Geneva Anderson digs into art

A chance to hear the future of opera—delightful, affordable, favorite excerpts from well-known operas—the Merola Grand Finale concert is this Saturday, August 17, 2013

The 2013 Merola Opera Program Fellows on the steps of War Memorial Opera House.  The fellows conclude their intensive summer training program with the Grand Finale Concert on August 17, 2013.  Photo:  Kristen Loken

The 2013 Merola Opera Program Fellows on the steps of War Memorial Opera House. The fellows conclude their intensive summer training program with the Grand Finale Concert on August 17, 2013. Photo: Kristen Loken

Every summer, the Merola Opera Program concludes with its delightful Grand Finale concert, featuring the current year’s Merola fellows singing excerpts from major operas on the stage of the War Memorial Opera House, the home of the San Francisco Opera (SFO).   This summer’s concert is Saturday, August 17, at 7:30 PM.   All 23 of the 2013 Merolini will sing and the entire production will be staged by George Cederquist, the 2013 Merola Apprentice Stage Director.  John DeMain, Director of the Madison Symphony and Artistic Director of the Madison Opera, will conduct the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Merolini in a program featuring beloved classics by Barber, Bernstein, Britten, Gounod, Handel, Korngold, Massenet, Monteverdi, Offenbach, Purcell, Rossini and Wagner sung in Italian, French, German, and English.  If you, or someone accompanying you, are somewhat new to opera, the 17 selections are a perfect introduction to opera—they are all classics, the excerpts are short and varied and feature gorgeous orchestral music and were chosen by the singers to showcase their unique vocal talents.   And, it goes without saying; the concert is both a launchpad and an opportunity to meet the next generation of opera luminaries, in the formative phases of their careers.  These young Merola singers will go to sing major roles in the world’s leading opera houses.

“The Merola Grand Finale is, for all of us Merolini, one of the highlights of the summer.  It’s our chance to show how much we’ve grown and how much potential we have,” said 2013 Merola Apprentice Stage Director George Cederquist. “My goal is to create a staged concert that is celebratory, beautiful and fluid. This is not the time for highly conceptual work. My aim is to help my singer-colleagues sound great, act great and look great, and I intend to do just that.”  Cederquist, was one of only 10 Americans to receive the 2011-2012 German Chancellor Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the first Stage Director ever to win this prestigious award. Next season, he will be Resident Artist Stage Director at Pittsburgh Opera under the mentorship of General Director Christopher Hahn.

The songs to be performed (but not in the order of performance) and the singers are as follows:

Lohengrin (Wagner)
“Mein lieber Schwann”
Lohengrin: Issachah Savage (tenor)

Lohengrin (Wagner)
“Ortrud! Wo bist du?”
Elsa: Aviva Fortunata (soprano)
Ortrud: Daryl Freedman (mezzo-soprano)

Billy Budd (Britten)
“Claggart, John Claggart, beware!”
Captain Vere: Robert Watson (tenor)
Billy Budd: Alex DeSocio (baritone)
John Claggart: Thomas Richards (bass-baritone)

Manon (Massenet)
“Restons ici … Voyons, Manon … J’ai marqueé l’heure de depart”
Manon: Maria Valdes (soprano)
Des Grieux: Pene Pati (tenor)

Vanessa (Barber)
“Is it still snowing? … Must the winter come so soon? … Do not utter a word”
Erika: Rihab Chaieb (mezzo-soprano)
Vanessa: Linda Barnett (soprano)

Il ritorno d’Ulisse (Monteverdi)
“Dormo ancora?”
Ulisse: Joseph Lattanzi (baritone)

La Cenerentola (Rossini)
“Ma dunque io sono un ex? … Un segreto d’importanza”
Dandini: Efraín Solis (baritone)
Magnifico: John Arnold (bass-baritone)

Ariodante (Handel)
“Vanne pronto, Odoardo … Voli colla sua tromba”
Il Ré: Rhys Lloyd Talbot (bass-baritone)

Luisa Miller (Verdi)
“Il padre tuo … Tu punisicmi, o signore … A brani, a brani, o perfido”
Luisa: Jacqueline Piccolino (soprano)
Wurm: David Weigel (bass-baritone)

Sapho (Gounod)
“Où suis-je? … O ma lyre immortelle”
Sapho: Zanda Švēde (mezzo-soprano)

Die Freischütz (Weber)
“Nein, länger trag’ ich nicht die Qualen … Durch die Wälder, durch die Auen”
Max: Casey Finnigan (tenor)

Ascanio in Alba (Mozart)
“Dal tuo gentil sembiante”
Fauno: Alisa Jordheim (soprano)

La belle Hélène (Offenbach)
“C’est le ciel qui m’envoie”
Hélène: Kate Allen (mezzo-soprano)
Paris: Matthew Newlin (tenor)

Die tote Stadt (Korngold)
“Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen”
Fritz: Chris Carr (baritone)

Dido and Aeneas (Purcell)
“Thy hand Belinda … When I am laid in earth”
Dido: Katie Hannigan (mezzo-soprano)

Candide (Bernstein)
“Make our garden grow”
Candide: Pene Pati (tenor)
Cunegonde: Maria Valdes (soprano)
Old Lady: Kate Allen (mezzo-soprano)
Governor: Casey Finnigan (tenor)
Maximillian: Rhys Talbot (bass-baritone)
Pangloss: David Weigel (bass-baritone)
Chorus: tutti Merolini

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 urbane and forward-thinking 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 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 fully underwrites each participant’s travel, housing, coaching and educational expenses, as well as all production costs associated with the summer schedule and a weekly stipend for each participant. Program alumni include Joyce di Donato, Sylvia McNair, Patricia Racette, Ruth Ann Swenson, Carol Vaness, Deborah Voigt, Anna Netrebko,Susan Graham, Dolora Zajick, Brian Asawa, Jess Thomas, Thomas Hampson, Rolando Villazón, and Patrick Summers.

Details:  The Merola Grand Finale is Saturday, August 17, at 7:30 p.m. at War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco (across from City Hall).  One of the last Beaux-Arts structures built in the United States, the Opera House seats 3,146, with 200 standing room places. Tickets:  $25 to $45. Purchase online here (all Merola events are listed under “Other Productions”) or in person at the San Francisco Opera Box Office in the lobby of the War Memorial Opera House at 301 Van Ness Avenue. The Box Office is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Tickets may also be ordered by calling 415-864-3330.   There is a special student ticket rate of $15, but these tickets can only be purchased in person at the Box Office with proper identification. There will also be a reception beginning at 10 p.m. downstairs in the Opera House Café. Each ticket for the reception is an additional $50.

Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco on the weekend and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently a 20 to 30 minute back-up on Highway 101 South from Petaluma through Novato due to wine country traffic and road work related to highway expansion. Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up on weekends. Recommended Garages:  Two garages are very close to War Memorial Opera House— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block)(Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)

August 15, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Merola Opera Program presents Dominick Argento’s rarely performed opera,“Postcard from Morocco,” this Thursday and Saturday, at Cowell Theatre, Fort Mason

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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
classical guitar.

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.)

July 17, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment