Merola Opera Program

Julie Adams Interview

Adams, JulieSan Francisco Conservatory of Music alumna Julie Adams (pictured left) was one of the winners of Met Council Auditions this year. She sang the role of Blanche DuBois in André Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire as a participant of the Merola Opera Program this summer. The program concludes this Saturday with the Grand Finale.

What was the first opera you sang in?
I was in the chorus of Die Fledermaus at L.A. County High School for the Arts. I initially went there for musical theater, but I don't dance, so that didn't work out so well. Stephanie Vlahos, who is in the music faculty there still, introduced me to opera.

Did you go to the recent performance of A Streetcar Named Desire in Los Angeles?
Yes, I managed to go to the last performance. I was on the edge of my seat, since I knew the music and was curious to hear how Renée Fleming tackled the role of Blanche. Her artistry is amazing.

How was it singing Blanche for Merola?
It was really hard but so rewarding. It was difficult to learn and I had to rely on muscle memory to get the starting pitches, as Previn didn't score things so that the orchestra is there to help. I miss the role now as I was living with it for so long. It was very intense. The movie version is obviously iconic, we had to bring something different to the roles and to make them our own.

What are your favorite operas?
I love Puccini. Bohème is one of my favorites and Mimì is a dream role for me. I also love Marriage of Figaro. Magic Flute, I know not everyone likes that one, but I do. Mozart is, of course, a genius. Traviata. Manon. Susannah. I am so excited that San Francisco Opera is doing this one. This is another dream role. I love Carlyle Floyd.

Is there a particular singer to you look up to?
Pat Racette. I admire her with my whole heart. She always gives 110 percent. She always moves me, and I think that is why people go to the opera, to be moved.

What do you think of musical theater as opera?
I think it is great, it gets people into the opera house. Obviously the opera wouldn't take on contemporary Broadway works. For Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kern and Hammerstein, or Gilbert and Sullivan, it completely makes sense. It is great music and is accessible.

What was it like to sing at the Met?
It was a great experience, very glamorous and thrilling. I was so nervous, so it was hard to be in the moment, but my favorite part was the Sitzprobe, when we rehearsed with conductor and orchestra. I sang "L'annee en vain chasse l'annee" from Debussy's L'Enfant Prodigue, which the orchestra wasn't familiar with, obviously, as the opera isn't done that much. The conductor, Marco Armiliato, asked me to bear with them, but the Met Orchestra is incredible. The musicians are such lovely people too.

What are you singing for the Merola Grand Finale?
The "Cherry Duet," "Suzel, buon dì…Tutto tace," from L'amico Fritz with Mr. Casey Candabat. I am also singing Alice in the final piece, "Volgiti e mira…Tutto nel mondo è burla." We are singing on the Susannah set, so we are all in formal wear on a desolate, stark stage.

One of your interests is watching professional hockey games. Do you support a particular team?
The Los Angeles Kings, sorry Sharks fans. Hockey is exciting and I enjoy watching games with my dad and brother.

Merola's Don Giovanni

  Merola-don-giovanni-2014* Notes *
Merola Opera Program's latest production of Don Giovanni (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken) opened with the first of two performances on Thursday night. Director James Darrah's production goes against the text and the drama, with most of the action taking place in an artist's studio, designed by Emily MacDonald and Cameron Mock. There is lots of face touching, crawling about, and getting up on tables. While enjoyably amusing, this does little to elucidate the narrative. I did laugh a lot when the chorus banged on the table in the last scene.

Admittedly, there are some effective devices and times when the space was used inventively. It is cute when Leperello walks out into the audience for the line "Anch'io, caro padrone, esibisco la mia protezione" and chooses someone to "protect." Also, Don Giovanni's descent to the netherworld is handled convincingly enough, with the chorus simply overwhelming him.

