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 27, 2013


Cullen Gandy and Abigail Santos--photo by Elizabeth Payne
A major highlight of our 10-day experience of Santa Fe Opera were the Apprentice Scenes Programs, given on two successive Sunday evenings.  These superb emerging artists were chosen with a great deal of care from a huge pool of applicants.  Only 43 singers were accepted into the Apprentice Program; each and every one demonstrated singing and acting skills beyond their years.  A lucky few will return soon in major roles, as baritone Zachary Nelson did to star in Nozze di Figaro.  But for this particular group, they got to appear onstage as choristers and in smaller parts, as noted in five prior reviews.  However, on these two incomparable Sunday evenings the Apprentices had the opportunity to appear in fully staged scenes.

The Act II sextet from Mozart's Don Giovanni opened the first evening.  Michael Shell's direction and Glenn Lewis' musical direction showed the 6 artists off to good advantage with André Courville singing Leporello with poise and confidence, Julia Ebner as Donna Elvira, David Blalock as Don Ottavio, Abigail Mitchell as Donna Anna, Hailey Clark as Zerlina and Matthew Scollin as Masetto.  The action kept moving and the voices blended magnificently.

Following were some delightfully entertaining scenes from Berlioz' Béatrice et Bénédict with the distinctive voice of Theo Lebow as Bénédict, Joshua Conyers as Claudio, Patrick Guetti as Don Pedro and Jared Bybee as Leonato.  Louisa Muller directed with panache, staging the scene on a golf course with costumes (Brianna Fristoe) reflecting the Jazz Age.

The next scene was from Donizetti's Don Pasquale with Benjamin Sieverding very convincing, in spite of his youth, as the eponymous hero.  Wig and Makeup Designer Amanda Clark deserves some credit for this.  Rachel Hall portrayed Norina,  Jonathan Winell was heard as Ernesto and Andrew Lovato as Dr. Malatesta.  There were laughs aplenty.

Ms. Mitchell was seen again as Manon in the following scene from Hans Werner Henze's Boulevard Solitude which involved some rather stratospheric writing which did nothing to take our affection away from Puccini's or Massenet's version of the same tale.  Ricardo Rivera was wonderfully slimy as Lescaut and the other roles were performed by Jonathan Blalock and Christian Sanders.

Bizet's Carmen was updated to the Roaring Twenties with Kelly Hill in the title role; Jenna Siladie and Kate Tombaugh delighted as Frasquita and Mercédès with Reuben L. Lillie and Jubal Joslyn as the very amusing Le Dancaire and Le Remendado.  It was an interesting concept and high in entertainment value.

We loved Jennifer Panara as the page Isolier in Rossini's Le Comte Ory with Jonathan Blalock as Le Comte.  Truth to tell, we enjoyed the scene more than the version we saw at The Metropolitan Opera.

An incomprehensible scene from Handel's Ariodante was beautifully sung by John Viscardi, Rachel Hall, Julia Ebner, Joshua Conyers and Sarah Mesko.

The evening ended with a smashing scene from Verdi's Falstaff.  Meg Page and Alice Ford were performed by Samantha Korbey and Shelley Jackson, while Mistress Quickly was sung by Katherine McGookey.  The young lovers Nannetta and Fenton were winningly performed by tiny Abigail Santos and tall Cullen Gandy who galumphed hysterically around the stage with a butterfly net.  Ricardo Rivera sang Ford and the two lowlifes Bardolfo and Pistola were sung by Christopher Sierra and Rocky Sellers.  The action was successfully staged in the 1950's and the "merry wives" were having a coffee klatch.  It was a marvelous scene with which to end a marvelous evening!

The program was so worthwhile that we postponed our departure long enough to catch the first half of the following Sunday's program.  The deeply disturbing opening scene from Strauss' Elektra was staged by Louisa Muller in a room full of sewing machines, with the gossiping maidservants portrayed by Sishel Claverie, Kelly Hill, Samantha Korbey, Abigail Santos and Rebecca Witty.  Lacy Sauter sang the role of the Overseer.  Dramatically and vocally riveting, it was!

Following was a most convincing scene from Britten's Billy Budd with John Viscardi showing vocal chops and total role committment as Captain Vere, Jared Bybee a very sympathetic Billy Budd who, losing his ability to speak under stress, attacks and kills the evil John Claggart, finely sung by Adam Lau.

We were thrilled to learn that the Bell Song from Delibes' Lakme would be on the program.  Lindsay Russell did not disappoint; she handled the elaborate vocal line with complete assurance.  Matthew Scollin was severe as her father Nilakantha and sang the role splendidly.

The last scene we were privileged to see was from Smetana's The Bartered Bride which we had heard sung only in Czech, which we preferred to this version in English.  In any event, it was finely done by Yoni Rose, Jennifer Panara, André Courville, Rocky Sellers, Jenna Siladie, Jared Bybee and Hailey Clark.

We were sadly obliged to slip out during intermission to catch our red-eye flight back to New York and truly regretted missing some of our favorite scenes from Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus, Handel's Giulio Cesare, Douglas J. Cuomo's Doubt and Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri.  We are quite sure that they were all superb.  We left feeling sorry for audiences who did not get to see these wonderful young artists.  We hope to see many of them in the future in larger roles.

© meche kroop

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