We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


Hailey Clark and Dan Kempson in Thais
Patrick Guetti, Joseph Dennis and Alexandra Loutsion in Ernani

Denise Wernly and Jack Swanson in Two Boys
Katherine Carroll and Shelley Jackson in Anna Bolena

What is so impressive about the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program, directed by David Holloway, is the high quality of the performances that are given towards the latter part of the season.  The apprentices, gifted young singers all, have been meticulously chosen for their outstanding gifts and given a great deal of coaching that will enable them to move on to the next stage in their careers.  They appear in the SFO's five operas as chorus members and also in small roles.  Sometimes they are given the opportunity to step in for an ailing or otherwise unavailable star.  But, at the very least they get to perform on one of two Sunday evenings for a most enthusiastic packed house.

It is a win-win situation. The Apprentices appear to be having a great time and so does the audience. The young singers work with superb coaches, directors, conductors and pianists.  The scenes are given an entirely professional treatment down to the lavish costuming. It's a great introduction for opera newbies who get to see excerpts from eight different operas from different periods and in different languages, an outstanding opportunity to guide their future opera-going.

Sunday evening's program began with the opening scene from Rossini's Cenerentola in which the heroine Angelina (the winsome Sishel Claverie) sings a sad song which annoys her frivolous stepsisters (the very funny Lindsay Ohse as Clorinda and the equally funny Shabnam Kalbasi as Tisbe). The generous heroine behaves sympathetically toward a beggar who is actually the Prince's tutor in disguise (Tyler Putnam) while the step-sisters are disdainful.  Benjamin Sieverding was hilarious as Don Magnifico, the father.  We loved the voices and Bruce Donnell's direction as well as Eileen Chaffer's witty costumes.  Mr. Holloway himself appeared in the chorus.

Comedy gave way to tragedy and Italian was replaced by French in the death scene from Massenet's Thais.  Dan Kempson as the monk Athanael evinced a fine facility for the long level lines of the French language and Hailey Clark as the eponymous heroine sang as beautifully as she looked . There was irony here as Thais has been converted from her wayward ways to Christianity and Athanael has fallen in romantic love with her.  Kathleen Clawson directed with simplicity and directness.

A contemporary opera in English--Nico Muhly's Two Boys--was next on the program and Jack Swanson made a fine Brian, convincing as a 16-year-old seduced by the internet.  Emma Char portrayed the policewoman trying to fathom the stabbing tragedy while Denise Wernly and Lindsay Ohse portrayed Fiona and Rebecca, two "virtual" characters.  The voices were excellent and Lauren Pivirotto's costumes were apposite.

Gian Carlo Menotti's The Last Savage was given an hilarious reading with fine direction by Kathleen Clawson and lavish costuming by Andy Jean.  Kitty was played by Bridgette Gan and the hunky savage by Calvin Griffin.  Kitty's father Mr. Scattergood was played by Tyler Putnam, the Maharajah by Benjamin Sieverding, the Maharani by Daryl Freedman, their son Kodanda by David Margulis, and the woman he loves by Heather Phillips.  In this very funny septet, lives are rearranged and a few surprises are revealed.

A very moving scene from Donizetti's Anna Bolena showed off the dazzling bel canto techniques of two promising young women.  Shelley Jackson portrayed Anna and Giovanna was sung by Katherine Carroll.  We heard it sung at The Metropolitan Opera in the 2012-2013 season and thought these two young artists handled the roles at least as well.  In this scene, Giovanna reveals to Anna that she herself is the rival for Enrico's affection and tries to persuade Anna to save her own life by confessing to adultery.  Anna refuses and eventually pardons Giovanna.  Not only did we hear vocal pyrotechnics but witnessed some very affecting acting on the part of both.

Then it was time for some comedy of the German persuasion--a scene from Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos in which the sassy and flirtatious Zerbinetta (the adorable and vocally thrilling Amy Owens) tries to teach the dour Ariadne how to "nimm es nicht so schwer".  Her suitors were delightfully portrayed by Shea Owens, Alec Carlson, Adrian Kramer and Peter Tomaszewski.  Siri Nelson gave Ms. Owens just the right costume for this commedia dell'arte role.  Shawna Lucey directed with just the right touch.

More German followed in a romantic scene from Franz Lehar's operetta The Merry Widow.  Camille (Yoni Rose) has been having an illicit affair with Valencienne (Jenna Siladie) the young and restless wife of the elderly Baron Zeta.  It is time for them to separate but they decide to have one last kiss. What a charming scene!  The fine singers were elegantly costumed by Joanie Ming in true period style.

The final scene of the evening was a riveting one--the scene in Verdi's Ernani in which the bandit Ernani (the superb tenor Joseph Dennis) comes to the castle of the nobleman Da Silva (the astonishing bass Patrick Guetti) to rescue his beloved Elvira (the equally astonishing soprano Alexandra Loutsion). Imagine Ernani's shock when he learns they are about to wed.  At first he believes her to be unfaithful so he gets to enact a changes of mood when he learns that she planned to kill herself at the marriage altar.  Silva is shocked that the stranger to whom he has offered hospitality is his rival but he decides to hide Ernani from King Charles V (also a suitor of Elvira) for some later revenge.  Everyone gets to enjoy Verdi's challenging vocal lines; no one failed the challenge.  Michael Shell directed with a firm hand and Kelsey Vidic designed some gorgeous costumes.

The evening was over way too soon; we could have enjoyed eight more scenes. Actually we WILL get to enjoy eight more scenes since we have decided to stay on in Santa Fe for next Sunday's Apprentice Recital. Each and every artist we heard is a prime candidate for a successful opera career.  The Santa Fe Opera has chosen well!

(c) meche kroop

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