Martin Katz conducted a tentative and somewhat muddy sounding orchestra. The strings were problematic. Act II was an improvement over Act I, however. In any case, the impressive singing was certainly the main attraction, as it is for all Merola events. Yujin Kim and Rhys Lloyd Talbot made for a perfectly nice Zerlina and Masetto. Kim was particularly jaunty. Szymon Wach was a roguish but not especially lovable Leporello. His voice has a husky quality but is sufficiently loud. Scott Russell sang the Commendatore with power. Karen Chia-Ling Ho made for a strong Donna Elvira. She definitely seemed unhinged.

Benjamin Werley sang Don Ottavio's two arias with great beauty, there were times when his voice truly seemed seamless. Amanda Woodbury (Donna Anna) has a bright, lovely voice. Her arias were some of the best moments of the evening. Edward Nelson has an attractive voice and radiated confidence as a rather unlikeable Don.

* Tattling *
The audience was fairly silent and still. A girl in E7 had to exit the hall in Act I but returned quickly. The most ill-behaved person I observed was myself, as I had difficulty containing my mirth at the production.

As we were leaving, I also got in the way of the director as he rushed out of the theater to take his bow on stage. While this was happening, we admired an adorable sleeping newborn in a young woman's arms backstage, oblivious to the ovation.

Merola's A Streetcar Named Desire

Casey Candebat (Harold _Mitch_ Mitchell) and Julie Adams (Blanche DuBois). A Streetcar Named Desire. Merola Opera Program. Photography by Kristen Loken. 2* Notes * 
André Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire was performed Thursday night by the Merola Opera Program at Everett Middle School in San Francisco. The production (pictured left with Julie Adams as Blanche DuBois and Casey Candebat as Harold "Mitch" Mitchell, photograph by Kristen Loken) directed by Jose Maria Condemi, is attractive. The set has two levels and is rather detailed. The costumes are straightforward and pretty. Mark Morash conducted a reduced orchestration by Peter Grunberg. The ensemble sounded rather vigorous.

There was much beautiful singing, though the first act was somewhat rough. The performances were engaging. Baritone Thomas Gunther was a suitably brutish Stanley Kowalski. Adelaide Boedecker has a lovely sweet voice, and was a believable Stella Kowalski. Casey Candebat sounded great as Harold "Mitch" Mitchell, wonderfully lyrical. Julie Adams makes for an impressive Blanche DuBois. Her voice is well-supported and brilliant. Her acting was also spot-on.

* Tattling * 
Any missed lines were all too apparent since the libretto is in English and there were supertitles.

Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions 2014

Met-auditions-2014The 2014 winners of the Metropolitan Opera (pictured left) National Council Auditions are sopranos Julie Adams and Amanda Woodbury; tenor Yi Li; bass-baritone Ao Li; and bass Patrick Guetti. Four of these five are associated with the Merola Opera Program. Adams and Woodbury are Merolini this year. Yi Li was in Merola in 2012 and Ao Li was in Merola in 2010. Ao was, of course, also an Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera for three years. Adams recently graduated from San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Official Site

NY Festival of Song Schwabacher 2014

Schwabacher-festival-song-2014* Notes * 
The artistic director of New York Festival of Song, Steven Blier, presided over a Schwabacher Debut Recital entitled In the Memory Palace yesterday evening. The program included diverse selections from song cycles and vocal quartets with an underlying theme of courtship. Blier accompanied four Adler Fellows on piano.

The structure of the evening was divided in fourths, starting with a quartet, then featuring each singer in turn. We began with Heitor Villa-Lobos, first "Canção da folha morta" followed by soprano Maria Valdes singing three songs from Floresta do Amazonas. All four singers have powerful voices, but they were able to blend their sounds nicely. Valdes has an airy lightness but has a tawny warmth as well. She showed her versatility in these cinematic songs. Next we traveled to Northern Europe with the ensemble singing a Danish text set by Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar, Jens Peter's poem "I seraillets have." Then mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde sang four Grieg songs with German texts. Her voice is incredibly rich and gorgeous, with a brilliant clarity.

After intermission we heard exclusively songs in English, starting with "Come live with me" by William Sterndale Bennett. Tenor AJ Gluekert did a fine job bringing his voice out for particular phrases, and then blending back in with the ensemble. Gluekert went on to sing four rather distinct songs by Frank Bridge, showing a range of emotions and styles. The fourth part of the program commenced with Sondheim's dizzying Two Fairy Tales. The singers were clearly listening to one another and working together. The last series of songs were by Gabriel Kahane, from the cycle The Memory Palace. Baritone Hadleigh Adams seemed at ease with both music and text. The last piece on the program was Smokey Robinson's "You've Really Got a Hold On Me," and it was slightly awkward, as Glueckert and Adams seemed perfectly comfortable singing this, but Valdes and Švēde simply sounded like opera singers. The encore, from Bernstein's Candide, was much more convincing. One would love to hear the Adlers sing the entire opera.

* Tattling * 
Blier was characteristically amusing despite the many electronic interruptions from the audience while he went through the pieces with us.

Merola's 57th Season Participants

Julie Adams, Burbank, California
Adelaide Boedecker, Sarasota, Florida
Maria Fasciano, Niagara Falls, New York
Karen Chia-Ling Ho, Taipei, Taiwan
Yujin Kim, Deajeon, South Korea
Talya Lieberman, Forest Hills, New York
Amanda Woodbury, Dallas, Texas

Eliza Bonet, Atlanta, Georgia
Shirin Eskandani, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Nian Wang, Nanjing, Jiangsu, China

Casey Candebat, New Orleans, Louisiana
Mingjie Lei, Hengyang, Hunan, China
Chong Wang, Shijiazhuang, Hebei, China
Benjamin Werley, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Gideon Dabi, Highland Park, New Jersey
Alexander Elliott, Florence, South Carolina
Thomas Gunther, Muscatine, Iowa
Edward Nelson, Santa Clarita, California

John Arnold, Cumming, Georgia
Matthew Stump, Goshen, Indiana
Rhys Lloyd Talbot, Cedar Falls, Iowa
Szymon Wach, Lublin, Poland

Anthony Reed, Alexandria, Minnesota
Scott Russell, Roanoke, Virginia

Apprentice Coaches
Edoardo Barsotti, Lucca, Tuscany, Italy
Ronny Michael Greenberg, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Kirill Kuzmin, Moscow, Russia
Sahar Nouri, Tehran, Iran
Blair Salter, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada

Apprentice Stage Director
Omer Ben Seadia, Tel-Aviv, Israel

Official Site | Press Releases

2014 Adler Fellows

2013-Adler-group-photoThe incoming 2014 Adler Fellows are Maria Valdes, Zanda Švēde, Pene Pati, Efraín Solís, and Noah Lindquist. They join current Adlers (pictured left) Erin Johnson, Jacqueline Piccolino, A.J. Glueckert, Chuanyue Wang, Hadleigh Adams, and Philippe Sly. The outgoing 2013 Adler Fellows are soprano Marina Harris, mezzo-sopranos Laura Krumm and Renée Rapier, baritone Ao Li, bass-baritone Joo Won Kang, and coach and accompanist Robert Mollicone.

Press Release | Official Site

Adler 2014 Speculation

8.16.13_Finale-3609* Notes *
The Adler Fellows for 2014 will not be announced for a few months, but Merola just ended, so one may as well speculate on which artists (pictured left in the 2013 Grand Finale, photograph by Kristen Loken) will return to San Francisco. Robert Mollicone will have completed two years as an Adler, so we will get a new collaborative pianist. As for singers, the outgoing Adlers are soprano Marina Harris; mezzo-sopranos Laura Krumm and Renée Rapier; and baritones Joo Won Kang and Ao Li.

