Saturday night’s Merola Grand Finale performance at War Memorial Opera House gave the public a chance to experience what a summer of intensive training has done for the 23 talented young singers in the prestigious opera book camp. The three hour concert featured a captivating and eclectic mix of 19 demanding opera arias, duets and songs, chosen by the fellows to showcase their voices. The audience, packed with family members, friends, and opera lovers, was so enthusiastic that, twice, it burst into spontaneous applause interrupting a performance in progress. No problem!…all was taken in stride.
Tenor Casey Candebat, from New Orleans, delivered a remarkable and haunting “Porquoi me réveiller,” the third act aria in Massenet’s Werther. Candebat sang with so much feeling that he transported the audience right into Werther’s melody. Candebat’s chemistry with mezzo-soprano, Sarah Mesko, as Charlotte, who sang with passion to match his, was palpable. The duet evoked whoops and cheers all around. Candebat is one of 6 strong lyric tenors in the Merola program this year, quite a feat.
Mezzo Soprano Erin Johnson, from New Jersey, was exceptional in “Their spinning wheel unwinds Dreams,” from Benjamin Britten’s two act chamber opera, The Rape of Lucretia. Her lush and lovely legato, and dramatic stage presence transported us into Lucretia’s world of loss and despair. Johnson’s voice blended beautifully with soprano Rose Sawvel and mezzo-sopranos Sarah Mesko and Carolyn Sproule.
Powerhouse soprano Elizabeth Baldwin wowed me with her sensational voice and commanding presence in the second half of the program. As she sang Medora’s stunning solo from Act 1 of Verdi’s Il Corsaro, I felt chills…caught in the grips of overpowering but doomed love.
Tenor AJ Glueckert, from Portland, Oregon, who left his mark on all who heard him as the Man with the Paint Brush in July’s Merola performance of Postcards from Morocco, closed the first part of the evening with the pleasing and very difficult duet “At Last I’ve Found You,” from Samuel Barber’s Vanessa, performed with soprano Melinda Whittington.
In addition to singing, most of the fellows can act. The program trains them in movement and acting, role preparation and offers several performance opportunities throughout the summer. (See ARThound’s 7.17.2012 article The Merola Opera Program presents Dominick Argento’s rarely performed opera,“Postcard from Morocco,” this Thursday and Saturday, at Cowell Theatre, Fort Mason.) Canadian Bass baritone, Gordon Bintner, who has that “it” factor in spades, along with dashing good looks, lent a natural comedic air and grace to his Belcore in Donizetti’s “Come Paride vezzoso” and to his Taddeo in Rossini’s “Orsù, la tua nipote…Pappataci! Che mai sento!,” from L’Italiana in Algeri which he performed with Tenor Joshua Baum as Lindoro and Bass-baritone Seth Mease Carico as Mustafà. Baritone Joseph Lattanzi doned goggles and hammed it up as Jupiter, a buzzing singing fly in the annoyed ear of soprano Rose Sawvel. The duo were hysterical.
Bass Andrew Kroes, from Wisconsin, delivered Marcel’s moving battle song “Piff, paff,” from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots, with great aplomb.
The accompaniment, under the Nicholas McGegan’s apt conducting, was impressive, especially Berlioz’s exhilarating masterpiece overture, “Béatrice et Bénédict,” which opened the evening. In the first song, Lully’s “Il faut asser,” from Alceste, I had trouble hearing the voices over the orchestra, a problem which quickly resolved itself. Adam Luftman’s lush trumpet solo in the program’s second half— “Povero Ernesto!…Cercherò lontana terra” from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale—was divine.
Apprentice stage director Jennifer Williams’ staging was baffling—she went for a minimalistic look, placing a tufted velvet divan on one side of the stage and an antique chair tilted on its side on other side. In between them was a lamp sporting a naked light bulb. All this was against the elegant arched wooden back-drop of the Moby Dick set. A few prop pieces were added here and there to give diversity to the 19 scenes that she was responsible for, but she did not waver from her minimalist approach. It was awful to be in the audience, in a darkened environment, hoping to see the singers’ faces and instead be subject to the intense and unrelenting glare of that blasted bulb.
