Friday, August 22, 2014

Merola Grand Finale 2014

Talya Lieberman as Zerbinetta &
Shirin Eskandani as the Composer.
Photography by Kristen Loken.
Last weekend I attended the aptly named Merola Grand Finale, a sort of plenary graduation exercise for all 29 of this summer's Merola Artists. They presented 16 operatic excerpts on the stark, rural set of SF Opera's up-coming production of Susannah, with a full orchestra in the pit. Director Omer Ben-Seadia's staging was sensible. The performers wore formal concert dress, & good use was made of hand-carried props, lighting changes & the full stage space.

Everyone gave assured & easeful performances. Baritone Thomas Gunther singing was robust & connected in the prologue to Poulenc's Les mamelles de Tirésias, during which the curtain came up on the set. In a scene from Thomas's Hamlet, soprano Amanda Woodbury's sound was big & lustrous, & baritone Edward Nelson's voice had alluring colors. I liked mezzo Shirin Eskandani's textured, slightly gritty, sound & ardent acting as the Composer from Strauss's Ariadne. Soprano Talya Lieberman was her strong-voiced Zerbinetta.

Soprano Maria Fasciano has a somewhat metallic edge to her voice, & she was an intense Nedda in a furtive scene from Pagliacci. Baritone Alexander Elliot was Silvio, singing with an open & pleasing sound. Mezzo Eliza Bonet is a characterful singer with a grounded voice, & she had fun performing a frothy Offenbach number while flirting with both the audience & a male chorus of Merolini.

Rhys Lloyd Talbot as Guglielmo,
Anthony Reed as Don Alfonso
& Mingjie Lei as Ferrando.
Photography by Kristen Loken.
Tenor Mingjie Lei, bass-baritone Rhys Lloyd Talbot & bass Anthony Reed were a lively trio in the opening scene from Così fan tutte. Mr. Reed portrayed Don Alfonso's worldly confidence convincingly. Soprano Karen Chia-ling Ho gave a plush & dramatically sustained rendition of Margherita's prison scene from Mefistofele, & she did some theatrical stage business using her shawl to represent an imaginary baby.

Tenor Chong Wang sang "La donna è mobile" from Rigoletto with beautifully taut & secure high notes, & he did a good job characterizing the rakish Duke. As Gilda, soprano Adelaide Boedecker displayed bright, poignant singing. The following quartet with Ms. Bonet & baritone Gideon Dabi was firmly anchored. Tenor Casey Candebat & soprano Julie Adams were terrific in a duet from L’amico Fritz. Mr. Candebat's singing was smooth & controlled, & Ms. Adams voice was big, ringing & urgent.

Conductor Ari Pelto was attentive to the singers, giving them clear cues & never pushing, but he left the orchestra sounding shapeless. The audience responded warmly to all the performers. I felt a little sad to be at my last KAC-hosted event in the press room that evening.

§ Merola Opera Program
Merola Grand Finale and Reception

Conductor, Ari Pelto
Director, Omer Ben-Seadia

Overture to Nabucco (Verdi)

Les mamelles de Tirésias (Poulenc)
“Public, attendez sans impatience”
Le directeur, Thomas Gunther
Piano, Kirill Kuzmin

Hamlet  (Thomas)
“Vains regrets!...Monseigneur! Ophélie…Doute de la lumière”
Ophélie, Amanda Woodbury
Hamlet, Edward Nelson

Rodelinda (Handel)
“Eduige, t’inganni…Di Cupido impiego i vanni”
Garibaldo, Rhys Lloyd Talbot
Harpsichord, Kirill Kuzmin 

La Fille du regiment (Donizetti)
“La voilà…Au bruit de la guerre”
Marie, Yujin Kim
Sulpice, Scott Russell

Zazà (Leoncavallo)
“Zazà, piccolo zingara”
Cascart, Gideon Dabi

Ariadne auf Naxos (Strauss)
“Sie hält ihn für den Todesgott...Ein Augenblick ist wenig”
Zerbinetta, Talya Lieberman
Composer, Shirin Eskandani
Piano, Edoardo Barsotti
Harmonium, Sahar Nouri
Keyboard, Ronny Michael Greenberg

La clemenza di Tito (Mozart)
“Parti; non è più tempo ...Deh, per questo istante solo”
Sesto, Nian Wang
Tito, Casey Candebat
Harpsichord, Ronny Michael Greenberg

I Pagliacci (Leoncavallo)
“Nedda! Silvio! A quest’ora…Decidi il mio destin”
Nedda, Maria Fasciano
Silvio, Alexander Elliott
Tonio, Gideon Dabi

La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (Offenbach)
“Vous aimez la danger…Ah! Que j’aime la militaire!”
Duchesse, Eliza Bonet
Chorus, Tutti Merolini Men

Così fan tutte (Mozart)
“La mia Dorabella…È la fede della femmina…Una bella serenata”
Ferrando, Mingjie Lei
Guglielmo, Rhys Lloyd Talbot
Don Alfonso, Anthony Reed
Harpsichord, Blair Salter

Mefistofele (Boito)
“L’altra notte in fondo al mare”
Margherita, Karen Chia-ling Ho

The Rake’s Progress (Stravinsky)
“Vary the song…Come master…My tale shall be told”
Tom Rakewell, Benjamin Werley
Nick Shadow, Matthew Stump

La Cenerentola (Rossini)
“Sì, tutto cangerà…Là del ciel”
Alidoro, Szymon Wach
Cenerentola, Shirin Eskandani

Rigoletto (Verdi)
“La donna è mobile…Un dì se ben rammentomi”          
Gilda, Adelaide Boedecker
Maddalena, Eliza Bonet
Il Duca, Chong Wang
Rigoletto, Gideon Dabi
Sparafucile, Anthony Reed

L’amico Fritz (Mascagni)
“Suzel, buon dì…Tutto tace”
Suzel, Julie Adams
Fritz, Casey Candebat

Falstaff (Verdi)
“Un coro e terminiam la scena...Tutto nel mondo è burla”
Alice, Julie Adams
Nannetta, Adelaide Boedecker
Dame Quickly, Eliza Bonet
Meg, Shirin Eskandani
Fenton, Benjamin Werley
Dr. Caius, Chong Wang
Ford, Thomas Gunther
Bardolfo, Casey Candebat
Falstaff, Matthew Stump
Pistola, Scott Russell
Chorus, tutti Merolini

7:30 p.m. Saturday, August 16
War Memorial Opera House

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