This year there were many fine mezzos and tenors. Certainly mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde was most impressive. Tenors Pene Pati and Issachah Savage are both marvelous. For sopranos, of course Jacqueline Piccolino will be an Adler next year, as she already filled in for Jennifer Cherest this summer. As for another choice, perhaps soprano Maria Valdes or soprano Aviva Fortunata. Valdes is very light, and Fortunata might use a bit more control.

* Tattler Guesses *
Timothy Cheung
Jacqueline Piccolino
Maria Valdes
Zanda Švēde
Pene Pati
Issachah Savage

Merola's The Rape of Lucretia

7.9.13_Lucretia-4747* Notes * 
Britten's The Rape of Lucretia was performed last night by the Merola Opera Program at Everett Middle School in San Francisco. The production (pictured left with Katie Hannigan as Bianca, Alisa Jordheim as Lucia, Kate Allen as Lucretia and Chris Carr as Tarquinius; photograph by Kristen Loken) directed by Peter Kazaras, is elegant and contemporary. Donald Eastman's scenic design is essentially just platforms, furniture, and blinds, but comes to life beautifully with Chris Maravich's lighting. The production complements the music, and the dramatic moments of this opera held together nicely. The proceedings seemed altogether fresh and vibrant.

Mark Morash conducted the small ensemble to fine effect. Though there is no pit in the theater of Everett, the situation seems better than at Cowell, as the musicians sounded robust, vivid, and synchronized. The harp playing was especially lovely, as was the oboe and English horn.

The singing was impressive all around. Alisa Jordheim (Lucia) sounded perfectly sweet and bird-like. Katie Hannigan made for a protective Bianca. David Weigel's pain as Collantinus was palpable. Efraín Solís was quite disturbing as Junius, particularly when goading Tarquinius at the end of Act I Scene 1.

Linda Barnett sang the Female Chorus with a certain calm, while Robert Watson was more rousing as the Male Chorus. Chris Carr's Tarquinius was expressive and disquieting. Kate Allen was a magnificent Lucretia, with gorgeous low notes.

* Tattling * 
There was very little talking, except when a super-title error occurred during Act I. The J Church light rail street cars were clearly audible from inside the auditorium.

Auditions for the General Director 2013

Merola-general-director-auditions-2013* Notes *
The Auditions for the General Director of San Francisco Opera occurred last night after the matinée performance of Les Contes d'Hoffmann. The twenty-three singers in the Merola Opera Program performed, each accompanied by one of five apprentice coaches. There were some interesting tenors and mezzo-sopranos. The baritones, though all very loud and competent, seemed a little bland this year.

Mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb, tenor Issachah Savage, soprano Maria Valdes, mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde, tenor Pene Pati, and mezzo-soprano Daryl Freedman were called back. Both of these tenors had a robust warmth and their own particular sound. Švēde was most distinctive of the these female singers, her voice is quite deep. Pati and Freedman were especially praised by David Gockley.

Of those not called back, Gockley seemed most enthused about baritone Chris Carr, soprano Aviva Fortunata, tenor Matthew Newlin, and bass-baritone Thomas Richards.

Meet the Merolini 2013

Meet-merolini-2013The 28 of the 29 incoming Merolini (pictured left, photograph by Scott Grieder) were interviewed by San Francisco Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald, Merola Opera Board of Directors Chairman Jayne Davis, and President Donna L. Blacker yesterday evening, in the Nourse Theater. This year four of the participants are Canadian and two are Iowan. We learned that bass-baritone John Arnold loves breakfast foods such as eggs, bacon, and toast. Apprentice stage director George Cederquist told a hilarious story about Joan Sutherland in her 1989 performance as Norma in Detroit. He also expressed a fondness for the operas of Orff, especially Der Mond.

Mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb was goth in high school and studied mathematics as an undergrad. Tenor Casey Finnigan joked that if there were a musical character on Big Bang Theory, it would be him, as he is a "tremendous nerd." Baritone Joseph Lattanzi gave a good-humored account of his Seattle Opera debut, in which he managed to fall flat on his back as Morales in Carmen. Both Jaqueline Piccolino and Robert Watson have made main stage debuts at San Francisco Opera, Piccolino is Stella in the current run of Les Contes d'Hoffmann and Watson was a nobleman in Lohengrin last fall. Apprentice coach Jeremy Weissmann explained what Vibram FiveFingers shoes are.

Schwabacher Summer Concert
Don Giovanni
Don Giovanni: Alex DeSocio
Donna Elvira: Aviva Fortunata
Leporello: Rhys Lloyd Talbot

Don Carlo
Don Carlo: Pene Pati
Rodrigo: Alex DeSocio

Otello: Issachah Savage
Desdemona: Aviva Fortunata
Iago: Alex DeSocio
Cassio: Matthew Newlin
Emilia: Zanda Svede
Lodovico: Rhys Lloyd Talbot

L'italiana in Algeri
Isabella: Zanda Svede
Lindoro: Matthew Newlin
Mustafà: Rhys Lloyd Talbot

Lucia di Lammermoor
Edgardo: Pene Pati
Raimondo: Rhys Lloyd Talbot 

L'amico Fritz
Fritz: Pene Pati
Beppe: Zanda Svede

The Rape of Lucretia
Male Chorus: Robert Watson
Female Chorus: Linda Barnett
Collatinus: David Weigel
Junius: Efrain Solis
Tarquinius: Chris Carr
Lucretia: Kate Allen
Bianca: Katie Hannigan
Lucia: Alisa Jordheim


Le Nozze di Figaro
Count Almaviva: Joseph Lattanzi
Countess Almaviva: Jacqueline Piccolino
Susanna: Maria Valdes
Figaro: John Arnold
Cherubino: Rihab Chaieb
Marcellina: Daryl Freedman
Bartolo: Thomas Richards
Basilio: Casey Finnigan
Don Curzio: Matthew Newlin
Barbarina: Alisa Jordheim
Antonio: Rhys Lloyd Talbot


This year the Opera Standees Association is sponsoring George Cederquist and Efrain Solis.

Merola's 56th Season Participants

Linda Barnett, Greeneville, Tennessee
Aviva Fortunata, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Alisa Jordheim, Appleton, Wisconsin
Jacqueline Piccolino, Palatine, Illinois
Maria Valdes, Atlanta, Georgia

Kate Allen, Dublin, Ireland
Rihab Chaieb, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Daryl Freedman, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Katie Hannigan, Newburgh, New York
Zanda Švēde, Valmiera, Latvia

Casey Finnigan, Austin, Texas
Matthew Newlin, Georgetown, Illinois
Pene Pati, Mangere, Auckland, New Zealand
Issachah Savage, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Robert Watson, Kansas City, Missouri

Chris Carr, Quasqueton, Iowa
Alex Descocio, Wichita, Kansas
Joseph Lattanzi, Mableton, Georgia
Efrain Solis, Santa Ana, California

John Arnold, Cumming, Georgia
Thomas Richards, Burnsville, Minnesota
Rhys Talbot, Cedar Falls, Iowa
David Weigel, Asheville, North Carolina

Apprentice Coaches
Timothy Cheung, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Noah Lindquist, Brooklyn, New York
Sahar Nouri, Tehran, Iran
Michael Shannon, London, Ontario, Canada
Jeremy Weissman, Culver City, California

Apprentice Stage Director
George Cederquist, Ann Arbor, MI

Official Site | Press Releases

2013 Adler Fellows

2012-AdlersThe incoming 2013 Adler Fellows are Jennifer Cherest, Erin Johnson, A.J. Glueckert, Chuanyue Wang, Hadleigh Adams, and Philippe Sly. They join current Adlers (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken) Marina Boudart Harris, Laura Krumm, Renée Rapier, Joo Won Kang, and Robert Mollicone. The outgoing 2012 Adler Fellows are soprano Nadine Sierra, tenor Brian Jagde, bass-baritone Ryan Kuster, and coach and accompanist David Hanlon.

Press Release | Official Site

Merola Grand Finale 2012

Merola-grand-finale-2012* Notes *
Last night's Merola Grand Finale featured many fine tenors. Casey Candebat sang a sweet "Pourquoi me réveiller?" in the first half of the program, and applause interrupted his scene with Sarah Mesko as Charlotte. Theo Lebow sang a pretty "O blonde Cérès" (from Les Troyens) but some of his high notes were a little raveled. AJ Gluekert was strong in Samuel Barber's "At last I've found you." Chuanyue Wang may have lacked a certain ease with "Povero Ernesto... Cercherò lontana terra," but has a lovely voice.

There were a few standouts among the sopranos also. Suzanne Rigden had a beautiful lucidity as a rebuffed ghost in Lully's Alceste (pictured above, photograph by Kristen Loken) and sang Zdenka in "Ich danke Fräulein...Aber der Richtige" with characteristic flexibility. Jennifer Cherest had a charming duet with Andrew Stenson from Die lustige Witwe, both had fairly clear diction and sang with appeal. The audience loved Elizabeth Baldwin's selection from Il corsaro.

Many of the singers are impressively adept at acting. This was especially on display in "Orsù, la tua nipote...Pappataci! Che mai sento!" with Joshua Baum as Lindoro, Seth Mease Carico as Mustafà, and Gordon Bintner as Taddeo. Rose Sawvel and Joseph Lattanzi had everyone laughing with "Il m'a semblé sur mon épaule" from Offenbach's Orphée aux Enfers.

It is always of interest to hear how the singers have improved over the course of the summer. Andrew Kroes had a rich sound in "Volontiers, un vieil air Huguenots...Piff, paff" and was suitably sinister. Erin Johnson's voice seemed more anchored as Juno in "Somnus awake!" than in her Schwabacher Concert.

Stage director Jennifer Williams used the set for Moby-Dick as her backdrop, with a few pieces of furniture strewn about. There was much throwing of flowers and dragging of cloth over the course of the evening. Williams seemed concerned with storytelling, and at times this worked, and at other times it felt a bit stilted.

Nicholas McGegan conducted the San Francisco Opera Orchestra in his particular jaunty style. The orchestra did occasionally get ahead of the singers in the first half of the program. Despite being a Baroque specialist, Maestro McGegan was convincing in most all of the different periods of music represented.

* Tattling *
A person in Row L Seat 6 texted for much of the overture from Béatrice et Bénédict that began the performance. She continued to look at her phone, but finally left after the fourth vocal selection.

Merola's La finta giardiniera

Merola-finta-giardiniera-2012* Notes * 
Last night Mozart's La finta giardiniera had the first of two performances by the Merola Opera Program (Rose Sawvel, Casey Candebat, and Jennifer Cherest pictured left in Act I, photograph by Kristen Loken) in San Francisco this summer. The production, directed by Nicholas Muni, employs much violence and many weapons, but does not do much to elucidate the convoluted plot. The set does make the most of the space in a novel way, cleverly using two-sided canvases, and the lighting is effective. The costumes have a pleasing Steampunk feel.

The cast is quite fine. Gordon Bintner sang Nardo with warmth. Rose Sawvel sounded bird-like as Serpetta, and projected both jealousy and flirtatiousness with ease. Sarah Mesko looked convincingly male as Ramiro, but her timbre is feminine and slightly hysterical. Theo Lebow could have a bit more control of his high notes, however he seemed suited to the role of Belfiore.

Jacqueline Piccolino made for a haughty Arminda, singing and acting confidently. Jennifer Cherest sounded pretty and clear as the much-maligned title character. Her Sandrina is sympathetic and sweet. Casey Candebat has a beautiful, rich voice, and his Podestà is perfectly silly. His Act I aria, "Dentro il mio petto," was especially charming.

* Tattling * 
There was talking from the audience, even from those barely arm's length from Maestro Gary Thor Wedow and the orchestra.