The evening ended with a glorious “Già che il caso ci unisce…Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso,” from Giacomo Puccini’s opera, La Rondine (The Swallow), bringing most of the fellows on stage. Once again, soprano Elizabeth Baldwin, as Magda, made an impression. Her powerful richly textured voice projected above the others—and with her commanding stage presence—I could not help but circle her name and scrawl beside it several exclamation points. All these singers are going places but she’s on my watch list.
More About Merola: Guided by Sheri Greenawald, San Francisco Opera Center Director and internationally acclaimed soprano, the Merola Opera Program is an independent nonprofit organization which operates in collaboration with the San Francisco Opera. Founded in 1957 and named for San Francisco Opera’s founder, Gaetano Merola, the Program is recognized as one of the most prestigious operatic training programs in the world. The Merola Opera Program typically receives more than 800 applications for approximately 30 positions. Throughout the summer, the Merola artists participate in master classes and private coachings with opera luminaries and go on give several public performances. Participants—who include singers, apprentice coaches and an apprentice stage director—also receive training in operatic repertory, foreign languages, diction, acting and stage movement.
The Merola Opera Program presents Dominick Argento’s rarely performed opera,“Postcard from Morocco,” this Thursday and Saturday, at Cowell Theatre, Fort Mason
The Merola Opera Program is presenting Dominick Argento’s rarely performed and strangely surrealistic opera in one act, “Postcard from Morocco,” this Thursday and Saturday at Cowell Theatre, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco. The cast of seven Merolini features Canadian soprano Aviva Fortunata, tenor AJ Glueckert, baritone Joseph Lattanzi, Canadian soprano Suzanne Ridgen (also a Merola 2011 participant), bass-baritone Matthew Scollin, Canadian mezzo-soprano Carolyn Sproule and tenor Andrew Stenson. Merola alumnus Mark Morash will conduct the production and renowned stage director Peter Kazaras will direct.
Argento’s Postcard from Morocco is based on A Child’s Garden of Verse by Robert Louis Stevenson and is dreamlike and surreal and unfolds a bit like a mystery. Not only does it lack a conventional story, there are no “postcards” and it’s not really about Morocco. The opera had its world premiere on October 14, 1971, at the Cedar Village Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota. The libretto is by John Donahue. The performance is a nice tribute to Argento, who turned 85 this year and is one of the country’s most successful and respected opera composers. It is also a wonderful opera for showcasing the vocal talents of the cast as there are many arias, some even in fictional foreign languages.
The plot focuses on a group of seven strangers who find themselves in a waiting room of a train station on their way to some exotic destination, around 1914. As the opera begins, the passengers are trying to pass the time by learning a little about each others’ lives. From there, the production proceeds with telling the different characters’ stories simultaneously as well as exploring a rich dream world. The passengers ask Mr. Owen, a man with a paint box what he does; before answering they are distracted by a puppet show. As time passes, the passengers become increasingly suspicious of one another, focusing on their differences rather than commonalities and guarding their baggage, refusing to reveal its contents. One of the ladies has a cake box in which she says she keeps her lover. Mr. Owen talks about a magical ship he impagined when he was younger. They are so focused on their suspicions that they are almost unaware of the puppet master—the Man with a Coronet Case—who appears to live in the train station, who is trying to seduce them into becoming his marionettes. The passengers rebel against the Man and cause him to lose control over the other characters, except for the Lady with the Hat Box whom he eerily controls at the close of the opera. The opera has been called existentialist and likened to the plays Samuel Beckett. It has also been compared to Virgil’s Thomson and Gertrude Stein’s Four Saints in Three Acts in that it has no truly discirnable plot and, at the end of the opera, there can be many explanations for what actually transpired because it is so rich in ideas. Aural shifts and new tunings prepare the audience for different worlds in this modern opera.
“The opera is really about bullying,” says Director Peter Kazaras. “As the story unfolds, we see characters who are jealous and insecure, bullying someone who is steadfast in pursuit of his dream. Although he is beaten at first, he [the Man with a Paint Box] eventually ‘triumphs’ by virtue of having the most gloriously beautiful and lyrical music in the score. The opera asks us to examine how much we can ever really hope to know about other people’s hopes and aspirations.”
