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.

Friday, August 31, 2018


Kathleen Felty, Kaitlyn McMonigle, Kathleen Reveille, and Erica Petrocelli
(photo by Bobby Gutierrez)
Amy Owens and Colin Ramsey (photo by Bobby Gutierrez)

What a dazzling finish to our time in Santa Fe!  The exemplary nature of the final Apprentices Recital left us with glorious memories and the determination to return next August. Under the experienced guidance of Gayletha Nichols, the next crop of young artists have a high bar to surmount! There is a reason why the pair of Apprentice Recitals are always sold out. The young artists get a chance to be center stage, performing in a varied selection of scenes and the members of the audience get a chance to see the stars of tomorrow at a very modest ticket price of $15. In our opinion, the evening is worth tenfold the price.

Opening the evening was one of our very favorite scenes--the opening of Tchaikovsky's 1881 Eugene Onegin. This scene successfully establishes the characters of Tatyana and Olga, the two very different daughters of Madame Larina; it also shows us life in provincial Russia in the late 19th c. (We are always grateful for the preservation of the original setting; this opera demands it.) 

Soprano Erica Petrocelli made a lovely introspective Tatyana and allowed us to see the reserved dignity that would make its appearance by the finale of this tragic masterpiece; her tone was youthful and distinctive.  With three mezzo-sopranos onstage at once, we were happy to note their differentiation. As the bubbly sister Olga, Kathleen Reveille had a girlish spontaneity, whilst Kaitlyn McMonigle injected a note of maturity and a touch of melancholy as she and her friend, the nursemaid Filipyevna (Kathleen Felty) reminisced about their own youth. 

We love the easy way the two women had with one another and recall their message about the mature acceptance of the routine of life, a message Tatyana would live by as well. James Robinson's direction and Mackenzie Dunn's costumes brought everything together. The excellent singing was marked by some fine Russian diction.

The second scene brought us to the world of comedy, not just comedy but silly hilarity. In this scene from Jacques Offenbach's 1858 operetta Orphée aux enfers, Jupiter disguises himself as a fly and buzzes around the bored Eurydice. Soprano Amy Owens and bass Colin Ramsey distinguished themselves with some superlative singing in glorious Gallic style. We have included a photo to show Reilly Johnson's clever costumes. Director Mo Zhou ensured that the singers made great use of the space, the feathers, and the wings.  What a treat!

Act III of Verdi's 1851 Rigoletto is unutterably tragic; soprano Regina Ceragioli made a touching Gilda with the innocent coloring of her sweet soprano. Baritone Kenneth Stavert colored his voice darkly and gave an impressive performance as the eponymous jester. We have always found a great deal to admire in the performances of mezzo-soprano Gina Perregrino; her Maddalena lived up to our expectations, and perhaps exceeded them. This Maddalena was a real character, not a stereotype! Bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian had the right low notes for Sparafucile and the fine Mexican tenor Abraham Bretón wowed the audience with his "La donna è mobile". Director Fernando Parra Borti staged the scene well but, for some reason, ended the scene abruptly after Gilda enters the tavern at midnight. This left us hanging and feeling unfulfilled.

Puccini's lighthearted 1917 La Rondine is always fun. Soprano Meryl Dominguez made a lovely Magda, out for a flirtatious night at a café dansant  in disguise, experimenting with a new "self". Sitting with Ruggero (tenor Mackenzie Gotcher) she is "discovered" by her chambermaid Lisette (soprano Abigail Rethwisch) whilst the poet Prunier (terrific tenor Joshua Blue) tries to cover up for Magda. Kathleen Clawson's excellent direction created a whirlwind of excitement with Lisette acting wildly. Sage Foley's turn of the 20th c. costumes were lovely.

Mr. Borti also directed the Act II sextet from Mozart's 1787 Don Giovanni. We loved the singing but did not care for the "update". Everyone wore contemporary street clothes; Leporello (booming bass Brent Michael Smith) and Donna Elvira (the full-throated soprano Sarah Tucker) were depicted in bed together!  There are those who enjoy these updating but we are not among them. We did, however, enjoy the singing, especially that of soprano Mathilda Edge, whose Donna Anna was superb. We were happy to hear Mr. Ramsey again in the role of Masetto with mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Sarian as his flirtatious bride Zerlina. Rounding out the ensemble was tenor Elliot Paige as the loyal Don Ottavio. The voices harmonized beautifully, thanks to Music Director Glenn Lewis.

Handel's 1711 Rinaldo was represented by the Act III duet between Argante, King of Jerusalem, and the sorceress Armida. The duet was perfectly cast with the admirable bass-baritone Erik Van Heyningen and the exceptional soprano Stacy Geyer who impressed us so highly as Elvira in L'Italiana in Algeri. James Ramsay Arnold's baroque costumes were absolutely gorgeous, and the entire scene felt authentically baroque.

Leoncavallo wrote a most affecting duet for Nedda and Silvio in his 1892 Pagliacci. Silvio pleads for Nedda to run away with him but the frightened Nedda resists. Director Mo Zhou gave the pair some very interesting stage business which added greatly to the excellent performances of soprano Shannon Jennings and baritone Benjamin Taylor. They drew us into their private world and we wound up caring for them, although we knew their tragic ending.

We would have been happy to end the evening there before a scene for Carlisle Floyd's mid-20th c. Wuthering Heights. Although the melodramatic story has an operatic grandeur to it, the opera seemed to reduce it to a drawing room conflict that made no sense. We did not like the music at all. Readers will recall that our 19th c. ears are never quite comfortable with music written after Richard Strauss. Still, the singers were all excellent, although we were never completely sure who was whom. . So we will leave it at that with kudos for Ms. Petrocelli, Ms. Dominguez, Gillian Lynn Cotter, William Hughes, and Anthony Ciaramitaro who did their best with the unmelodic vocal lines, and also for costumer Rebecca Kendrick who had everyone looking perfectly 19th c.  If only the music had sounded like the costumes!

Well, the evening was varied and provided something for everyone, with all centuries represented and several languages as well. We can scarcely wait for next year and hope that many of these talented artists will be invited to return.

© meche kroop

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