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Geneva Anderson digs into art

Opera review: Cinnabar Theatre’s “Don Giovanni,” a new production that is sure to ignite your passions, through April 15, 2012

Baritone Anders Froehlich is the captivating Don Giovanni in Mozart’s enduring classic of the same name which opened at Cinnabar Theatre on March 23, 2012. Photo: Eric Chazankin

When Cinnabar Theatre cast baritone Anders Froehlich for the title role in their new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, the classic retelling of the Don Juan legend, they were half way home.  Not only can Froelich sing, but he has the physique of a lean and muscled Romeo.  And, he so convincingly plays the part of Mozart’s suave, seductive, and morally reprehensible aristocrat, that it’s pure pleasure to sit back and experience being seduced by him.  Add to that baritone Eugene Walden’s remarkable performance as Leporello, Giovanni’s faithful but grumbling sidekick, and this production soars.  Truth be told, the entire cast is superb, the music is glorious and the production is so creative that it represents the opera’s tremendous dramatic possibilities as well a small theatre company at it best.

Soprano Kelly Britt, a 2011 graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, makes her Cinnabar Theatre debut as Donna Anna in Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni,” which runs through April 15, 2012. Photo: Eric Chazankin

One of the most amazing aspects of this 225 year-old opera is that it is so filled with fabulous ambiguities, that almost every production emphasizes something different.  Cinnabar’s production, staged by Elly Lichtenstein, gives us a Don Giovanni whose beguiling and complex personality is matched by the equally complex women he encounters.  After the opening night performance, I found myself ruminating on these women—what they represented in their time and what they bring to the table in the here and now.  There’s the unhinged young Donna Anna (soprano Kelly Britt), who has, in the very least, been ravished by Don Giovanni and is mourning the death of her father, who was murdered trying to defend her honor.  Normally, she’s depicted as icy cold and hell-bent on retaliation. Here, we also see her warmth and humanity.  There’s matronly Donna Elvira (mezzo soprano Eileen Morris) who has been jilted by Giovanni and she too seeks revenge and but, beneath the hurt, she still loves him and can’t free herself of her co-dependent obsession.  When she tries to protect young Zerlina from Giovanni’s reckless ways, we see a preservation instinct that we wish she’d exercise on herself.  There’s the young peasant girl Zerlina (soprano Emma McNairy), who loves Masetto but is also taken in by the suave Giovanni’s proclamations and the high life he represents.  She wants both men and, for a moment, deludes herself into thinking that this can work.  And then there is the chorus of women, voluptuous nymphs in all shapes and sizes, writhing in full sensual abandon with each other and with Don Giovanni.  The opera’s rich comic and tragic elements are driven by all these interactions and Lichtenstein has really made Giovanni’s journey—to eternal damnation—one riveting ride.

Don Giovanni (baritone Anders Froehlich, right) attempts to seduce the young peasant girl Zerlina (Soprano Emma McNairy, left) at her own wedding party. Photo: Eric Chazankin

23 year-old soprano Emma McNairy was delightful as Zerlina.   Winner of the San Francisco Conservatory’s 2011 Voice Concerto Competition, McNairy’s expressive voice shows incredible range and she has a commanding stage presence. And did she snap into character!  She played Zerlina as sweet and crafty, bringing a refreshing and realistic complexity to the role.  Her pairing with William O’Neill as Masetto, her hunky intended, produced some of the opera’s most fiery moments, another example of the sizzling chemistry that makes this production pop.

Soprano Kelly Britt as Donna Anna was striking—her distinctive voice was smooth, powerful, and evocative.  From the moment she appeared, she displayed a whirlwind of emotional extremes that made the impact of Donna Anna’s rape, or ravishing, by Don Giovanni and the sudden death of her father seem very real.   The twenty-three year-old has that extra something coursing through her that produces a riveting sound, not yet honed to perfection but on its way, and that’s very exciting to experience.

