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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022


 Justin Burgess, Vanessa Croome, Caroline Corrales, Daniel O'Hearn, and Joseph Parrish

It seems as if the eight scenes chosen to present to the public by the Santa Fe Apprentice Program are of twè kinds. One type demonstrates the ability of the young artists to work together as an ensemble; the other variety seems to highlight the particular talents of a pair or trio. 

Let us begin with the scene from Verdi's La Traviata in which the ailing courtesan Violetta is confronted by her young lover's irate father. Père Germont has come to persuade her to give up his son in order to get his virtuous daughter married off. He demands, cajoles, and manipulates. His arrogant mien softens when he realizes her humanity and dignity. Teresa Perrotta impressed us with a sizable soprano, lovely legato line, and accurate phrasing. Baritone Darren Lekeith Drone made an excellent Giorgio Germont, not only singing with intention but successfully converting our initial anger at his character for insulting our favorite operatic heroine to a feeling of sympathy for his bourgeois predicament. The scene was well directed by Crystal Manich.

Another duet  that impressed us was from Robert Ward's The Crucible. We generally find fault with contemporary opera in English for its lack of melodic interest; however, Maire Therese Carmack's performance as Elizabeth Proctor and baritone Erik Grendahl's as her husband John carried us fully into the story. The singing was superb but what we most appreciated was the completely comprehensible diction --something we never take for granted. James Robinson's direction made the relationship between husband and wife very clear. His prior adultery has left him vulnerable and his wife even more so as the community is involved in the Salem witch trials. This will not end well!

It is always a pleasure to hear young voices tackle Wagner and two tenors, singing in fine German, made much of the scene from Siegfried in which the eponymous hero confronts the dwarf who has raised him. If one didn't know the backstory one would blame the ungrateful Sigfried (sung by Eric Taylor) and feel sorry for the hard-working Mime (sung by Thomas Cilluffo) who can never satisfy his ward. Siegfried is, indeed, a dolt who "enters pursued by a bear" (oops, sorry about that, he was wearing the skin of a bear he slaughtered) and heaps abuse upon the dwarf who has raised him.  But we, the audience, know that Mime is pure evil and only wants Siegfried's treasure. This is serious business but it was clear that the pair of singers relished their roles and threw themselves into the scene, which was well directed by Ken Cazan.

The ensemble scenes offered a wide range of styles. Our favorite was the scene from Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier in which the Marschallin, sung with beautiful tone and great dignity by soprano Murrella Parton, acknowledges the reality of her young lover Octavian (a most convincing Kathleen Felty in this mezzo-soprano breeches role) about to begin a romance with young Sophie (charmingly sung by Emilie Kealani). This is one of our favorite operas and we loved the way it was sung and directed. Kathleen Clawson directed the three singers to stand far apart as they each expressed different emotions. But after the Marschallin left the scene, the lovers were brought together in intimate joy.

The scene from johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus was an audience favorite, a comic operetta directed by Ms. Clawson as a farce.  Gabriel von Eisenstein (baritone Justin Burgess) is delaying his departure to serve a jail sentence in order to attend a party. The maid Adele (soprano Vanessa Croome) uses an excuse to attend the same event. Gabriel's wife Rosalinda (soprano Caroline Corrales) is entertaining a former lover, opera star Alfred (tenor Daniel O'Hearn). When jailer Frank (bass-baritone Joseph Parrish) arrives to take von Eisenstein to jail, Rosalinda, for the sake of propriety, must pretend that Alfred is her husband. We suppose that the work was sung in English because of the plot complexity but we find it funnier in German. We found it a bit over directed with an excess of shtick and physical comedy.There is enough comedy in the plot! Suddenly this season we are seeing a lot of Broadway type dancing that went out of fashion decades ago.  We can't help thinking of the can-can.

Rossini's Armida began with a touching love scene between the beautiful sorceress Armida (soprano Avery Boettcher) and the lapsed warrior Rinaldo (tenor Jonah Hoskins). The melodic vocal lines gave them an opportunity to show their stuff. But then, two men in army fatigues entered threatening our hero with pistols in one hand and what might be bibles in the other hand, laying a guilt trip on him for abandoning his war hero status. We felt sorry for tenors Philippe L'Esperance and Kameron Lopreore (as Carlo and Ubaldo) whose gifts we thought were wasted, with strange gestures distracting from their singing. Perhaps director Mr. Cazan wanted us to think of the conflict in the Middle East, but it did not work.

We thought the scene selected from Mozart's Don Giovanni was not the best choice.  We are not sure why operas are recently getting tricked out with an excess of "stage business" which distracts from the singing. It seem as if an attempt was made to get as many singers onstage as possible and to give them as much to do as possible. Bass Allen Michael Jones made a believable Leporello and, to the extent that we could sort out what was going on, sang the role well. But why was Elvira (portrayed by Ms. Corrales) wearing a nun's habit when she is claiming to be DG's wife? Tenor Dylan Davis and soprano Caitlin Aloia portrayed Don Ottavio and Donna Anna, while Zerlina and Massetto were sung by Ms. Kealani and Jongwon Han. There was just too much going on to appreciate the singing.

And finally, we thought the very brief scene from Massenet's Cendrillon was also over directed by Mr. Robinson. Madame de la Haltiere was finely sung by contralto Megan Esther Grey but the severely overdone contortions of her two daughters was distracting. Noémie was performed by Amber Norelai and Dorothée, by mezzo-soprano Gloria Palermo.

In sum, it was a great evening, filled with delights and revelations. It is alway a pleasure to hear the stars of tomorrow at the relatively early stage of their careers.

© meche kroop

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