ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

review: Romeo and Juliet, the rush of new love with a short shelf life, at SF Opera

Charismatic tenor Pene Pati/Romeo is believably engulfed in the passion of true love in San Francisco Opera’s new production of Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet,”  last performed at SFO 32 years ago.  Photo: Cory Weaver/SFO

No matter how familiar the plot, most of us are suckers for a passionate love story; there’s none more enthralling than Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”  As a live performance, though, it only clicks when the onstage chemistry is so electric that you find yourself seduced and falling in love with love.   San Francisco Opera’s 97th season opener, “Romeo and Juliet,Charles Gounod’s musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic sucks you in hook, line, and sinker.  The intense longing, desire, and attraction of new love come alive again briefly for Romeo and Juliet, until it all tragically unravels.

The production clicks on so many levelsthe gorgeous singing of leads Nadine Sierra and Pene Pati, their supporting cast, and the SFO Chorus; guest conductor Yves Abel’s and SFO Orchestra’s fluid interpretation of Gounod’s lyrical score.  And a last minute twist that provided the thrilling suspense that makes opera, well, operatic.

Pene Pati and Nadine Sierra disappear into their characters and feed off of each other in four impassioned and lyrical duets that anchor Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet.”  Photo: Cory Weaver/SFO

Just three days before the season’s opening gala performance on Sept 6, Romeo, tenor Bryan Hymel, withdrew from the entire production citing personal reasons.  New Zealand tenor Pene Pati, stepped up to sing the entire run.  Pati, a former Adler, who sang the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s “Rigloetto” in 2017, was already booked to sing Romeo in the last of the opera’s seven scheduled performances.  His debut under pressure was splendid.  In his second performance as Romeo, on Sept 13, Patis charisma was palpable, magical.  He sang with such lyricism, passion and seemingly effortless precision that, even in the most challenging arias, he came off like a Ferrari that had just given everyone in attendance the ride of their life.  The love-at-first-sight scene with Julia at the Capulet ball, was something to behold as soprano Nadine Sierra, in her role debut, first encountered her Romeo.  For anyone living the daily grind of a romantic relationship, the interaction between these two was food for the soul.

Pati may be new to the role at SFO but he’s had years to reflect on it.  In 2014, he beat out a remarkable 304 singers to win the Montserrat Caballé International Singing Competition in Zaragosa with his interpretation of the Romeo’s Act II taxing ariaAh, lève-toi, soleil.”  Last Friday, the tenor imbued the seven minute aria with such emotion, and then ended on what seemed like an impossibly-long extended note, that the audience was enraptured.

Soprano Nadine Sierra as Juliet. Photo: Cory Weaver/SFO

As Juliet, Nadine Sierra gave a sublime performance that was at times joyfully playful and, by turns, tender, passionate and heart-wrenching, always convincing and never over the top.  Her Act I “Je veux vivre dans le rêve” (Juliet’s Waltz), where she expresses the desire to live inside her cozy dreamworld, where it is eternally spring, was radiant, light, and showcased her exceptional range.

Following in the steps of Ruth Ann Swenson, 32 years ago, Sierra is now the second artist in SFO history to sing Act IV’s notoriously daunting potion aria, “Amour ranime courage,” which contains two high C’s and and relentless vocal gymnastics.  Those of us lucky enough to have followed Sierra’s rise through the ranks of the Merola and Adler programs will never forget how she beamed after slaying this wicked aria in 2012 for the Adler “The Future is Now” concert.  Last Friday, she was in complete control of the aria from start to finish, delivering an astonishing array of glittering sound while enacting a roller-coaster of emotion that ends with her drinking the potion that will feign her death.

Mezzo soprano Stephanie Lauricella as in her SFO debut as Stéphano, Romeo’s male page. Photo: Cory Weaver

Among secondary roles, mezzo Stephanie Lauricella distinguished herself in her SFO debut as Stéphano, Romeo’s male page.  Following her magical Act III aria, “Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle?,” several in the audience rose to their feet.  Baritone Lucas Meachem, another former Adler, impressed as Mercutio, Romeo’s friend from his first solo aria in Act I, “Mab, la reine des mensonges”.

