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 15, 2018


Jarrett Logan Porter, Kaitlyn McMonigle, Elliot Paige, and Samantha Gossard (photo by Bobby Gutierrez for Santa Fe Opera)

Bille Bruley and Regina Ceragioli (photo by Bobby Gutierrez for Santa Fe Opera)

One of the very best parts of the Santa Fe experience is attending the Sunday night recitals of the Apprentice Singers. Chosen from among a huge pool of applicants, the current crop includes many young artists whose performances we have enjoyed in New York City, as well as some young artists we are discovering for the first time. Witnessing the artistic growth of the former is our delight; your delight would be catching these emerging talents before they are well known. 

It is astonishing to us that for a paltry $15, one can spend an entire evening in their company, seeing and hearing a well-chosen variety of scenes from all sorts of operas. There is indeed something for everyone, whatever your taste may be. Each scene is assigned to a director and is accompanied by a pianist. Singers who perform in the chorus or in small roles with the major productions here get to be center stage.

We attended the first of these recitals Sunday night and were impressed by a number of young voices. When a singer gets us to relate to an opera we don’t ordinarily favor, we know that something special is happening onstage.  Such was the case when tenor Bille Bruley performed excerpts from Act I of Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd. His truly remarkable dramatic skills complemented his fine vocalism, first in a scene with superb soprano Regina Ceragioli portraying Ellen Orford and then in a scene with Baritone Kenneth Stavert in the role of Captain Balstrade. Bruley’s exceptionalism was matched by both his scene partners who astonished us with their total immersion in their characters and their connection with Grimes, as well as with the audience.  The stage was bare except for a couple simple props, a wise choice by director Kathleen Clawson. Patrick Harvey did his part as accompanist. Hilary Rubio’s costumes were perfect. We were on the edge of our seat!

Another success of this type was that of Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, another work which never held our attention.  In this case, also directed by Ms. Clawson and accompanied in jazzy style by Mr. Harvey, Mezzo-soprano Samantha Gossard did a star turn as Dinah. All eyes were upon her as she described the ridiculous film she had just seen. Her terrific singing was accompanied by some wild and totally appropriate gestures. Preceding her scene, which took place in a bar, we enjoyed the lively trio of waitstaff, portrayed by mezzo-soprano Kaitlyn McMonigle, tenor Elliot Paige, and baritone Jarrett Logan Porter, who sang and danced their way into our heart. We also enjoyed baritone Michael J. Hawk as Sam. Kenan Burchette’s appropriate 1950’s costumes added to the fun.

Another performance that blew us away was that of contralto Leia Lensing who sang the role of Cornelia in Händel’s Giulio Cesare. Her scene partner was mezzo-soprano Hannah Hagerty in the role of Sesto and their parting duet was both effective and affecting. Clinton Smith played Händel’s music with superb style; James Robinson directed the scene with admirable simplicity and James Ramsay Arnold’s costumes were gorgeous.

Hector Berlioz’ Les Troyens has the most luscious love duet between Didon and Énée, so beautifully played by pianist Francesco Milioto, accompanying the beautiful mezzo-soprano  Siena Licht Miller and tenor Terrence Chin-Loy. Magnificently costumed by Brighid DeAngelis with stunning makeup and hair design by Meredith Keister, Ms. Miller delighted both eye and ear. Mr. Chin-Loy sounded superb in the pianissimo passages; we hope he will learn that high doesn’t need to be loud and that floating notes in the upper register is way preferable to pushing them. Director for this scene was Fernando Parra Borti.

Mr. Borti also directed the final scene from Charles Gounod’s Faust. We did not care for the modern touch to the costumes by Rebecca Kendrick. Bass Anthony Robin Schneider in a dinner jacket managed to convey Méphistophélès' menace by means of his voice and presence. Tenor Justin Stolz in disheveled attire successfully colored his voice to reflect his desperate state; soprano Sarah Tucker in her blue prison jumpsuit was highly convincing as a woman gone mad with guilt and remorse. Mathew Mohr’s effective lighting turned the stage golden as she is “saved”.  Clinton Smith accompanied .

We loved Mo Zhou’s direction of the final scene of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. What an abundance of dramatically valid stage business and believable gesture and facial expression! These touches were so original in their conception and so fine in their execution that we almost lost our focus on the singing! When two young people are meant to be together but are blocked by their individual forms of pride, there is room for all kinds of activity and Ms. Zhou elaboratd every nuance. Of course, she had great material with which to work; soprano Sylvia D’Eramo seemed to be having great fun as Adina and tenor Rafael Moras was completely convincing as the lovelorn Nemorino. We hope he will work on bringing his voice forward, which would bring his vocal performance to the same level as his dramatic performance.  Keun-A Lee accompanied to perfection. Sage Foley’s costume design for Adina was a wedding dress and Nemorino wore a cowboy hat. 

Ms. Zhou’s direction of a scene from Richard Strauss’ Arabella was similarly interesting. We particularly enjoyed the touch of Count Elemer (portrayed in all his arrogant glory by the excellent tenor Jesse Darden) addressing some of his comments about Arabella to the dress form on which was displayed her debutant gown. For us, however, this scene was impaired by being updated to the 1950’s. We almost always want to see operas performed in the original time and place. When the two sisters speak of sleigh rides we have a hard time accepting that they are living in the 1950’s! We do understand the concept of placing the opera in a period in which society women needed to find rich husbands but we can’t imagine 1950’s parents dressing up their younger daughter as a boy because they couldn’t afford two “coming out” parties.

A further problem was the paucity of choices for 1950’s costumes.  Poor soprano Mathilda Edge was obliged to appear in a most unflattering dress; we wonder if she had been in appropriate period attire whether she might have had a better handle on the character of Arabella, which failed to come across. Soprano Jana McIntyre transcended her feminine beauty and appeal to be convincing in the role of the cross-dressing Zdenka, as convincing as the afore-mentioned Mr. Darden. Financially embarrassed and desperate parents were played by bass Anthony Robin Schneider as Baron Waldner with mezzo-soprano Kathleen Felty as his wife Countess Adelaide. Carol Anderson did her best at the piano but we missed Strauss’ lush orchestrations.

We could not make much of the scene from Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath. We couldn’t stop thinking that Steinbeck’s moving book did not ask for music, nor did Mr. Gordon provide any. Pianist James Lesniak did his best with the score, as did the large cast of singers, but we love melody and did not hear any. Mezzo-soprano Katherine DeYoung as Ma Joad surmounted the musical deficits with the lovely texture and expressiveness of her instrument and soprano Amy Owen sang sweetly as Rosasharn.  Mackenzie Dunn’s costumes were suitably drab. James Robinson’s direction provided an elevated platform to serve as a truck which held the migrating Joad family, portrayed by Ms. DeYoung, Ms. Owen, Vartan Gabrielian, Benjamin Taylor, Michael J. Hawk, Jarrett Logan Porter, Jesse Darden, and Seiyoung Kim. Bass-baritone Erik van Heyningen appeared as the Inspector who gives the family the good news that they have arrived in California. We cannot fathom why this scene was chosen as it didn’t give any of the men much chance to show off their vocal artistry.

There will be an entirely different program this upcoming Sunday and we recommend the experience wholeheartedly.

(c) meche kroop

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