First to appear and last to utter a solo, baritone Eugene Walden was a thoroughly engaging Leporello.   One of the opera’s most humorous moments occurred during his lighthearted “Catalog Aria,” (Madamina, il catalogo è questo) (Act I, Scene v).  As the beleaguered Leporello sings the amazing tally of his boss’s conquests to Donna Elvira, he pulls out a seemingly endless accordion book, chock full of women’s faces and descriptive notes, and flings it towards Donna Elvira.  This gesture so captivates and infuriates her that she engages in a tug of war with him over the book.  This is just one of Elly Lichtenstein’s clever and amusing touches whose effect is priceless.  Another of these magical moments occurs with the famous balcony serenade at the beginning of Act II.  Just behind the singer and through a widow, we see a very seductive striptease occurring between two voluptuous women in silhouette—the scene is gorgeously back lit and has all the resonant flair of a fan dance.  As the women almost get it on, you can feel the heat rising in the audience.  The sensuality is carried through to the famous banquet scene, done wine country style, with Giovanni dining on plump grapes and scantily-clad women.  In the opera’s final chilling scene, the powerfully built John Minágro, who makes a very commanding Commendatore, now turned singing statue, comes to swoop Don Giovanni to his just desserts—hell.  Froelich’s Don Giovanni’s is so intoxicating that, even on his way to hell, he still gets to us.

Cinnabar Theatre’s “Don Giovanni,” has inventive props. Here baritone Eugene Walden, Leporello, sings his famous “catalog aria” to Eileen Morris, Donna Elvira, and flings a seemingly endless accordion-style book that documents his boss’s many romantic conquests. Photo: Eric Chazankin

One of the pleasures of the hearing Mozart’s dramatic music played in the intimate 99 seat setting that Cinnabar offers is that every musician stands out.   Conductor Mary Chun and the orchestra of 10 did a valiant job, offering an elegant and cohesive blending with the voices on stages, but at times the sound seemed understated.  I had never heard the opera sung in English before, which is the only opera experience that Cinnabar Theatre provides, keeping with founder Martin Klebe’s wish to make opera accessible to all audiences.  The main advantage is an immediate understanding of the story, which means it’s very easy to take it all in and you’re not scrambling with translation.  If you know the opera in Italian, its beloved arias such as There, we will entwine  our hands (Là ci darem la mano), (Act I, between Zerlina and Giovanni) are made all the more enjoyable by singing them in Italian in your mind and checking your Italian against the English as you go.

Music by W.A. Mozart, Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, Sung in English (da Ponte’s full translation/libretto translation of Don Giovanni is available free online here.)

Mary Chun artistic director/conductor; Elly Lichtenstein, Stage Director

 

The Cast, in order of appearance: 

Leporello— servant to Don Giovanni, Eugene Walden

Don Giovanni—Anders Froehlich

Donna Anna—Kelly Britt

The Commendatore, Anna’s father—John Minágro

Don Ottavio, Anna’s fiancé—Mark Kratz

Cinnabar Theatre’s production of “Don Giovanni,” is staged and lit ingeniously. Here baritone Anders Froehlich, as Don Giovanni, sings against a dramatically back-lit window where silhouettes of sensuous delights unfold before the audience. Photo: Eric Chazankin

Donna Elvira—Eileen Morris

Zerlina— Emma McNairy

Masetto, Zerlina’s fiancé— William O’Neill

Sandrina, Leporello’s love—Arden Kwan

Paul Gilger, set design; Wayne Hovey lighting design, Tracy Hinman Sigrist, costume design, Barton Smith, choreography

 

Underwritten by Frank and Mary Lou Schomer and The A to Z Concert series.

Details:  Cinnabar Theatre is located at 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North (at Skillman Lane), Petaluma, CA, 94952.  Tickets online: $35 General, $32 Seniors 65 & Over, $25 Age 22 & Under.  Tickets also be purchased before the performance but pre-purchase of tickets is  highly recommended as the theatre is small.  Early arrival is also recommended as there is no assigned seating.   For more information, call 707-763-8920 or visit http://www.cinnabartheater.org

Run time is 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.

There are 5 remaining performances:  Wednesday April 4, 2012, at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 7, 2012, at 8 p.m. Friday, April 13, 2012, at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 14, 2012, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 15, 2012, at 2 p.m.

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April 3, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: San Francisco Opera’s new “Don Giovanni” lacks that vital spark, runs through November 10, 2011

Lucas Meachem, a former Adler Fellow, plays Don Giovanni in San Francisco Opera’s new production of the Mozart classic. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Of all Mozart’s operas, Don Giovanni, holds a special place.  A fusion of tragic and comic impulses based on the legendary scoundrel Don Juan and set to breathtakingly gorgeous music, it never fails to entertain.  A new production of this masterpiece opened at San Francisco Opera last Saturday (October 15, 2011) and while enjoyable enough, it failed to ignite the passions.  Inconsistent singing and unconvincing acting were the main culprits.  The production is hinged on the all important title role filled by baritone Lucas Meachem, a former Adler Fellow, with a rich and glorious voice who has delivered several stunning performances at SF Opera.  He was vocally adequate but lacked the commanding presence─charisma, swagger and roguishness ─ to be utterly beguiling and magnetizing, which is essential to the rake’s part.  His chemistry with the ladies─Ellie Dehn as Donna Anna, Serena Farnocchia as Donna Elvira and Kate Lindsey as Zerlina─was plain flat, both when he was required to be sexy or violent.  He played Don straight, as a cold-hearted jerk, and wore aviator-style sunglasses throughout the performance and a stylish dark leather coat which gave the impression that, while he had wealth and power, he was basically a rich coward in hiding.  

Music director Nicola Luisotti, by contrast, was the life of the party, bursting with energy and passion and thoroughly engaged with his orchestra at all times.  As magnetizing as he was to watch though, he was not able to elicit the nuanced performance he pulled from his orchestra in Turandot, which opened SF Opera’s fall season.  At times on Saturday, the orchestra outpaced the singers.  For those who have been watching Maestro Nicola Luisottiwork his magic since he joined SF Opera as its music director in 2009, the choice of three Italians, who all have their U.S. debuts─director Gabriele Lavia, set designer Alessandro Camera, and costume designer Andrea Viotti─ seems evidence of his broadening influence at San Francisco Opera.   Despite his reputation in Italy as an acclaimed film

Alessandro Cameo’s minimalistic set design for SF Opera’s new production of “Don Giovanni” features 22 large 300 pound mirrors in ornate gilded frames that descend dramatically onto a stage that is virtually empty. Marco Vinco (Leporello) and Serena Farnocchia (Donna Elvira) in Act I. Photo by Cory Weaver.

director, Mr. Lavia’s production was not a particularly imaginative or fluid take on this musical masterpiece.  He placed the story in traditional period setting and there it decidedly sat with Don Giovanni as a brute. Andrea Viotti’s lush period costumes were executed in restrained hues with the exception of Don Giovanni, who wore a long leather coat and sunglasses.   

Most striking was Alessandro Cameo’s minimalistic set design.  As the opera opened, 22 large (6’ wide x 16’ tall) dark mirrors in ornate gilded frames descended dramatically onto a stage that was virtually empty stage, save for a few scattered Louis XV style chairs.  Coming fresh from Richard Serra’s drawing retrospectiveat SFMOMA, I was struck by how powerfully and elegantly geometric forms can define space.  As these mirrors descended, shifted, and settled in at different heights, they impacted the viewer’s sense of

In “Don Giovanni,” Lucas Meachem plays the lecherous Don Giovanni who tries to woo Zerlina, (Kate Lindsey) who is celebrating her wedding with Masetto. Photo by Cory Weaver.