Canadian conductor Yves Abel’s sensitive command over the SFO orchestra grew more impressive as the evening progressed.  While hailed as Gounod’s most impressive opera, the score’s prelude and first act did not impress and the first 30 or so minutes were carried by the singing.

Dull staging is the thing that most often drags SFO operas down, contributing a stolid feel to productions that soar in other regards. Jean-Louis Grinda’s staging and Eric Chevalier’s Renaissance-era Verona set designs, a collaboration between Opéra de Monte-Carlo and Teatro Carlo Felice, were uninspired.  Much of the action took place on an unattractive round starburst patterned concave platform that was surrounded by architectural details varying over the course of the opera.  The audience was made to wait out several long scene changes which broke up the continuity of the drama and, when the curtain rose, nothing of high visual interest awaited.

Carola Volles’ costumes were hit and miss. Those of plush jewel-toned velvet added sumptuousness and vibrancy to the dull set, particularly in the masked ball, but gowns with more color and pizazz would have better showcased Juliet.

In the end, Pati and Sierra claimed the night…unstoppable in love and death.

Details: There are four remaining performances of Romeo and Juliet: Sat, 9/21 at 7:30 pm; Tues, 9/24 at 7:30 pm; Sun, 9/29 at 2 pm and Tues 10/1 at 7:30 pm. Run Time: 2 hours and 56 min, with one intermission. Tickets: Remaining performances are selling out; purchase online  https://sfopera.com/2019-20-season/romeo-juliet/

Traffic alert: If you are driving in from the North Bay, allow at least 45 min travel/parking time from the Golden Gate Bridge to War Memorial Opera House. For a list of parking garages closest to the opera house, visit https://sfopera.com/plan-your-visit/directions-and-parking/

 

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September 21, 2019 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ao Li, of Adler and Merola fame, walks away with first prize at Plácido Domingo’s Operalia in Verona

Chinese bass-baritone Ao Li just won the top prize at Operalia 2013 competition.  Here, he is performing a Rossini aria at the Marin Opera Guild's Champagne Gala in 2011.  Photo: Susan Malott

Chinese bass-baritone Ao Li just won the top prize at Operalia 2013 competition. Here, he performs a Rossini aria at the Marin Opera Guild’s Champagne Gala in 2011. Photo: Susan Malott

On to greatness!…Chinese bass-baritone Ao Li, a third-year Adler Fellow and graduate of the 2010 Merola Opera Program, just won First Prize and $30,000 in Plácido Domingo’s international singing competition, Operalia, which concluded Sunday in Verona’s spectacular Arena di Verona.  This year’s competition included 12 finalists from around the globe. Called the “Olympic games for opera singers” by Domingo, the grueling competition includes successive elimination rounds—of competitors singing arias of their choice and those given them by the prestigious jury of comprised, for the most part of, international Opera house’s General and/or Casting directors. Participating or even winning a prize in this competition is only the beginning of every singer’s relationship with Plácido Domingo and the jurors who will invite them to perform in upcoming productions being scheduled in their opera houses and theatres.

All these talented young singers walked away with a cash prize but Ao Li, 25, walked away with the top award—“Male First Award”—which he shared with Russian soprano Aida Garifullina—“Female First Award.”  Li sang Sergey Rachmaninov’s “Ves tabor spit” from Aleko (Aleko’s Cavatina).

Ao Li has sung a number of roles to rave reviews with San Francisco Opera including Lorenzo (Capuleti e i Montecchi) and Sciarrone (Tosca) and Ben Weatherstaff (The Secret Garden)—all 2012-13 season.  He made his debut with the Company in 2011 as Ascanio Petrucci (Lucreia Borgia).  Teatro ZinZanni fans will never forget his late-night Cabaret Lunatique performance (2011) with Shanghai Pearl, the sultry strip-tease artist.  He is also a frequent recitalist in China where he was a past recipient of the Youth of China award and the bronze award in the Ministry of Culture’s Eighth National Vocal Competition.

How lucky we are to have two important Bay Area programs—the Adler Fellowship Program (Adler Fellows) and Merola Opera Program—nurturing and creating the vocal stars of the future.  Operalia moves to a different city each year and next year, it is in Los Angeles. The annual competition was founded by Domingo in 1993 and has helped to launch the careers of several renowned singers, including Rolando Villazón and Joyce DiDonato.

Ao Li’s glorious performance at Operalia 2013 of Rachmaninov’s “Ves tabor spit” from Aleko

Here is the future of opera…the names to remember:

  • CulturArte Award: $10,000 to 26-year-old Belarus tenor Vladimir Dmitruk
  • Don Plácido Domingo Sr. Award for Zarzuela: $10,000 to 27-year-old American tenor Benjamin      Bliss
  • Pepita Embil Domingo Zarzuela Award: $10,000 to 29-year-old South Korean soprano Hae      Ji Chang
  • Birgit Nilsson Remembrance Award (for German Wagner/Strauss Rep): $15,000 each to 31-year-old English contralto Claudia Huckle and 27-year-old American soprano Tracy Cox
  • Male and Female Third Award: $10,000 each to 30-year-old American soprano Kathryn Lewek and 29-year-old American tenor Zach Borichevsky
  • Male and Female Second Award: $20,000 each to 29-year-old French soprano Julie Fuchs and 28-year-old Italian baritone Simone Piazzola.
  • Male and Female First Award: $30,000 each to 25-year-old Russian soprano Aida Garifullina and 25-year-old Chinese bass-baritone Ao Li
  • Audience Award: Rolex watches to 30-year-old American soprano Kathryn Lewek and 28-year-old Italian baritone Simone Piazzola

Plácido Domingo in Berkeley September 7, 2013:  The world-renowned tenor, Plácido Domingo’s makes a local appearance at the historic Greek Theatre with the Berkeley Symphony, in a program of operatic favorites from Verdi and Wagner and American classics from Rogers, Loewe, and Bernstein, and Spanish popular songs.  September 7, 2013, at 8 p.m.  The event is sponsored Another Planet Entertainment, Cal Performances’ partner for the Greek Theatre. Click here for information and tickets.

ARThound’s previous coverage of Ao LiSan Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellows Perform Opera Favorites for last Sunday’s Marin Guild Gala (August 9, 2011);  No Commute! SF Opera’s Adler Fellows are performing classical favorites this Friday, October 12, at SRJC’s Petaluma Campus (October 10, 2012); Stealthy Soprano Nicole Cabell climbs a sink and balances on a wall in her debut at SF Opera’s “Capulets and Montagues,” through October 19, 2012 (October 11, 2012)

August 28, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 Future is Now,” San Francisco Opera’s 2012 Adler Fellows present a gala concert of opera’s greatest hits— Friday, November 30, 2012, at Herbst Theatre

The 2012 Adler Fellows of San Francisco Opera’s distinguished Adler residency program for young artists. Photo: Scott Wall

In their final concert of 2012, the critically acclaimed Adler Fellows of 2012 will team up with San Francisco Opera Resident Conductor Giuseppe Finzi and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra to perform “The Future is Now,” a gala concert of well-known opera scenes and arias on Friday, November 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the Herbst Theatre in the War Memorial Opera Building, San Francisco.   This night of unforgettable music will include well-known works by opera’s great composers, including Massenet, Mozart, Rossini, Tchaikovsky, Gounod, and Verdi.  For those who have followed the young performers in the Adler program, it is celebration of their talent and accomplishment as many prepare to move on to professional roles the world’s leading opera houses.  “It is the greatest opera fellowship program in the country,” said former Adler Patricia Racette, currently singing Floria Tosca to rave reviews in SFO’s Tosca.

“The Future is Now” features 8 singing Adlers and 2 coaching Adlers.

Sopranos include Marina Harris (Los Angeles, California) and Nadine Sierra (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) who most recently appeared in SFO’s Summer 2012 production of The Magic Flute as Papagena.  In 2009, Sierra was the youngest performer to win the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and this May, at age 23, she had her debut at Carnegie Hall’s intimate Weill Recital Hall.  a

Mezzo-sopranos include Laura Krumm (Iowa City, Iowa) who had her SFO debut and most recent appearance in this fall’s production of Rigoletto as Countess Ceprano and a Page, and Renée Rapier (Marion, Iowa) who had her SFO debut and most recent appearance in this fall’s production of Rigoletto as Giovanna.

The sole tenor is Brian Jagde (Piermont, New York), who is currently getting rave reviews as the painter Mario Cavaradossi in SFO’s Tosca and is also singing the role of Don Jose in SFO’s Carmen for Families, a two-hour version of the opera suitable for children 10 and above.  Jagde was a baritone for ten years and then, 4 years ago, made the switch to tenor.  

Baritones include Ao Li (Shandong, China), who is currently singing in Tosca as Sciarrone, and Joo Won Kang (Seoul, South Korea) who has been very this fall at SFO, performing in Rigoletto as Marullo, in Moby Dick as Captain Gardiner, in Lohengrin  as Noble, and in Tosca as the Jailer.

The sole bass-baritone is Ryan Kuster (Jacksonville, Illinois), who is currently singing in Tosca as Angelotti.

Apprentice coaches Sun Ha Yoon (Seoul, South Korea) and Robert Mollicone (East Greenwich, Rhode Island) will also participate.

PROGRAM:
Manon – Massenet / “Je suis seul…Ah! fuyez, douce image…Toi! Vous!…N’est-ce plus ma main”
Manon – Nadine Sierra
Des Grieux – Brian Jagde

Un Ballo in Maschera – Verdi / “Forse la soglia attinse…Ma se m’è forza perderti”
Riccardo – Brian Jagde

Roméo et Juliette – Gounod / “Dieu! Quel frisson…Amour ranime mon courage”
Juliette – Nadine Sierra

Il Corsaro – Verdi / “Alfin questo Corsaro è mio prigione…Cento leggiadre vergini”
Seid – Joo Won Kang
Selimo – Ryan Kuster

Don Giovanni – Mozart / “Deh vieni alla finestra”
Don Giovanni – Joo Won Wang

La Cenerentola – Rossini / “Sì, tutto cangerà…Là del ciel nell’arcano profondo”
Alidoro – Ryan Kuster
Angelina – Laura Krumm

The Marriage of Figaro – Mozart / “Hai già vinta la causa…Vedrò mentr’io sospiro”
Count Almaviva – Ryan Kuster

Cendrillon – Massenet / “Enfin, je suis ici”
Cendrillon – Laura Krumm

La Clemenza di Tito – Mozart / “Parto, ma tu ben mio”
Sesto – Renée Rapier

Così fan tutte – Mozart / “Ah guarda sorella”
Fiordiligi – Marina Harris
Dorabella – Laura Krumm

Eugene Onegin – Tchaikovsky / “Puskai pagibnuya”
Tatiana – Marina Harris

Mignon – Thomas / “Légères hirondelles”
Mignon – Laura Krumm
Lothario – Ao Li

Il Signor Bruschino – Rossini / “Nel teatro del gran mondo”
Gaudenzio – Ao Li

More About the Adler Fellow 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. The Adler Fellows have all been selected from the Merola Opera Program, a prestigious resident artist training program sponsored by San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Opera Center that has nurtured the development of more than 150 young artists since its inception.

There are currently ten 2012 Adler Fellows and thirteen new 2013 Adler Fellows were announced on September 26, 2012. That list includes continuing Adlers from 2012: Marina Harris, soprano; Joo Won Kang, baritone; Laura Krumm, mezzo soprano; Ao Li, baritone; Robert Mollicone, coach and accompanist; and Renée Rapier, mezzo soprano.  New 2013 participants include: Hadleigh Adams, bass-baritone, from New Zealand; Jennifer Cherest, soprano, from Maryland; AJ Glueckert, tenor, from Portland, OR; Chuanyue Wang, tenor, from China; Erin Johnson, mezzo-soprano, from New Jersey; and Sun Ha Yoon, apprentice coach, from South Korea. Phillipe Sly, bass-baritone, from the Merola class of 2011 is also included. Unusually, he skipped a year, during which he became a winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and appeared in several Canadian Opera Company productions.

Details:  “The Future is Now” is Friday, November 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.  Tickets: $60 front orchestra; $50 box seats; $40 rear orchestra and dress circle.  $15 student rush tickets will be available from 11 a.m. on November 30, subject to availability, upon presentation of valid identification, in person only at the San Francisco Opera Box Office (301 Van Ness Avenue at the northwest corner of Grove Street, San Francisco).  All other tickets may be purchased in advance online (click here) or at the SFO Box Office which is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

November 28, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No Commute! SF Opera’s Adler Fellows are performing classical favorites this Friday, October 12, at SRJC’s Petaluma Campus

San Francisco Opera’s 2012 Adler Fellows. Select fellows from the 2012 and 2013 Adlers will perform a special concert at SRJC’s Petaluma Campus on Friday, October 10, 2012. Photo: courtesy SF Opera

When the Santa Rosa Junior College Chamber Series made the decision to add vocal repertoire to its performances, it went straight to the top, enlisting San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellows, literally the most talented young opera singers in the country.  This Friday, October 12, 2012, 4 talented Adlers will perform opera, art songs and chansons in a rare and exclusive North Bay exclusive presentation at the Carole L. Ellis Auditorium at the Petaluma Campus of SRJC. Performing Adlers are soprano Nadine Sierra, mezzo-soprano Laura Krumm, mezzo-soprano Renee Rapier and baritone Ao Li.  One of the most exciting experiences you can have is seeing these young artists perform early in their career—they are ALL stars through and through—and having the pleasure of watching their careers develop as they go on to perform at most of the world’s opera houses.  Normally, seeing the Adlers perform entails a lot more work—crossing the bridge and parking—but SRJC has brought these young singers to our doorstep.

Program:

Miss Krumm:  Gioacchino Rossini – La regata veneziana: Anzoleta avanti la regatta, Anzoleta co passa la regatta, Anzoleta dopo la regata

Ao Li:  Franz Schubert -3 songs: Die Forelle, Ständchen, Der Erlkönig

Nadine Sierra: Sergei Rachmaninoff – Op. 38: Noch’ju v sadu u menja, K nej, Margaritki, Krysolov, Son, Au

Renée Rapier: Xavier Montsalvatge – Cinco canciónes negras: Cuba dentro de un piano, Punto da habanera, Chévere, Canción de cuna para dormir a un negrito, Canto negro

 INTERMISSION

Laura Krumm: Rossini – The Barber of Seville: Una voce poco fa

Nadine Sierra: Verdi – Rigoletto: Caro nome

Renée Rapier: Offenbach – The Tales of Hoffmann: Vois sous l’archet frémissant

Ao Li:  Wagner –Tannhäuser: O du mein holder Abendstern

Nadine Sierra, Renée Rapier: Bellini – I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Sì, fuggire!

Ao Li:  Heggie – Moby Dick: Captain Ahab? I must speak with you

Nadine Sierra, Laura Krumm, Renée Rapier: Sondheim: You could drive a person crazy

Adler Fellows Performing Friday:

A native of Iowa City, Iowa, mezzo-soprano Laura Krumm is a first-year Adler Fellow. As a master’s student at the University of North Texas, she was awarded the Bill and Margo Winspear Award and was winner of the 2011 Concerto Competition She has performed in concerts and operas with La Musica Lirica in Novafeltria, Italy and OperaWorks in Los Angeles, and she was a finalist in the 2011 Dallas Opera Guild Competition.

Baritone Ao Li, a second-year Adler Fellow, is a native of Dezhou, China and studied at Shangdong Normal University A frequent recitalist in China, Li is a past recipient of the prestigious Youth of China award, third prize in both the Shandong Qilu Style Contest and the Taipei World Chinese Vocal Competition, the bronze award in The People’s Republic of China Ministry of Culture’s Eighth National Vocal Competition.

Second-year soprano Adler Fellow Nadine Sierra made her San Francisco Opera debut in 2011 creating the roles of Juliet and Barbara in the world premiere of Heart of a Soldier. Sierra’s recent awards include first prize of the George London Competition (2010), the Gerda Lissner International Competition (2010), the Loren Zachary Competition (2010) and the Stella Maris Competition (2011), as well as second prize in the Mirjam Helin International Vocal Competition (2009).

Making her San Francisco Opera debut this season, American mezzo-soprano Renée Rapier is a first-year Adler Fellow. Rapier holds a master’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa. She has been the recipient of the Chautauqua Studio Artist Award, a winner in the Schubert Club Scholarship Competition, a national finalist of the Bel Canto Vocal Scholarship Foundation Competition, and was a national semifinalist at the Metropolitan Opera Council Auditions in 2011.

Mark Morash is a conductor and pianist originally from Halifax, Canada. He serves as the director of musical studies for San Francisco Opera Center where he has conducted for the Merola program, the Adler Fellow Showcase and Western Opera Theater. Morash is a graduate of the University of Michigan, where he studied collaborative piano with Martin Katz. Morash has taught at the University of Toronto and has given master classes throughout the U.S. and Canada and most recently in New Zealand.

More About the Adler Fellow 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. The Adler Fellows have all been selected from the Merola Opera Program, a prestigious resident artist training program sponsored by San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Opera Center that has nurtured the development of more than 150 young artists since its inception.

There are currently ten 2012 Adler Fellows and thirteen new 2013 Adler Fellows were announced on September 26, 2012.  That list includes continuing Adlers from 2012: Marina Harris, soprano; Joo Won Kang, baritone; Laura Krumm, mezzo soprano; Ao Li, baritone; Robert Mollicone, coach and accompanist; and Renée Rapier, mezzo soprano.  New 2013 participants include: Hadleigh Adams, bass-baritone, from New Zealand; Jennifer Cherest, soprano, from Maryland; AJ Glueckert, tenor, from Portland, OR; Chuanyue Wang, tenor, from China; Erin Johnson, mezzo-soprano, from New Jersey; and Sun Ha Yoon, apprentice coach, from South Korea. Phillipe Sly, bass-baritone, from the Merola class of 2011 is also included.  Unusually, he skipped a year, during which he became a winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and appeared in several Canadian Opera Company productions.

Fiday’s SRJC Concert Details:  Friday, October 12, at 7:30 PM.  Doors open at 7 PM, Carole L. Ellis Auditorium, Petaluma Campus, SRJC. Tickets are $25 adult/$15 youth. Parking is included for all performances.  Tickets on sale now through City Box Office or  (415) 392-4400, M-F 9:30 AM to 4 PM.  All ticket orders placed less than 7 days prior to performance will be held at Will Call for pick up on the day of performance

Other Upcoming Adler Fellow Performances:  The Adler Fellows’ 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 2012 Adler Fellows, takes place on Friday, November 30, 2012 at 7:30 p.m. at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco.

ARThound’s pervious coverage of Adler concerts: San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellows Perform Opera Favorites for last Sunday’s Marin Guild Gala (August 9, 2011)

October 10, 2012 Posted by | 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

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

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.

August 9, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Standing for Valhalla: the passion, endurance and strategy it takes to stand through the Ring at SF Opera

Lauren Knoblauch's special ergonomic shoes have trekked to Bayreuth and now they're in San Francisco standing for San Francisco Opera's Ring. Photo: Geneva Anderson

 Those attending the full Ring cycle at San Francisco Opera will spend 17 hours just watching the 4 performances but for those who choose the standing room ticket option, the hours multiply.  One hundred and fifty standing room tickets for last night’s opening performance of Das Rheingold went on sale at 10 a.m. yesterday morning at the War Memorial Opera House.  An additional 50 tickets went on sale at 5 p.m. and all 200 were sold.  Charlise Tiee, of Alameda, arrived “before 7 a.m.” and stood for 3 hours to buy the coveted #1 standing room ticket.   That allowed her to stand again–at the side of opera house– and enter 70 minutes before the performance and select her place to stand for the two hour and 40 minute performance.   Her standing-in-line to standing-in-performance ratio: roughly 2 to 1.  “It will get better with the 4 and 5 hour performances.”

This is Tiee’s 6th Ring cycle and the 34 year old, who studied viola and piano, started her ring thing when she was 26.  Tiee was a stand-out in last night’s line because she came dressed in a green satin brocade gown as Erda, the goddess of earth and mother of the three Norns.  It is Erda who warns Wotan to give up the ring after taking it from Alberich.  It is Erda who sees into the future and possesses great wisdom.  “I’ve been planning this,” she said. 

Charlise Tiee, dressed as goddess Erda, arrived before 7 .m. and bought standing room ticket #1 for $10 for yesterday's Das Rheingold at SF Opera. Photo: Geneva Anderson

At 7:30 a.m., there were 4 people in line for the $10 standing room tickets.  By 10 a.m., there were 40 people, and the line was growing.  Tiee is an SF Opera subscriber but also enjoys the thrill of nabbing the first standing room ticket and the flexibility of standing “I can move around more.”  Her strategy for the special evening was simple—she was going to stand on the orchestra level, on the right side by the pillar “to enhance the contrast with my outfit.”   Tiee is also well known for her lively blog– The Opera Tattler—that tracks her experiences attending opera performances as a standee in San Francisco and beyond.  Her writing is not limited to the performance but to what she sees and hears and “tattles” about the audience as a standee.  Tiee also presides over the Opera Standees Association, a social club for people in the Bay Area who love opera and met in standing room.  OSA meets and also financially sponsors a Merola Opera Program summer participant.  

This really isn’t about saving money, it’s about experiencing opera,” said Tiee.  “A lot of people who attend are in it for the social experience, which is fine.  It’s not easy to keep standing and the people in standing room tend to be more serious and very well-informed about the performances.  I have attended most of the dress rehearsals and will go to all three cycles.  I am interested in how it all evolves–you hear and see things at one performance that you won’t experience again because it’s live art.”  

Members of the standing group consider themselves “exceedingly lucky” because the SF Opera Company is so good and because the people in the box office are friendly and supportive of standees.  This is not the case at other opera venues where standees are valued “at about the price they pay for their tickets.”  

Having secured their numbered sanding room tickets, standees then cue outside the opera house. Many make productive use of their time studying the Wagner libretto in German. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Lauren Knoblauch drove straight from Seattle on Monday evening, leaving right after work, and took a chance on standing room tickets, “Oh, I knew I could get them—they’ve got 200.”  She decided to nap some but still managed to snag standing room ticket #119.  Knoblauch has been to Rings all over the world and likes to travel light.  Wotan has his spear and Siegfried has Nothung and she has her special ergonomic shoes—with separate toes—that make standing easy.  “I haven’t heard too much about the production itself or Zambello,” said Knoblauch.  “I know it goes from different ages—starting in one period and ending in another.  I try not to let the production bother me.  I go for the music and the singing and the acting and let the director do whatever he or she is going to do.  Afterwards, I’ll tell you what I think.”

After securing her place inside the opera house on the orchestra level, Knoblauch began texting and lo and behold, Charlise Tiee, standing next to her was the recipient.  As it turns out, the two have tweeted and texted each other about the performance for some time and met in person that evening.  When asked about Das Rheingold’s opening video projection scenes, by Jan Hartley, of billowing clouds and waves of water, Tiee responded “I do like an interesting production.  To me it looks like a video game and I’ve played a lot of video games and seen a lot of movies that feature CGI (computer generated imagery).  That stuff is competing in the opera for our attention but it’s a much better match with the music than what they used in 2008.”   

 Ring Schedule Cycle 1:  last night (June 15, 2011), Das Rheingold (2 hours, 35 minutes, no intermission); tonight, Die Walküre (4 hours, 30 minutes with two intermissions); Friday Siegfried (4 hours and 50 minutes with two intermissions); Sunday Götterdämmerung(5 hours and 15 minutes with two intermissions). The cycle repeats two more times, June 21-26 and June 28-July 3, 2011. 

After texting and tweeting, Charlise Tiee (L) and Lauren Koblauch (R) finally meet inside the opera as standees for Das Rheingold. Photo: Geneva Anderson

 

Standing Room for the Ring: There are 200 standing room tickets for each performance in the Ring cycle, and 150 of these go on sale at 10 a.m. the day of the performance at the War Memorial Opera House.  The remaining 50 are sold 2 hours before the performance.  Tickets are $10, cash only, and each person may buy 2 tickets.  Standees may enter on the south side of the opera house, across the street from Davies Symphony on Grove Street, 70 minutes before the curtain time.  The tickets are numbered and sold in order.  One enters the opera house by number, and there is a numbered line painted on the ground outside.  The standing room areas are on the orchestra level and the back of the balcony.  For availability, call the Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330

June 15, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment