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.

Friday, September 11, 2015


Apprentice Scenes Evening at Santa Fe Opera....Richard Strauss' Die schweigsame Frau

It was another star-spangled Sunday evening at the Santa Fe Opera.  Some of the stars were above in the sky and some were onstage showing off their natural talents and what they learned during the time they spent there as young artists. Some of them had taken small roles in the five excellent operas presented last summer; all had sung in the superb chorus.  But on this night they got to be stars, presenting eight scenes from very different operas--accompanied by piano and directed by some impressive directorial talent.

Scenes were chosen by the apprentices themselves with guidance from Directors Mary Birnbaum, Kathleen Clawson, Louisa Muller, and Walker Lewis. The program is helmed by David Holloway and succeeds in turning out some fine artists and also in introducing Santa Feans and visitors alike to a variety of operas.

Let us begin at the end because it was the last thing we saw/heard before saying farewell to SFO. Directed by Ms. Clawson, Leonard Bernstein's Candide shone like the gem that it always was, but was given a new luster by an exceptional cast. All the satire was captured by baritone Andrew Paulson as Dr. Pangloss and mezzo-soprano Daryl Freedman as the very funny Old Lady. Tenor Adrian Kramer made a winningly innocent Candide with the adorable soprano Bridgette Gan as his more knowing Cunegonde. Especially wonderful was mezzo-soprano Anne Marie Stanley as the frisky Paquette and baritone Jarrett Ott, disturbingly convincing as the detestable Maximillian. (He's really a very nice fella!) The costumes were spot on and added to the fun.

Pictured above is a scene from the rarely produced Strauss opera Die schweigsame Frau, an opera which was banned by the Nazi regime. The subject of the opera is a man who hates "noise" and must be won over by a troupe of opera singers. The irony is that this troupe of singers won over the audience.  The eight singers worked well together as an ensemble.  We heard Andrea Nuñez, Olivia Vote, Bridgette Gan, Cullen Gandy, Peter Tomaszewski, Michael Adams, Nicholas Davis, and Tyler Putnam. Ms. Birnbaum directed with a sure hand.

Another ensemble piece that delighted us was the quintet from Rossini's L'italiana in algeri  with mezzo Megan Marino performing the role of Isabella.  This brought back happy memories of 2002 when SFO produced this opera with Stephanie Blythe in that role. Tenor Galeano Salas was her Lindoro; Mr. Paulson sang Taddeo, Mr. Putnam was a funny Mustafa, and soprano Chelsea Basler was the cast-off wife Elvira. Mr. Lewis' direction kept things moving right along.

We had quite a few laughs with the opening piece as well. The last time we saw Francis Poulenc's Les mamelles de Tirésias was at Juilliard. This opera is also not high on the list of frequently performed works.  Ms. Muller's direction emphasized the surreal quality. Tenor Aaron Short took the lead and was joined by a fine ensemble comprising Nicholas Davis, Jacquelyn Stucker, Alexandra Raszkazoff, Briana Hunter and Jorell Williams.

In Verdi's Aida, directed by Ms. Clawson, Ms. Freedman made an exceptionally fine Amneris with tenor Cooper Nolan, well remembered from Manhattan School of Music, as Radames. We enjoyed witnessing his growth as an artist.

We always jump at the chance to hear Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea and Mr. Lewis gave it some intensity in his direction. As bad girl Poppea, Ms. Basler captured the style very well, as did mezzo Shabnam Kalbasi in the pants role of Nerone.

The quartet from Verdi's Luisa Miller (directed by Louisa Muller!) gave us a chance to pity the poor heroine (soprano Heather Phillips) who has fallen into the clutches of the evil schemers Walter (bass-baritone Nicholas Brownlee) and Wurm (bass Kevin Thompson).  Poor Federica suffered collateral damage as the unloved Countess (mezzo Cynthia Hanna).

Only the penultimate scene failed to deliver. Even the fine direction of Ms. Birnbaum and the excellent singing of soprano Adelaide Boedecker, tenor Roy Hage, and bass-baritone Adrian N. Smith were unable to bring this inert piece to life. Perhaps we had already seen too much of the Civil War; perhaps we just don't like conversational dialogue in English. Unlike the other seven scenes that night, we were uninspired to pursue a further hearing of Matthew Aucoin's Crossing. Although Mr. Aucoin can write some powerfully evocative orchestral music, his unidiomatic libretto did not seem to inspire an interesting vocal line--so often the case in contemporary opera.

We were thrilled that the program ended on that joyful Bernstein note (pun intended).  Even the great Bernstein got help with his libretto from quite a number of people, including Richard Wilbur, John LaTouche, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, and Stephen Sondheim. No wonder we have been humming the tunes 3 weeks later!

(c) meche kroop

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