mass and gravity, ushering in a dark and ominous presence, and making for an experience that was as visceral as it was visual.  (Click here to read about how these special polycarbonate mirrors were constructed backstage at SF Opera).  The program notes indicate that Lavia’s symbolic take on the mirrors–reflecting on the essence of man and witnessing his many sides.  That said, the initial brilliance of this grand entrance of the mirrors wore thin when it was repeated in the same fashion a few more times in subsequent acts. Aside from the mirrors, the stage remained quite empty, save for tombstones and mist in the cemetery scene and an elegantly set dinner table in the final scene where Don Giovanni’s feast is interrupted by the Commendatore who ushers his descent to Hell.  

Stand-outs: Italian bass Marco Vinco, making his United States debut as Leporello, Don Gioivanni’s discontented servant, who is actually on stage more than any other singer, delivered a thoroughly convincing, endearing and humorous performance.  Bass Morris Robinson, also making his SF Opera debut was exceptional in the role of the Commendatore. Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsay, also debuting at SF Opera, as Zerlina, the young girl who catches Don Giovanni’s eye at her wedding party to Masetto, sang lyrically in her duet “Là ci darem la mano” “There we will be hand in hand “) but will be remembered for the way she suggestively spread her legs on stage.    

The epilogue was cut in this Luisotti-selected mix of Vienna and Prague versions of the opera.  All told, it is Mozart’s music that shines most in this production. 

Lucas Meachem (Don Giovanni), Marco Vinco (Leporello) and Morris Robinson (The Commendatore) at an uncomfortable pre-dawn dinner just before Don Giovanni’s descent to Hell, Act II of “Don Giovanni” at SF Opera through November 10, 2011. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Performance Dates: Sung in Italian with English supertitles, there are seven remaining performances scheduled for October 21 (8 p.m.), October 23 (2 p.m.), October 26 (7:30 p.m.), October 29 (8 p.m.), November 2 (7:30 p.m.), November 5 (2 p.m.) and November 10 (7:30 p.m.), 2011.

Bruce Lamont Lectures:  All performances will feature an informative Opera Talk by educator and chorus director, Bruce Lamott. Talks begin 55 minutes before each performance in the orchestra section of the War Memorial Opera House and are free of charge to patrons with tickets for the corresponding performance.

Details: Tickets are priced from $21 to $330 and may be purchased at www.sfopera.com or through the San Francisco Opera Box Office [301 Van Ness Avenue (at Grove Street), or by phone at (415) 864-3330]. Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; tickets are $10 each, cash only.

The War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street, San Francisco. Casting, programs, schedules, and ticket prices are subject to change.  For further information: www.sfopera.com.

October 21, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A to Z Concerts presents 8 virtuoso cellists and soprano Carrie Hennessey in “The V Concert” Saturday, September 10, 2011, to benefit Cinnabar Theater

Soprano Carrie Hennessey of Sacramento will sing Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5” for Voice and Eight Cellos in “The V Concert” on September 10, 2011. In June 2010, Hennessey made her debut with Cinnabar Theater in the title role of the opera “Emmeline,” by Tobias Picker. Photo: courtesy Carrie Hennessey

One of the best ways to celebrate the glorious last days of summer in Sonoma County is with an outdoor concert.  Next Saturday, September 10, 2011, “The A to Z Concert series,” will visit the West Petaluma gardens of Sandra and Borue O’Brien.  The performance will feature acclaimed Sacramento soprano Carrie Hennessey performing Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5” for Voice and Eight Cellos and other works exclusively by composers whose last names begin with the letter “V.”  “The V Concert” is a benefit for Cinnabar Theater’s opera program and is organized by Sonoma County cellists Judiyaba and Gwyneth Davis, who created “The A to Z Concert series,” a 2-year project comprising 24 concerts with composers whose names represent every letter of the alphabet.  In addition to Villa-Lobos, “The V Concert” will include works by Vivaldi and by the 16th- century Flemish composer Vaet—all in one of West Petaluma’s most beautiful private gardens, surrounded by a redwood grove.  Hosts Sandra and Borue O’Brien have also planned a silent auction and will serve wine, cheeseboards, and desserts.

“This is our 20th concert,” explained cellist Judiyaba, a long-term Sebastopol resident, who organized “The A to Z Concert series” (or “The Alphabet Concerts”) with cellist Gwyneth Davis, a member of the Eloquence String Quartet.   “We started this series because we just love to play chamber music and this gives us an opportunity to explore new repertoire and old favorites and we’ve found so much new music.  What’s fun about our group is that it is composed of eight cellists who have played in literally every orchestra in the Bay Area─the SF Symphony, SF Opera, regional orchestras─so it is very representative.”

 V Concert Program:  Judiyaba whimsically described “The V Concert” as a “varied, venturesome and vibrant program of virtuosi violoncelli” (using the full formal name for the cello).  “The most challenging is the Villa-Lobos—it’s tricky and fun.  We are doing three pieces by the composer “Vaet” [pronounced “Vate”], which are 16th-century motets, or 3-to-5 part choral pieces which could also have been played on instruments.”

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), Latin America’s most important composer, had little formal music training.  He instead absorbed the influences of his native Brazil’s indigenous cultures, themselves based on Portuguese, African, and American Indian elements.  Between 1930 and 1945, he composed a series of nine suites he called the Bachianas Brasileiras (“Brazilian Bach pieces”) which meld Brazilian folk and popular music with the style of Johann Sebastian Bach, applying Baroque harmonic and contrapuntal techniques to Brazilian music.  The Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1 and No. 5, both scored for 8 cellos, show the composer’s love for the sonorities of the cello, an instrument that he himself played in Rio de Janeiro’s cinema, theatre, and opera orchestras.  Brazilian soprano Bidú Sayão was Villa-Lobos’ favorite singer and made a number of recordings of his compositions, including the definitive recording of the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 (which can be heard here).  Carrie Hennessey will sing this haunting soprano solo in “The V Concert.”  

Sebastopol cellist Judiyaba is co-creator of “The Alphabet Concerts,” a 2 year project comprising 24 concerts with composers whose names represent every letter of the alphabet. She will perform in “The V Concert” with 7 other cellists in a benefit for Cinnabar Theater on September 10, 2011. Photo: courtesy Judiyaba

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), the prolific Venetian superstar of Italian Baroque music, will dominate “The V Concert” program, with performances of his Concerto for two cellos (with multi-cello accompaniment), his Cello Concerto in A minor (featuring SF Opera cellist Victoria Erhlich and accompanied by….yes…more cellists!), and the lilting pastoral aria “Domine Deus” from his beloved Gloria sung by Carrie Hennessey (accompanied by cellos).  All of these pieces showcase the rhythmic exuberance, harmonic invention, and virtuosic string writing that catapulted Vivaldi to celebrity during his lifetime and has kept his music in the limelight ever since.

Jacobus Vaet (c.1529-1567) was a Flemish Renaissance composer noted for distinctive and intricate polyphonic (multi-voiced) sacred music, including nine complete extant masses, and both sacred and secular motets.  The three motets on this program will feature the 8-cello ensemble playing parts originally written for singing voices.

The cellists for “The V Concert” are: Kelly Boyer, Gwyneth Davis, Poppea Dorsam, Victoria Erhlich, Leighton Fong, David Goldblatt, Judiyaba, and Ruth Lane (a Petaluma resident).  And the soprano is Carrie Hennessey.   A wonderful line- up!

Total run time: approximately 2 hours, with intermission. Wine, cheese and desserts.

Cinnabar Theater:  “The V Concert” is a benefit for Cinnabar Theater’s opera program, its founding program.  Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma’s beloved opera and theatre company, was established by the legendary Marvin Klebe in the early 1970’s in the old red schoolhouse that was the original Cinnabar School (near the intersection of Skillman Lane and Petaluma Blvd. North.)  “The main reason why Marvin Klebe founded this company,” said Elly Lichtenstein, Cinnabar’s Artistic Director, “was because he wanted to do opera in a different way, with intimate ensemble works where the individual performers were treated as artists.”  Over the years, Cinnabar, a nonprofit, has dedicated itself to encouraging community participation in the arts and to community education as well.  The theater offers a highly regarded Young Repertory Program that trains youth as young as 4 years old in the dramatic and musical performing arts. 

Sebastopol cellist Gwyneth Davis is a co-creator of “The Alphabet Concerts.” She has performed with most of the regional orchestras in the Bay Area, plays for Cinnabar Opera, and is a pastry chef. Photo: courtesy Judiyaba

Lichtenstein explained that Cinnabar Theater normally produces two operas annually but this year it will feature just one opera, Mozart’s Don Giovanni (March 23-April 15, 2011), and the musical She Loves Me, which opens Cinnabar’s 39th season on September 9, 2011.

Silent Auction:  all proceeds will benefit Cinnabar Theater’s opera program.  Prizes include:

Vineyard tour of Kastania Vineyards, Petaluma

10 one-day passes Roxie Theatre

Round of golf at Rooster Run Golf Club, Windsor Golf Club, and Adobe Creek Golf

4 $25 gift certificates for Absolute Home and Garden

4 $25 gift certificates for Empire Nursery

 Details:

The V Concert: Saturday, September 10, 2011, 4 p.m., 200 Queens Lane (off King Road), Petaluma, CA.  Tickets: $20 available http://www.cinnabartheater.org/1112/The.V.Concert.cinnabar.html, or phone 707-763-8920, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday.  Reservations highly recommended.

A to Z Concert series:”  The Alphabet Concerts is a 2 year project.  “The W Concert” is October 2, 2011, 7 p.m, Petaluma Museum, featuring Kurt Weill, William Walton and more.

Cinnabar Theater:  Cinnabar Theater’s fall season kicks off on September 9, 2011 with the musical  She Loves Me.  This delightful romantic comedy is based on the play of the same name and the popular film The Shop Around the Corner, on which the more recent film You’ve Got Mail is also based.  (Book by Joe Masteroff/Music by Jerry Bock; Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick; Based on Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo.)  Get your tickets here or call 707.763.8920.  Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma, CA  94952, 707.763.8929.

September 1, 2011 Posted by | Chamber Music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellows Perform Opera Favorites for last Sunday’s Marin Guild Gala

San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows Daniel Montenegro, Nadine Sierra, Ao Li, Ryan Kuster and David Hanlon (not pictured) performed a delightful program of opera arias and ensembles at a Champagne Gala hosted by the Marin chapter of the SF Opera Guild. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Those attending the Marin Chapter of the San Francisco Opera Guild’s annual Champagne Gala this Sunday were serenaded by the voices of angels— San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellows —in an intimate program of opera arias and ensembles.   The gala is the Chapter’s only fundraising event and takes place every August with a performance by the Adler Fellows at the San Domenico Music Conservatory in San Anselmo.  Ninety-two people attended Sunday’s concert, which raised over $4500 to fund the Guild’s two most popular programs—the Opera à la Carte music education program for Marin County schools and the Guild’s popular Opera Previews, featuring renowned musicologists and the occasional degree-less deadbeat offering an in-depth look at the season’s operas.    

Baker Peeples and Ellen Kerrigan spoke about their long-time involvement in SF Opera Guild’s Opera à la Carte music education program for Northern California schools. Kerrigan rose through the ranks at SF Opera, starting with its Merola Program and was then selected as an Adler Fellow and went on to a distinguished singing career. Baker Peeples was a finalist in the Metropolitan and SF Opera Auditions and is the Music Director of the Lamplighters Music Theatre.

The festivities began as the Guild’s chapter president, Camille Morishige, introduced special guests Ellen Kerrigan and Baker Peeples, who spoke passionately and humorously about their long-time involvement in the Opera à la Carte music education program for Northern California schools. This engaging Opera Guild program brings 45-minute adaptations of San Francisco Opera’s main stage operas to over 130 schools annually with a small travelling team—frequently including Kerrigan and Peeples—and works with students to actually produce an opera.  Students learn first-hand about performance, technique and scenery and are given speaking roles, which they must memorize.  The Marin Guild has been instrumental in funding the Opera à la Carte program for local schools that cannot afford the annual $300 participation fee. Since its inception 23 years ago, Kerrigan estimated that the program had introduced over 600,000 Northern California students to opera and launched a few careers in music.  Several of the program’s initial donors, including George F. Lucas, were in the audience. 

The crowd burst into laughter as Peeples quoted his favorite letter from a student: “Dear  Opera à la Carte, Before I saw Opera à la Carte’s Die Fledermaus, I thought opera was the worst thing to happen to civilization.  Since then, I have changed my mind.”  This fall’s program will feature a charming adaptation of Gaetano Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love

At Sunday’s Champagne Gala, San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows Ao Li and Daniel Montenegro sang the friendship duet, “Au fond du temple saint,” from Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers). Photo: courtesy Susan Malott

Each year, long-time opera patron and past Marin Chapter president, Vivienne Miller, enthusiastically helps organize the Adler Fellows’ Marin performance.  The five Adler Fellows performing this year included Nadine Sierra, soprano; Daniel Montenegro, tenor; Ao Li, baritone; Ryan Kuster, bass-baritone;  and David Hanlon, coach and accompanist.  What a pleasure to see these rising opera stars perform in an intimate and informal setting and to have the chance to speak with them about their onstage roles in SF Opera performances this fall.   

The Adler Fellows represent the finest young operatic voices in the country.  Each year, only a few of the 20 San Francisco Opera Merola Opera Program participants—who themselves are selected from a pool of over 800 candidates—are invited to continue on as Adler Fellows.  Under the guidance of San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley and Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald, the Adler Program offers intensive individual training and roles of increasing importance in San Francisco Opera’s main-stage season.

At Sunday’s Champagne Gala, San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows Ryan Kuster and Nadine Sierra sing the famous duet “La ci darem la mano,” in a scene from Mozart’s "Don Giovanni". Photo: courtesy Susan Malott

Sunday’s program included several popular and very demanding arias and ensembles that were especially selected by the Fellows.  Before each piece, the Fellows set the scene, explaining what they liked and imbuing the plots with a modern and often humorous spin.  The highlights included Daniel Montenegro and Ao Li singing the friendship duet, “Au fond du temple saint,” from Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers); Ryan Kuster as Don Giovanni in the duet “La ci darem la mano” with Nadine  Sierra, as Zerlina, in a scene from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Ao Li performing Dandini’s  aria from Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella).  Ryan Kuster gave a moving Blitch’s aria, or “Blitch’s Prayer of Repentance,” from Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah and a special treat was Daniel Montenegro performing the rarely heard beautiful aria “E la solita storia,”  known as  “Lamento di Federico,” from Francesco Cilea’s L’Arlesiana (The Woman from Arles).  

Adler Fellow Ao Li performing "Dandini’s aria" from Rossini’s "La Cenerentola" ("Cinderella") Photo: courtesy Susan Malott

Nadine Sierra was resplendent singing the aria “Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette and as Adina in the wonderful duet, “Una parola, Adina” (“One word, Adina”), with Daniel Montenegro as Nemorino, in Donizetti’s “L’elisir d’amore”  (The Elixir of Love)After the performance, she told me how excited and honored she was to be singing the role of Juliet Barbara, representing all women who suffered loss after 9.11, in the world premiere of Heart of a Solider, which opens Saturday, September 10, 2011 at SF Opera.  Ryan Kuster will sing the role of a Mandarin and Daniel Montenegro will sing the role of Pong in Puccini’s Turandot, which opens SF Opera’s season on September 9, 2011.   

Adler Fellows Nadine Sierra and Daniel Montenegro sing the famous duet, "Una parola, Adina” (“One word, Adina”) from Donizetti’s "Elixir of Love" as David Hanlon accompanies. Photo: courtesy Susan Malott

The afternoon program closed with Daniel Montenegro and Ao Li singing one of the greatest tenor-baritone duets of all time, the rousing: “Dio, che nell’alma infondere,” from Verdi’s Don Carlo, in which Don Carlo and Rodrigo pledge themselves to the cause of liberty and to eternal friendship, to the backdrop of a militaristic march.  Their duet was full of bravura and showcased these two young men, at their finest, clearly loving the chance to perform for such an enthusiastic audience.

After the performance, guests mingled with the artists and enjoyed champagne and savory hors d’oeuvres and desserts in the conservatory’s idyllic setting.   Several gift baskets were raffled off and won by guild members.  Verna Parino, 94, one of the Marin Chapter’s former presidents,

David Hanlon accompanies as Ryan Kuster performs Blitch’s aria, or “Blitch’s Prayer of Repentance,” from Carlisle Floyd’s “Susannah.” Photo: courtesy Susan Malott

won one of the prizes and, gift bag in hand, was delighted to tell me all about her engrossing and in-depth research for Heart of a Soldier and her plans—already formalized– to attend the Ring cycle in Munich in 2012.  (Click here to read ARThound’s interview with Verna about SF Opera’s Ring Cycle.)  Susan Malott, Managing Director of the SF Opera Guild Board, was delighted with the turnout and enthusiasm and contributed several of her excellent photos to this article.  ARThound will be following the Adler Fellows in their various performances this fall, so stay tuned.

Opera Previews Sponsored by the Marin Chaper of the San Francisco Guild for the 2011-2012 Season:

Mon Aug 29, 2011, 8 p.m. Turandot:      Giacomo Puccini Dr. Timothy Flynn: Olivet College, Assistant Professor of Music, Music Program Director
Thurs Sept 8, 2011, 8 p.m. Heart of a Soldier:      Christopher Theofanidas   Donna DiNovelli Dr.  Mitchell Morris:  Professor of Musicology, UCLA
Mon Sept 19, 2011, 8 p.m. Lucrezia Borgia:   Gaetano Donizetti  Dr. Mary Ann Smart:  Professor of Musicology, U.C. Berkeley 
Mon Oct 10, 2011, 8 p.m. Don Giovanni:   Wolfgang Amadeus  Mozart  Dr. Simon Williams:  Professor & Chair, Theatre & Dance Dept., U.C. Santa Barbara
Mon Oct 24, 2011, 8 p.m. Serse (Xerxes):   George Frideric Handel Dr. Bruce Lamott:  Director, Philharmonia Chorale
Thurs May 31, 2012, 8 p.m. Nixon in China:   John Adams   Dr. Stephen Hinton:  Professor of Music, Stanford University
Mon June 4, 2012 8 p.m. Attila:    Guiseppe Verdi Dr. Alexandra Amati-Camperi Dept Chair, Professor of Music, University of San Francisco

All Opera Previews at held at Villa Marin, 100 Thorndale Drive, San Rafael.  Time: 8 PM lecture; 7:30 PM complimentary tea/coffee and refreshments.  Admission: $10 per lecture or $60 for series.  For information, contact Tenki Davis at 415. 457.1118 or t4tenki@comcast.net.

For more information about the Marin Chapter of the San Francisco Opera Guild, contact Camille Morishige at 415. 479.7743 or camillem@earthlink.net.

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