi's Falstaff, which ended the evening, Shakespeare reared his head again, this time Puck's closing lines of Midsummer Night's Dream.

* Tattling *
We sat in Row E of the orchestra level, which is rather close to the stage. Most of the audience members were quiet, though I did hear a cellular phone directly behind me, during Verdi's La traviata, right before intermission and an alarm at a quiet moment of Hamlet.

I was also challenged to a duel by a classical music critic, who asked "Swords or pistols?" after I expressed my love of Gounod's Faust.


Merola Opera Program's If I Were You

If-I-Were-You_Pearl-Cast_Kristen-Loken_14* Notes * 
Merola Opera Program's very first commission, If I Were You, premiered last night at Herbst Theatre. Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's opera certainly shows off the young singers voices but most impressive was Maestra Nicole Paiement at the helm of the orchestra.

The focus of Merola's performances is, of course, very much on the singers in the training program, and the orchestra often sounds less than perfect. Paiement had the musicians in the pit sounding formidable and together, and the shape of Heggie's sweeping lines were apparent.

The music is lyrical and showcased a great many beautiful voices, and the Faustian story fits the youth of the Merola participants (Cara Collins and Michael Day pictured, photograph by Kristen Loken). The main character, Fabian, is a young writer who makes a deal with the demon Brittomara to be able to move from one body to another, taking over other people's memories and selves. It is quite convoluted, and the singers did a fine job embodying the characters. I did not much like the sound of Fabian taking over a new body, it is supposed to be the sound of an electric shock but I couldn't help thinking it was like a big bug zapper killing insects.

If-I-Were-You_Pearl-Cast_Frank-Wing_10From the very beginning mezzo-soprano Cara Collins is a charismatic Brittomara, her deep low notes and sparkling ones are ideal for a shape shifting spirit. Tenor Michael Day is a poignant Fabian, his voice has a lot of different hues and much strength as well.

We see Fabian inhabit six different bodies, from his boss Putnam, played by bass-baritone Rafael Porto to his love interest's best friend Selena, performed by soprano Patricia Westley. There were no weak links, these are all singing actors. It was particularly amusing to see baritone Timothy Murray as the brash, confident Paul. The contrast of "real" Paul with Fabian/Paul is very charming and funny.

Soprano Esther Tonea stood out as Diana. As Fabian's love interest, she starts off pretty mild, her voice has a lovely, pure sound. By Act II she has been through quite a lot, trying to piece together what is going on around her, and her performance is much more dramatic and powerful.

The production, directed by Keturah Stickann, effectively uses vertical space by having stage elements come up and down from the ceiling. The many scenes are seamless because of this and the projected video art that could put us in an auto body repair shop (pictured, photograph by Frank Wing) or book-filled apartment within seconds.

The opera has a second cast that performs tomorrow and August 6, and it is sure to be interesting to hear other singers in the principal roles. The opening cast returns on August 4.

* Tattling *
One of the people in Row F was convinced I was in his seat but his companion assured him that they needed to keep going.

There was light talking in the middle of Row G, at least one watch alarm marking 8pm, and the person next to me in Seat 108 checked the time on his phone right before the opera ended.


Schwabacher Summer Concert 2019

La-rondine_Kristen-Loken_1181* Notes * 
Last night the Merola Opera Program gave its first performance of the year with the Schwabacher Summer Concert at San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The singing shows a lot of promise and there were many distinctive voices.

The evening started with Act I of La rondine (Chelsea Lehnea, Anna Dugan, Amber R. Monroe, and Alice Chung pictured; photograph by Kristen Loken). I was impressed how well matched the singers are. Sopranos Chelsea Lehnea (Yvette) and Anna Dugan (Bianca) along with mezzo-soprano Alice Chung (Suzy) made a lovely trio. Tenor Victor Starsky is clear and warm as Prunier, though he struggled with his lowest note at the end of the act, he is charming with the very cute Hyeree Shin as Lisette. Shin's voice, though not perfectly controlled, is perfectly light and bird-like. Best of all was certainly our Magda, soprano Amber R. Monroe, whose voice is icily incisive without a hint of ugliness and warm resonances throughout her range.

