|Nathan Milholin and Andy Berry in a scene from Prokofiev's "The Love for Three Oranges"|
We always count on the Santa Fe Opera for five glorious operas every summer, but the highlight of our visit remains the two evening of Apprentice Scenes. The young singers of the Apprentice Program (established in 1957 and flourishing under the guidance of Artistic Director David Holloway) enjoy a summer of training and performance experience--in smaller roles, in Susanne Sheston's superbly rehearsed chorus, and on two Sundays the experience of performing in a selection of scenes--fully staged and costumed with piano accompaniment. Notably, the Santa Fe Opera was the first company in the United States to have established such a program.
The choice of scenes ranges far and wide, from opera house standards to rarities to new works. Last night, as usual, we had our favorites and some head-scratchers. But regardless of the choice of material we found the performances to be vocally and dramatically worthwhile.
For all around entertainment value, our first choice was Ravel's "L'heure espagnole", directed by Omer Ben Seadia. We have only seen this opera once since it is rarely performed, but it is filled with French farce type humor, dealing as it does with a cuckolded clockmaker and his wayward wife. His unanticipated homecoming necessitates the hiding of his wife's lovers inside some of the grandfather clocks in the shop. As the cuckolded clockmaker, tenor Adam Bonanni had just the right sound for the part and was helped in his humorous presentation by the costume design of Jean-Luc DeLadurantaye--that of a pagliaccio--or Pierrot.
Mezzo-soprano Anne Marie Stanley was delightful as the wayward wife. Her three lovers were excellently portrayed by baritone Brian Vu in full toreador regalia, tenor Stephen Carroll, and bass-baritone Nathan Milholin who had quite a time extricating himself from his hiding place. Their congo line dance just added to the fun.
The Ping-Pang-Pong scene from Puccini's Turandot always provides some comic relief and speaks to us as the plaint of Everyman, who would love to escape his job and retire to the country. Director Kathleen Clawson directed a pleasingly traditional scene of the three functionaries of Ancient China, men who never know whether to plan for a funeral or a wedding. Resplendent in authentic Mandarin costumes (designed by Brenda Birkeland), baritone Dogukan Kuran and tenors Eric Ferring and Andrew Maughan passed the vocal ball back and forth in a highly entertaining fashion. It was a true treat.
The previous night's Lucia di Lammermoor left us in a Donizetti mood and we were glad to see a scene from L'elisir d'amore on the program. Director Crystal Manich's decision to update the action to the ugly 1950's and to change the setting to a soda parlor robbed the scene of the intended impact. Poor Nemorino was obliged to get intoxicated by an ice cream soda in place of the requisite wine of Dr. Dulcamara; this just didn't make dramatic sense to anyone who knows the opera.
But tenor Carlos Enrique Santelli (just reviewed as Arturo in Lucia di Lammermoor) has a real flair for Donizetti and shone in the role, in spite of the ice cream soda! A clever directorial touch was having him bang the keys of the cash register in time with the music. Soprano Abigail Rethwisch made a lovely Adina, deftly conveying the ambivalence she feels toward Nemorino and the crack in her resistance. Baritone Christopher Kenney successfully created the role of the blustery Belcore and sang in rich full tone.
Rienzi will never be our favorite Wagnerian opera but we definitely enjoyed hearing tenor Stephen Martin (just reviewed as Normanno in Lucia di Lammermoor) sing the title role with authoritative colors and stage presence. As his sister Irene, soprano Tracy Cantin impressed us with her fine singing but Amanda Clark's unflattering wig failed to score. In the trouser role of Adriano we heard mezzo-soprano Hannah Hagerty. We enjoyed the trio which closed the scene for the tasteful blending of voices. For some strange reason, this tale of 14th c. Rome was updated by director Crystal Manich to something approximating the early 20th c.
Giuseppi Verdi put in an appearance by virtue of a scene from Un ballo in maschera, effectively directed by Susan Payne. One doesn't expect to hear young voices tackle Verdi but soprano Kasia Borowiec showed promise in the role of Amelia with Jorge Espino taking the role of the very angry Renato. The two men initiating the plot to assassinate the Duke, Sam and Tom, were played respectively by bass-baritone Erik van Heyningen and baritone Andy Berry. The duet between Renato and Amelia was most affecting but the final quintet was imperfectly balanced. Soprano Joanna Latini sang the role of Oscar with beautiful tone; a bit more attention to accuracy with the short notes would have made it perfect.
The scene from Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream was peculiarly staged by Mr. Seadia. The scene involves the romantic misadventures of Shakespeare's four young lovers lost in a forest near Athens. Here, they are in something resembling a dormitory with four beds and in various stages of undress (costumes by Ruby L. Rojas). Fortunately, the fine singing made up for the strange and distracting setting. The performances were quite physical and succeeded in conveying the Bard's sense of humor.
Mezzo-soprano Kristen Choi impressed us with her vocalism in the part of Hermia; she doesn't know what to do with all that unexpected male attention. Soprano Adelaide Baedecker made a fine Helena, suffering the loss of love of her Lysander (tenor Jesse Darden) with baritone Thaddeus Ennen completing the quartet in the role of Demetrius.
Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges was staged by Susan Payne as the fairytale it is. Prokofiev's music for the scene begins with some insistent chords and the stage was dominated by a large multi-colored proscenium arch. Morgen Warner's costumes were appropriately fantastical. The problem was that the scene did not offer the young singers much opportunity to show off their vocal skills. That being said, we did enjoy the humor and fantasy. Mr. Berry made a magical magician in his golden cape, and bass-baritone Nathan Milholin was funny with his feathered fan. Mr. Maughan made a fine Prince, strangely attired in a night shirt; Mr. Darden portrayed the Prince's companion Truffaldino attired in a suit.
We cannot say too much about the scene from Paul Moravec's The Shining. We found the music lacking in the very qualities that make us want to listen, and the scene itself did not hold our interest. Baritone Kenneth Stavert sang the role of an ex-alcoholic starting a new life in a boiler room. Mr. Carroll portrayed a ghost in the hotel. The libretto did not strike us as singable. We did enjoy Mr. Carroll in L'heure espagnole and hope to get another opportunity to hear Mr. Stavert in music kinder to our ears.
It was a fun evening and we find ourselves trying to anticipate which of these promising artists will thrive in their professional careers and return to the Santa Fe Opera stage.
(c) meche kroop