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Geneva Anderson digs into art

Stars in the Making…San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellows perform “Dramatic Voices, Charming Soubrettes,” at SRJC’s Newman Auditorium this Sunday, March 9

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Lively, eloquent, and intensely determined, this year’s twelve Adler Fellows are literally the most talented young opera singers in the country and many will go on to become opera legends.  This Sunday, at 4PM, five Adlers will perform an intimate program of beloved opera arias, classical and cabaret songs at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Newman Auditorium as part of the college’s Chamber Series.  Performers are sopranos Maria Valdes and Erin Johnson; mezzo soprano Zanda Švēde, baritone Eugene Brancoveanu (former Adler 2005-6) and pianist Noah Lindquist. (Full program listed at end of article.) Normally, seeing the Adlers perform entails a lot more work—crossing the bridge and parking—but SRJC has brought these young singers right to our doorstep.

 

Former Adler, tenor Thomas Glenn (wrapped in blanket) and current Adler, soprano, Maria Valdes, prepare for their performance in Donizetti’s comedic opera, “Rita,” with the New Century Chamber Orchestra (NCCO).  Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg watches from behind the ironing board.  The Adler residency offers many performance opportunities. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Former Adler, tenor Thomas Glenn (wrapped in blanket) and current Adler, soprano, Maria Valdes, prepare for their performance in Donizetti’s comedic opera, “Rita,” with the New Century Chamber Orchestra (NCCO). Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg watches from behind the ironing board. The Adler residency offers many performance opportunities. Photo: Geneva Anderson

In February, I had the pleasure of seeing two Adlers who will perform Sunday— Maria Valdes and Eugene Brancoveanu.  They were involved in a rare performance of Gaetano Donizetti’s one act comedic opera, “Rita,” with dynamo Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and her New Century Chamber Orchestra (NCCO).  The venue was San Rafael’s intimate Oscher Marin Jewish Community Center where the audience sits at candlelit tables drinking wine and snacking while the performance unfolds just a few feet from them.  Soprano Maria Valdes was fabulous in the title role of Rita, a tyrannical and abusive wife who is tormented by two husbands.  She sang like an angel, juggling conversation, song, drama and comedy.  We had ample opportunity to experience her tremendous vocal reserve along with her ability to calibrate it to the setting, sustaining high notes without ever coming off as shrill or too forceful…a true star in the making.  The production was impressively staged and directed by former Adler, Eugene Brancoveanu, who also tweaked the script, adding spoken dialogue in English.  His modern set was minimal and included an ironing board and some clever space saving props.  Brancoveanu, born in Romania, has an unforgettable baritone and has sung at the Met, La Scala, San Francisco and Berkeley Operas as well for Opera Parallèle.  I heard him sing Sam last April in Opera Parallèle’s wonderful production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti, a role which tested his range and acting ability.  He was on top of every note, emotionally searing and impossible to take your eyes off…what stage presence  Oh, he’s also been mentioned several times in the blog Barihunks, enough said.  You’re in for a treat on Sunday.

It’s rewarding to see young artists perform early in their careers and to track them as they move on to the world’s leadings opera houses and concert halls.  Renowned sopranos and former Adlers, Deborah Voight (1986) Leah Crocetto (2009), are shining examples.  Both are coming soon to Green Music Center’s Weill Hall—Crocetto is in recital on March 9 and Voight on April 10 (Click here for details).

More About the Adler Fellow Program:  The Adler Fellows all go through a grueling national competition to enter the ranks of the Merola Opera Program, a prestigious summer resident artist training program in San Francisco sponsored by San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Opera Center.  A select few perform so well that they are invited to continue their training in the elite two-year Adler Fellow residency program.  Named for the late great San Francisco Opera General Director Kurt Herbert Adler, the Adler Fellowship Program is the Princeton of performance-oriented residencies, offering exceptional young artists intensive individual training, coaching, professional seminars and a wide range of performance opportunities throughout their fellowship. Adler fellows frequently appear in SFO productions.

2014 Adler Fellows are sopranos Erin Johnson, (Washington, New Jersey), Jacqueline Piccolino (Chicago, Illinois), and Maria Valdes (Atlanta, Georgia); mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde (Valmiera, Latvia); tenors A.J. Glueckert (Portland, Oregon), Pene Pati (Mangere, Auckland, New Zealand), and Chuanyue Wang (Hei Long Jiang, China); baritones Hadleigh Adams (Palmerston, New Zealand), and Efraín Solís (Santa Ana, California); bass-baritone Philippe Sly (Ottawa, Ontario). Johnson, Piccolino, Glueckert, Wang, Adams, and Sly are returning as Adler Fellows. The two pianists selected for Apprentice coach Fellowships are Noah Lindquist (Brooklyn, New York) and returning Adler, Sun Ha Yoon (Seoul, South Korea).