Chelsea Lehnea showed that she's another very fine soprano in Act I, Scene 4 of Lucia di Lammermoor. Her voice is very pretty and flexible, and she sang beautifully with the plaintive tenor Salvatore Atti as Edgardo.

After intermission we heard Act II, Scenes 3 and 4 of Die schweigsame Frau, and soprano Hyeree Shin sparkled as Aminta while bass Stefan Egerstrom countered her with much gravity. The banter in German was easy to discern. We also heard Act IV, Scenes 5 through 8 of Faust. The orchestra, particularly the horns, sounded fuzzy here. Conducted by Craig Kier, was as last year, upstage behind the singers, and again there were synchronization issues, most obviously in the Gounod and Puccini. Bass-baritone Andrew Dwan is a very loud and powerful Méphistophélès, while baritone Laureano Quant made for a passionate Valentin.

Merola certainly saved the best for last with an arresting finale of Il trovatore. The orchestra had lovely moments, especially in the strings. Soprano Anna Dugan (Leonora) has a delicate sound, a good contrast to the dastardly Il Conte di Luna of baritone Jeff Byrnes, whose volume is quite intense. Victor Starksy's tenor is bright and lucid, but the singer that really had me on edge and paying attention was mezzo-soprano Alice Chung, whose Azucena is strong and otherworldly.

* Tattling * 
The audience very attentive and quiet. We saw at least three former Merolini in the audience, including tenor Pene Pati and soprano Amina Edris.


Merola's Il Re Pastore

Merola-il-re-pastore-2018* Notes * 
The first of two operas from the Merola Opera Program this summer is the rarity Il Re Pastore at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on July 19 and 21. The lighthearted production directed by Tara Faircloth suits the early Mozart very well, as do the young singers (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken). Maestro Stephen Stubbs conducted with warmth and kept everyone together.

The absurd plot of Il Re Pastore involves Alexander the Great (Alessandro) conquering the kingdom of Sidon, deposing a tyrant named Stratone, and reinstating the rightful heir Aminta, who has lived as a shepherd and has no idea that he is royalty. Alessandro wants the tyrant's daughter Tamiri to marry our titular pastoral king Aminta, but unfortunately he loves shepherdess Elisa, while Tamiri loves Agenore, a Sidonian aristocrat.

The cheery music is unmistakably Mozart's, even if he wrote it when he was only 19. The small orchestra is exposed, and there was a violin out of tune, but the conductor did a fine job keeping the singers and musicians together without being square and dull.

The set is essentially a staircase and two big curved walls covered in greenery on one side and stripes on the other. These were moved by male supernumeraries who were security for Alesssandro. Everything seemed to be mid-century, and the costumes very cunning. There were many sight gags, including topiary sheep, dancing with umbrellas, and throwing petals with deadly seriousness.

The singers, all with high, bright voices, were ebuillent. The part of Aminta was originally cast for a soprano castrato but was played here by female soprano Cheyanne Coss in men's wear. Coss has a clear sound that is well-grounded and her "L'amerò, sarò costante" in Act II was especially beautiful. Her Elisa, soprano Patricia Westley has a very different voice, though also sweet, has a metallic tang, and she both looked and sounded exceedingly girly. Mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh's Tamiri was winsome, her voice is brilliant and crystalline. Her Act II aria ""Se tu di me fai dono," in which she scolds Agenore for giving her away was one of the highlights of the evening.

Tenor Charles Sy has a plaintive voice which works for long-suffering Agenore, he is physically attacked in this production by both Elisa and Tamiri. Tenor Zhengyi Bai (Alessandro) also has a pretty voice, but definitely sounds different than Sy, more robust and with a great openness.

* Tattling *
A prominent Bay Area music critic had to be re-seated next to me in J 3 because his original seat was broken. Unfortunately, the people next to him in J 5 and 7 talked to the couple in front of them. He moved to another seat so that he could sit with his date after intermission, but so did the noisy pair that had been next to him.

A man in Row F Seat 101 put an earbud into his ear at some point in Act II and looked at his cellular phone for several minutes.