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 16, 2016


Mary-Hollis Hundley and Jacquelyn Stucker in a scene from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro  (photo by Bobby Gutierrez)

One of the best musical events taking place in Santa Fe in August takes place right in the gorgeous opera house a short drive north of the center of town.  We are speaking of the Apprentice Scenes, of which there are two evenings.  The first one took place on August 14th and the second one will take place on August 21st.  We always organize our visits to The City Different to include both evenings. It is our chance to hear the stars of tomorrow and we wouldn’t miss it for the world

Under the direction of David Holloway, the Apprentice Program carefully selects emerging talents whose stars are on the rise in the operatic firmament. Many of them are invited back for a second year of training and some of them will appear in subsequent summers in one or more of the five main operas.

The first of the two evenings provided many delights along with exposure to young artists, some of whom are new to us and others whose careers we have been following for the past few years. Some we know from competitions, some from their schools, and some from other programs.

These young artists also serve as members of the chorus or in small roles in the five operas presented over the summer.  But in the Apprentice Scenes, we get to see them in starring roles—as exciting for us as it is for them.  And not just for us, but for the crowd that packs in for the same reason as we do.  As an added bonus, the tickets are incredibly reasonable for such fine entertainment.

Most entertaining of the eight scenes presented was the final one on the program, which left the audience smiling. We long ago lost count of how many times we have seen Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro without ever losing our appreciation and enthusiasm for this divine comedy. In this case, the entire cast sang and acted in such a manner that brought out all of librettist Da Ponte’s humor. 

The scene chosen was the one in which the angry jealous Count and the anxious Countess return to the Countess’ boudoir to expose the hidden Cherubino.  The two sopranos were equally superb with Jacquelyn Stucker portraying the spunky Susanna and Mary Hollis-Hundley creating a lovely and dignified Countess.  As the furious Count, Jorge Espino went from rage to embarrassment to puzzlement. 

Arriving on the scene later were a quartet of characters, each with a different agenda but joined in a delightful dance. Bass-baritone Andrew Simpson made a very funny Antonio. Tenor Stephen Carroll portrayed the slimy Don Basilio; mezzo-soprano Nadia Farad enacted Marcellina with bass James Harrington as Don Bartolo.  

Kyle Long’s direction was delightful, eliciting every ounce of humor from the crazy situation. Maria Noel Nieto’s costumes were beautiful and accurately representative of Mozart’s period.

Similarly superb was the scene from Modest Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, effectively directed by Matthew Ozawa, in which Grigori (tenor Andrew Marks Maughn) arrives at an inn close to the Lithuanian border. He is traveling in the company of two monks—Misael (tenor Stephen Martin) and the hilariously drunken Variaan, perfectly portrayed by bass David Leigh. 

Thanks to Russian opera we get great roles for brilliant basses!  We loved the brilliant bass Onay Kose in the role of Nikitch, the illiterate police officer. In a serious work like Boris Godunov, it is particularly welcome to have some comic relief; here, the monks took turns translating the arrest warrant to point the finger of suspicion toward the other.  Mezzo-soprano Mariya Kaganskaya made a fine Innkeeper with a lovely voice and stage presence. Nicole Grebb’s costumes were perfect.

Kathleen Clawson directed the scene from Giuseppi Verdi’s Stiffelio in which the hero confronts his unfaithful wife. We were so pleased to see tenor Cooper Nolan—well remembered from his starring roles at The Manhattan School of Music some years ago—as the enraged eponymous minister.  As his cheating wife, soprano Rebecca Krynski Cox, also remembered from MSM, went through several emotional phases without compromising her fine vocal technique. We liked Phoebe Miller’s authentic costume design  which, along with the wonderful singing, created a fine opener for the evening.

We enjoyed a wonderful trio of tenors in Gioachino Rossini’s Armida—the scene in which the knight Rinaldo (Peter Scott Drackley) must be rescued from the spell of the sorceress of the title. Benjamin Werley sang Ubaldo and the role of Carlo was taken by Adam Bonanni, whose crystal instrument soared. The three voices in harmony created a unique sound. Kyle Lang directed effectively and Jeni O’Malley’s costumes were splendid with Rinaldo lounging in linen and the two rescuers storming in wearing impressive armor.

The sorceress Armida is not present in this scene but in a scene from G. F. Handel’s Alcina, the eponymous sorceress is very much present.  Personified by the beautiful soprano Jacquelyn Stucker, Alcina is a force to be reckoned with as she uses every trick in the book to win the knight Ruggiero away from his beloved Bradamante.  The two mezzo-sopranos were excellent with Kirsten Choi as Bradamante and Briana Hunter giving an equally fine performance as Ruggiero. Director Jordan Fein staged the romantic triangle quite cleverly making use of a swiveling chaise longue.

So we were rather puzzled by Mr. Fein’s clumsy staging of Verdi’s La Traviata. Jailene Torres’ costumes disappointed equally. Violetta (Rebecca Nathanson) is supposed to be in her sickbed at dawn with Annina sitting vigil at her bedside.  But NO!  Violetta enters in a contemporary ball gown with Annina in street clothes.  The undressing made no sense and the collapsing and rising from the floor was not congruent with the libretto or the music.

The scene was abruptly truncated at an awkward place, but not until Alfredo was lying on the floor on top of the dying Violetta!  The staging was so disruptive that it interfered with our appreciation of the singing, although the entrance of Alfredo brought in the arrestingly pure tenor of Galeano Salas, almost making us forget the sins of direction.  We want to hear more of mezzo-soprano Evanna Chiew who sang the role of Annina and sang it well under adverse circumstances.

Those who favor contemporary opera probably enjoyed Matthew Ozawa’s staging of John Adams’ Nixon in China. We didn’t enjoy the opera some years back at the Metropolitan Opera, and didn’t enjoy it any more upon second hearing. Although the instrumental music, reminiscent of Philip Glass’, is interesting, the vocal lines are not. The singers are asked to deal with the difficult diphthongs of English at the very worst part of their range. Furthermore, intellectual sparring does not strike us as the right topic for an opera.  We most enjoyed the trio of Chinese secretaries—Evanna Chiew, Kristen Choi, and Nadia Farad.  If one can have three tenors, why not three mezzos!

The scene from Kismet struck us as silly.  Although we adore Alexander Borodin’s music, the work belongs on the Broadway stage— even with the finely trained operatic voices of Chelsea Davidson, Stephen Carroll, Jorge Espino, and James Harrington. We generally love to hear Broadway musicals performed in an opera house with trained voices, but the libretto here is just not worth Borodin’s music.

(c) meche kroop

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