Other Upcoming Adler Fellow Performances:  Select Adler Fellows will perform Schwabacher Debut Recitals on March 30 at 2:30 PM and April 27 at 5:30 PM. Individual tickets are $25.  Youth tickets are $15 for students with a valid ID or youth, 16 years old or younger, who is accompanied by an adult.  Order tickets online or call the SF Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330.  The season culminates with a special year-end concert featuring the singers in an evening of opera scenes and arias with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. This year’s concert, The Future Is Now: Adler Fellows Gala Concert, showcasing the acclaimed 2014 Adler Fellows, takes place in November, 2104, at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco.

SRJC Chamber Concert Series Details:  An acclaimed annual series of six concerts featuring a musicians performing in an intimate environment, exactly how chamber music is intended to be heard.  After this Sunday’s Adler Fellows performance, there is one remaining concert in the 2013-14 series, Afiara String Quartet on Friday, April 25, at 7:30 PM at Newman Auditorium, Emeritus Hall, Santa Rosa Junior College.  Tickets are $25 adult/$15 youth. Parking is included for all performances.  Individual tickets are $25.  Youth tickets are $15 for students with a valid ID or youth, 16 years old or younger, who is accompanied by an adult.  Order tickets by Phone: (415) 392-4400. City Box Office Hours—M-F: 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM or Sat: 12 noon to 4:00 PM. Order on the Web at www.cityboxoffice.com .   Parking is included in the price of the performance.

Details:  “Dramatic Voices, Charming Soubrettes” is Sunday, March 9, 4 PM, at Newman Auditorium, Emeritus Hall, Santa Rosa Junior College, 1501 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa.   Individual tickets are $25.  Youth tickets are $15 for students with a valid ID or youth, 16 years old or younger, who is accompanied by an adult.  Order tickets by Phone: (415) 392-4400. City Box Office Hours—M-F: 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM or Sat: 12 noon to 4:00 PM. Order on the Web at www.cityboxoffice.com .   Parking is included in the price of the performance.

PROGRAM: “Dramatic Voices, Charming Soubrettes” SRJC Chamber Series

Songs of Travel – Vaughan Williams

The Vagabond                                                 Mr. Brancoveanu

The Roadside Fire Youth and Love

In Dreams

The Infinite Shining Heavens

Cinq mélodies “de Venise” – Fauré

Mandoline                                                       Miss Švēde

En sourdine Green

À Clymène C’est l’extase

from Floresta do Amazonas – Villa-Lobos

Canção de amor                                             Miss Valdes

Cair da tarde Melodia sentimental

from Cabaret Songs – Bolcom

Toothbrush time                                              Miss Johnson

Can’t sleep

At the last lousy moments of love Love in the 30’s

Waitin’ Amor

INTERMISSION

The Marriage of Figaro – Mozart

Crudel, perchè finora                                      Miss Valdes, Mr. Brancoveanu

 Rodelinda – Handel

Io t’abbraccio                                                  Miss Johnson, Miss Švēde

 Manon – Massenet

Je suis encore tout étourdie                             Miss Valdes

 Falstaff – Verdi

È sogno, o realtà?                                           Mr. Brancoveanu

 Le vespri siciliani – Verdi

Mercé dilette amiche                                       Miss Johnson

 Sapho – Gounod

O ma lyre immortelle                                      Miss Švēde

 The Merry Widow – Lehár

Vilja                                                                 Miss Valdes, tutti

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March 6, 2014 Posted by | Chamber Music, Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Merola Artists’ Magnificent “Grand Finale” Concert, Saturday, August 18th, 2012

2012 Merola Opera Artists performing Puccini’s “Già che il caso ci unisce…Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso” from “La Rondine” in the Merola Grand Finale Concert, Saturday, August 18, 2012. Magda – Elizabeth Baldwin, Lisette – Jennifer Cherest, Ruggero – Casey Candebat, Prunier – Joshua Baum, Celesta – Sun Ha Yoon, Chorus – Tutti Merolini. Photo: Kristen Loken

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.

Tenor Casey Candebat and mezzo-soprano Sarah Mesko sing “Ah! Mon courage m’abandonne…Pourquoi me réveiller?…N’achevez pas” from “Werther” by Jules Massenet. Photo: Kristen Loken

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.

Soprano Elizabeth Baldwin performs “Egli non riede ancora!…Non so le tetre immagine” from “Il corsaro” by Giuseppe Verdi. Photo: Kristen Loken

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.

August 20, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment