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.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Scene from Die Walküre--Santa Fe Opera Apprentices-Photo by Ken Howard
Ensemble from Il Viaggio a Reims--photo by Ken Howard

The second and final recital of opera scenes by the Santa Fe Opera Apprentices left nothing to be desired.  The packed house greeted these promising young artists with an avalanche of appreciative applause.  Everyone benefits since the apprentices thrive on onstage experience and profit by learning new roles.  No expense is spared in terms of production values: direction, costumes, staging and accompaniment are all first rate.  The only thing missing is the orchestra.

That was an advantage, not a deficit, in the strong opening number "Ride of the Valkyries" since the young singers were not obliged to shriek over massive orchestral forces. Clad in fabulous steampunk inspired costumes by Kelsey Vidic, the lovely ladies entered through the aisles and terraces (direction by Shawna Lucey) and joined voices for Wagner's thrilling music.  Alexandra Loutsion, Rebecca Witty, Sarah Larsen, Daryl Freedman, Bridgette Gan, Allegra De Vita, Katherine Carroll and Annie Rosen were the glamorous warrior maidens.  Manuel Jacobo and Amanda Clark were responsible for the stunning wigs and makeup design.  WOO!

That was a tough act to follow but soprano Amanda Opuszynski was a lovely Lucia in Donizetti's masterpiece Lucia di Lammermoor, effectively negotiating the scale passages and acting up a storm in the scene with her brother Enrico, beautifully portrayed by baritone Joseph Lim.  The two succeeded in showing various sides of their characters and eliciting our sympathy-- both for the panicky Lucia who does not want to marry her brother's choice and for Enrico who is desperate for this political marriage to save his own hide.

Hearing baritone Ricardo Rivera and mezzo-soprano Annie Rosen animate the characters of Robert and Kitty Oppenheimer in John Adams' Doctor Atomic was a special treat.  We didn't relate at all to the production at the Met and we were surprised and happy to change our opinion.  Sung English is often difficult to understand but their diction was perfect and we didn't miss a word.  Vocally and dramatically the scene was a hit.  Kathleen Clawson directed.

Alone among the eight scenes, the one from Mozart's La finta giardiniera was updated to the mid 20th c. and made no sense at all. What director Michael Shell seemed to be going for was the awkwardness of waking up in bed with a "one-night-stand".  The audience laughed but the libretto could not be believably bent into that situation and was not what Mozart and his librettist intended.  Nonetheless, the singers sounded lovely and did what was asked of them.  Soprano Jenna Siladie was the disdainful hussy Arminda, smoking under a lamppost.  Mezzo Emma Char portrayed the importuning Ramiro.  As the two "hookups" soprano Abigail Mitchell and tenor Rexford Tester did justice to Mozart and had the audience in stitches.

The opening scene of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, directed by Bruce Donnell, took us back to more traditional territory with Rebecca Witty's lovely soprano convincing us as Amelia who believes she is an orphan.  As her lover Gabriele, tenor Daniel Bates was soulful and ardent.  Erin Levy's costumes were appropriate as to time and place.

In the trio from the final act of Puccini's Madama Butterfly, we were impressed by Joshua Conyers' firm baritone and sympathetic portrayal of Sharpless.  Julia Dawson sang Suzuki and Christopher Trapani portrayed the remorseful B. F. Pinkerton.

William Walton's Troilus and Cressida was a strange choice.  This is not an opera we would care to hear in toto but the scene from Act I was well directed by Shawna Lucey who seems to have a knack for placing singers where they ought to be.  Tenor Jubal Joslyn sang the role of Troilus and mezzo Sarah Larsen brought some beautiful tones and fine diction to her portrayal of Cressida.  Tenor Aaron Short made impressive use of word coloring as Pandarus.

The closing scene was the spirited ensemble from Rossini's Il viaggio a Reims. The spoiled aristocrats were devastated that there were no horses for their carriages to attend the coronation of King Charles X.  As is typical of Rossini, the musical excitement grows and grows. We particularly noticed the gorgeous coloratura work of Amy Owens who handled the embellishments perfectly.  The stunning empire costumes were by Lauren Pivirotto and the direction by Kathleen Clawson was charming with one exception; we did not relate to the ensemble breaking into late 20th c. dance moves.  It was jarring and anachronistic.

We would call the evening a total success and hope to see much more of the rising stars selected by the Santa Fe Opera to participate in this fine program.  Bravissimi e Gloria Tutti!

© meche kroop

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