|Sylvia d'Eramo, Cory McGee, Gina Perregrino, Alec Carlson, Elizabeth Sarian, and Santa Fe Apprentices|
The stars this night were big and bright and dazzling, and we are not even in Texas! We are at the Santa Fe Opera and it is the night we have been waiting for, the night when the Santa Fe Apprentices get to take starring roles in eight scenes. Usually the eight scenes comprise seven winners and one dud, the dud being related to a poor choice of scene.
Last night there was no disappointment. Each scene was well cast and well directed and our fussy ears were gratified by some exemplary singing, some by singers we have reviewed and enjoyed before, and some by singers new to us whom we look forward to hearing in the future.
As far as the direction, we noticed that one of our favorite directors, Mary Birnbaum, is now directing a cast of singers we know and love in La Bohême, an event we are looking forward to and will be reviewing this week. We were happy to witness the directing artistry of David Paul (new to Santa Fe, we believe), Katherine M. Carter who is new to us, Paul Curran, and Kathleen Clawson, whose directing skills have always impressed us.
The scenes were well chosen to highlight the available talent as well as to delight the audience who, we are inclined to believe, love melody as much as we do. Certain operas thrill us no matter how many times we have seen them. Their melodies wind themselves around our brain in loving embrace.
Take, for example, the opening scene of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. Mr. Paul filled this prenuptial scene with warmth and joy, showing us a couple who can tease and bicker harmlessly as a prelude to a satisfying life together. We were reminded of the newly wed couple we saw in the Plaza yesterday and how touching is the promise of new beginnings. Bass Brent Michael Smith has the role of Figaro down pat and his Susanna, portrayed by soprano Cheyanne Coss, made a worthy counterpart, both vocally and dramatically. Their onstage chemistry was a delight to behold.
Antonin Dvorák's Rusalka is best known for the title character's "Song to the Moon", a difficult aria which soprano Regina Ceragioli sang expressively. The Ježibaba of mezzo-soprano Kate Farrar was outstanding and we foresee a great future for her, given her textured instrument and stage presence. Significantly adding to the scene were Will Elphingstone's watery lighting and Hannah Schatzle's gorgeous costumes: a blue-green gown with a train trailing the width of the stage, used by Ms. Carter's direction to indicate the water from which this water nymph must free herself; and Ježibaba's costume with a huge cape which Ms. Farrar swirled around with malicious glee.
Everyone loves Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia and the Act II quintet is so brilliantly written that we never tire of hearing it. Along with Ms. Carter's astute direction, we had some excellent costuming by Maria Laura Sandoval and Harley Haberman's gorgeous wig for mezzo-soprano Katherine Beck who made a fine Rosina. Bass-baritone Alan Higgs, costumed in an elegant red robe, nearly stole the scene with some impressive acting and singing as Dr. Bartolo.
Baritone Jarrett Logan Porter made a splendid Figaro with tenor Angel Romero as the determined Almaviva and bass-baritone Seungyun Kim as the silly Don Basilio whom the others cannot seem to get rid of. "Buona sera mio signore" has been dancing around our brain all night!
In the Act I duet from Donizetti's La favorita, we were wowed by the vocal gifts of mezzo-soprano Katherine De Young in the title role and of tenor Anthony Ciaramitaro as her Fernando who, like Don Basilio just will not leave. Both artists impressed us with the size and color of their instruments and the artistry with which they employed them. Mr. Ciaramitaro sang with the most perfect Italian and we understood every single word.
We confess to being dismayed by the huge disparity in their heights, making their embrace an awkward affair. But that is a minor quibble. The maid Inès had but few lines but we want to hear more of mezzo-soprano Ruby Dibble who sounded excellent. Naomi Beetlestone Detre's costumes were appropriate to the early 19th c.