Postcard is an eclectic mix of forms. There is a selection from Wagner’s Souvenirs de Bayreuth and the opera incorporates cabaret, and operetta. The orchestra is small; a piano, clarinet, saxophone, trombone, violin, viola, bass, a small percussion section, and
Casting for the July 19 and 21 Postcard from Morocco is as follows:
Lady with a Cake Box Aviva Fortunata
Man with a Paint Box AJ Glueckert
Man with a Shoe Sample Kit Joseph Lattanzi
Lady with a Hand Mirror Suzanne Rigden
Man with a Cornet Case (also a Puppet Maker) Matthew Scollin
Lady with a Hat Box (also a Foreign Singer) Carolyn Sproule
Man with Old Luggage Andrew Stenson
(For complete bios on each 2012 artist, click here.)
More about the Merola Opera Program: Each summer, San Francisco becomes a place where dreams come true for the young artists in the Merola Opera Program. Out of hundreds of young hopefuls who audition, approximately 23 singers, five apprentice coaches and one apprentice stage director are chosen to participate in the Program. Merola is dedicated to seeking out the finest young opera talent and helping them develop into professional artists of the highest caliber. The Merola Opera Program offers training in: musical style and interpretation; role preparation; movement and acting; accompaniment and conducting; languages and diction; and breath work.
Remaining Merola Programming for Summer 2012:
Thursday, July 19, 8 PM
Postcard from Morocco at Cowell Theater
Saturday, July 21, 2:00 PM
Postcard from Morocco at Cowell Theater
Thursday, July 26, 6:30 PM
Pre-class Talk with Steven Blier [Platinum Circle Level members & above]
Thursday, July 26, 7:00-9:00 PM
Steven Blier Master Class [Gold Circle Level members & above]
Thursday, August 2, 8:00 PM
La finta giardiniera at Cowell Theater
Saturday, August 4, 2:00 PM
La finta giardiniera at Cowell Theater
Tuesday, August 7, 7:00-9:00 PM
Martin Katz Master Class [Supporter members & above]
Tuesday, August 7, 9 PM
Sponsor Reception [2012 Sponsors $1,700 & above]
Saturday, August 18, 7:30 PM
Merola Grand Finale
Saturday, August 18, 10:00 PM
Merola Grand Finale Reception
Details: Postcard from Morocco will be performed on Thursday, July 19 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, July 21, 2012 at 2 p.m. at Cowell Theatre at Fort Mason Center, San Francisco. Run time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $60, $40 and $25 students. Purchase tickets through the San Francisco Opera Box Office: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94102, Monday: 10 AM – 5 PM; Tuesday through Friday: 10 AM – 6 PM; (415) 864-3330. Click Here to Purchase Online
Postcards from Morocco is graciously underwritten, in part, by the Bernard Osher Foundation and the Frances K. and Charles D. Field Foundation. Mark Morash is generously sponsored by Miss Ursula Grunfeld and Miss Vivienne E. Miller. Peter Kazaras is generously sponsored by Mike & Rusty Rolland
2012 Merola Artists: Hadleigh Adams (bass-baritone) Elizabeth Baldwin (soprano), Joshua Baum (tenor), Gordon Bintner (bass-baritone), Casey Candebat (tenor), Seth Mease Carico (bass-baritone), Jennifer Cherest (soprano), Aviva Fortunata (soprano), Francesnco Fraboni (apprentice coach), AJ Glueckert (tenor), Artem Grishaev (apprentice coach), Erin Johnson (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Kroes (bass), Elena Lacheva (apprentice coach), Joseph Lattanzi (tenor), Yi Li (tenor), Sarah Mesko (mezzo soprano), Kevin Miller (apprentice coach), Jacqueline Piccolino (soprano), Suzanne Rigden (soprano),Rose Sawvel (soprano), Matthew Scollin (bass baritone), Caroline Sproule (mezzo soprano), Andrew Stenson (tenor), Chuanyue Wang (tenor), Melina Whittington (soprano), Jennifer Williams (apprentice stage director), Sun Ha Yoon (apprentice coach). (For complete bios on each 2012 artist, click here.)