On a simple set of boxes of graduated heights, mezzo-soprano Leia Lensing's Orfeo tried to lead a reluctant Euridice out of the underworld in Gluck's most famous opera. Who doesn't love "Che faro senza Euridice", known to every beginning vocal student! How wonderful to hear it sung by the excellent Ms. Lensing who gave each return of the verse a different set of ornamentation. It was all very tasteful in true Classical style, doing away with some of the excesses of the Baroque Era. Grace Kahl was convincing as the newly deceased Euridice who does not want to leave the peace of the Underworld. Becca Updyke's costumes were simple and right on the mark.
Of Wagner's entire Ring Cycle, our very favorite scene is the opening one of Die Walküre in which the woeful and weary warrior takes refuge in a hut in which he discovers a loveless woman who just so happens to be his beloved and long lost sister. Listening to Wagner's glorious music and poetic description of the discovery of a soulmate is unequalled in our book.
As Sieglinde we were thrilled to hear the splendid soprano Mary-Hollis Hundley who seemed to have been made to sing Wagner. At this stage in her development, this is the perfect role for her; with her sizable instrument, we predict lots of heavier Wagnerian roles in her future. As her hapless brother/lover we were impressed by tenor Robert Stanley who not only sang with power and sensitivity but grew in stature and color as he discovered his identity. The sword Nothung was buried in an onstage tree, a sword which could only be extracted by himself. He blossomed as Sieglinde gave him the name of Siegmund. We felt a blossoming in our very own heart!
The final two scenes were exquisitely directed by Mr. Curran. Our only tiny quibble of the evening was that we wished the hilarious scene from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi had ended the evening so that the audience might have left in a great mood. The direction of this scene was so astute as to highlight Rinuccio's aria about the glories of Firenze; in this role we thrilled to the voice and stage presence of the very young tenor Joseph Tancredi about whom we have often written when he was an undergraduate at Manhattan School of Music.
Mr. Curran had choreographed the unappealing members of the squabbling Busoni family to move in unison, all disparaging Rinuccio's attempt to bring his sweetheart's father Gianni Schicchi onboard to solve the inheritance dilemma. The more they unanimously scorned him and the unaristocratic Schicchi family, the more he stood out and we heard more in that aria than ever before.
As his sweetheart Lauretta, the versatile Ms. Coss gave a sweet rendition of "O mio babbino caro" with a marvelous messa di voce. In a clever directorial twist, she was complicit with the plot. Baritone Will Hughes was excellent in the title role, completely convincing as the wily manipulator. Ms. Lensing made a nicely nasty Zia; bass William Meinert made a very funny Dr. Spinelloccio, another character who just won't leave. There was a very funny bit with a bedpan. The remainder of the family comprised Elliot Paige, Andrew Moore, Ian Burns, Ms. Dibble, and Grace Kahl.
The evening ended with the final scene from Bizet's Carmen in which mezzo-soprano Gina Perregrino filled out the role as successfully as she filled out the shocking pink ruffled flamenco gown with which she was costumed by John Polles. Mr. Curran's direction emphasized the violence of the relationship which was almost too convincing. Ms. Perregrino's superb singing was matched by excellent stage presence and chemistry with her discarded and vengeful lover Don Jose, performed with notable artistry by tenor Alec Carlson. Both of them sang with fine French diction.
For some reason, the action of the characters did not always match up with the dialogue. When Carmen most forcefully demands to be let go, she should be blocked or restrained by Don Jose.
Baritone Cory McGee portrayed Escamillo; soprano Sylvia D'Eramo sang the role of Frasquita and mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Sarian joined in as Mercedes. Strangely, they were costumed as mid-20th c. sorority girls and Carmen's gown was open in the front revealing what looked like a black leotard. Only Escamillo seemed appropriately costumed.
It was an evening that could not be duplicated for sheer entertainment value. Those new to opera were offered the most tempting delicacies to tease their palate whereas experienced opera goers were given fresh looks at old standards and the opportunity to hear the stars of tomorrow.
There will be a new and different set of scenes next Sunday and if you are anywhere near Santa Fe we urge you to come on by, although we admit that this was a tough act to follow!
(c) meche kroop