Archive for the ‘merola’ Tag
Enjoy the newest in my “Diva Website Series” (that’s tongue-in-cheek…well, perhaps it shouldn’t be?):
www.rhoslynjones.com just went LIVE!
Visit this new website to keep up and connect with San Francisco Opera Merola & Adler alumni, “The delicious diva,” soprano Rhoslyn Jones. Experience her amazing artistry, musings, repertoire, acclaim, and don’t miss out on her upcoming performances!
Your clicks will also help her site more swiftly climb to the top of the search engine results…so, thanks for clicking around!!!
(I designed and built it on the squarespace.com platform.)
Auditions for the General Director
I sat in on this private San Francisco Opera, Merola Program event last night. It is billed as David Gockley’s first opportunity to hear the new batch of ’09 Merolini. I was lucky to be able to enjoy the acoustic and easy view from the boxes. The singers each walk out on the stage individually and sing a single aria of their choice. For 23 singers that was about a 2 hour parade of arias. However, given the level of talent Merola presents, it was highly enjoyable, and flew by.
Then, after a 15 minute or so intermission, once Gockley, Sheri Greenawald (Director), and the other musical staff have deliberated, they request back a handful of artists (8 this time) to sing an additional aria which the staff specifies. I imagine it’s to hear that singer in a different genre (ie: they first heard a soprano perform Wagner, and then requested Mozart for her second aria), as they will be casting them as comprimari and understudies in upcoming seasons.
As is always the case, this batch showed a great deal of promise, and also presented a few singers that seemed quite seasoned. (See the complete roster of singers and apprentice coaches below.) There are several singers in particular that are still lingering in my memory this morning, and for very good reason. They either have exceptional technique, or that X-Factor that may project them into a big career. All of the singers were enjoyable, and I hope all find some degree of fulfillment in a successful career.
The Big Picture
I hope the men are offered “Buying a Suit That Fits: 101”, as there were quite a few that didn’t present themselves in the best light. I understand that young artists normally don’t have expendable cash, but fashion is an important part of their image that can be a distraction if overlooked (3 snaps!). The women, not surprisingly held this bar higher. However, vocally, the scale tipped in the men’s favor, which is welcome, as male vocal talent of the highest level seems to generally be more scarce of late. Overall, the lyric sopranos and mezzos offered a greater dose of brightness than I like. This left me craving Merola ’08’s Joelle Harvey, who had perfectly controlled technique, never sang beyond her “column of sound” (as L. Price used to refer to it), and was an actress equal to her vocal abilities. Many of the singers rushed their phrasing, which was likely the result of the adrenaline that must be rushing in this rather unnerving setting, and singers are works-in-progress at this phase of their development, so for this they are forgiven!!! There must be something in the water in Iowa, as 3+ of the singers were from towns there (none I’d heard of): Agency, Royal, and Charles City.
The great surprise is that we were treated to five Wagner selections, all well performed, and most on a par with the pros. This is quite unusual at an event like this, which is more typically inhabited by a greater majority of lyric voices and rep. I applaud Merola for investing in these singers, and applaud these singers for harnessing such dramatic and rare instruments.
For me the most complete package of the night was Michael Sumuel, who sang “O! Du mein holder Abendstern” from Tannhauser. He was one of two performers that touched me on a deeper level (tears), the next singer noted being the second. He has a real generosity of spirit in his performing, welcoming the “audience” in with his open arms and heart. His breath support was astounding, and his tone dark and beautiful, like a young Willard White, with a touch of Simon Estes’ edge.
I was so pleased to discover a countertenor on the roster, and Ryan Belongie was not just a novelty item in this company. This is a major talent. He has the plumminess and musicality of David Daniels, but with the restraint and minimalism of Andreas Scholl. He sang “I know a bank” from Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as well as Handel’s “Cara Sposa”. He was transfixing, and really knew how to create a sense of theatrical space around him (I could almost “see” the sets). He is a bit of a young Peter Sellars (the opera director) look-alike. One small gripe is that the fast “B” section of “Cara…” was not as masterful as the rest, but it is amazing to consider he moved on from the tenor fach not too long ago, as I understand.
Tenor Nathaniel Peake was one of three singers returning from the Merola ’08 roster. He matched last year’s “Salut demeure chaste et pure” with “Ah! lève-toi soleil!” from R&J. He is reminiscent of the great french tenor of past Georges Thill, and has phenomenal idiomatic french diction and technique, balancing the nasality with an open-throated tone. He offered the most perfect, finely spun, on-the-breath, diminuendo high A I may have ever heard, to top it off. We were rapt.
We had a true heldentenor in our presence, in the form of Gregory Carroll. Seeing Jane Eaglen noted as one of his teachers was heartening too. He sang “Meine liebe Schwan!” from Lohengrin, as well as “Vesti la giubba” from Pagliacci. He left me wanting nothing more vocally. He could hit the stage tomorrow in a Wagner opera and deliver the vocal goods. But, he will need to learn to engage his body more in portraying his characterizations.
The first of the two strongest offerings from the women came in the form of Israeli mezzo Maya Lahyani’s Werther aria. She is reminiscent of Tatiana Troyanos, in her passionate commitment as a tragedienne, and plummy tone. She had the X-Factor and offered the most unique and stylish look as well. Her list of teachers was very impressive, and have clearly rubbed off some of their greatness: Regine Crespin, Regina Resnik and Ruth Falcon. She did proove that she does not yet have bel canto chops in “Di tanti palpiti”, but I don’t feel that’s the rep where she will make her imprint.
And, Lori Guilbeau offered a glorious “Einsam in trüben tagen”, as well as a vocally large-scaled “Ah! Fuggi il traditor!”. She offered some parallels to Carroll (above), in that she has true Wagnerian chops, and a refulgent tone, but needs to hone her physicality to match her vocal goods…which will surely come with time. She possesses a head of gleaming white blonde hair that would make any Sieglinde jealous.
Other Excellent Offerings
Susannah Biller bested her first offering with a plangent “Ach, Ich Fühl’s”. Aleksey Bogdanov offered a very seasoned Iago aria, from Othello, with a James Morris-like villainous snarl and bite. It was nice to get some dramatic mezzo action in the form of Margaret Gawrysiak’s “Stride la Vampa”. Brian Jagde, a recent convert from baritone had a big, ringing voice, and equal swagger in “Recondita Armonia”. And, bass baritone Yohan Yi offered a very resonant technique, and confident delivery in Mephistopheles’ aria (“Tra la la la”).
I eagerly await the debuts of all the Merolini in the summer operas, and into the future! I will most certainly not miss their L’Amico Fritz, as it’s so rarely done, and features Mr. Peake, among others.
The Complete Roster: ’09 Merolini
Susannah Biller, Georgetown, Tennessee; Lara Ciekiewicz, Winnipeg, Manitoba; Kate Crist, Agency, Iowa; Sara Gartland, St. Paul, Minnesota; Lori Guilbeau, Golden Meadow, Louisiana
Margaret Gawrysiak, Geneseo, Illinois; Caitlin Mathes, Dayville, Connecticut; Ellie Jarrett, Dallas, Texas; Maya Lahyani, Hod-HaSharon, Israel
Suzanne Hendrix, Charles City, Iowa
Ryan Belongie, Beaver Dam, Wisconsin
Eleazar Rodríguez, Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico; Gregory Carroll, Des Moines, Washington; Brian Jadge, Piermont, New York; Alex Mansoori, Seattle, Washington; Nathaniel Peake, Humble, Texas
Aleksey Bogdanov, Odessa, Ukraine; John Chest, Greenville, South Carolina; Paul Scholten, Muskegon, Michigan; Michael Sumuel, Odessa, Texas
Yohan Yi, Pohang, The Republic of Korea
Evan Boyer, Louisville, Kentucky; Benjamin LeClair, Royal, Iowa
Keun-a Lee, Seoul, The Republic of Korea; Stephanie Rhodes, Alpine, Utah; Tamara Sanikidze, Tbilisi, The Republic of Georgia; Suzy Smith, Medicine Hat, Alberta; Miaomiao Wang, Lanzhou, Gansu, China
Apprentice Stage Director
Fernando Parra Bortí, Chihuahua, Mexico
I am thrilled to report some very high profile recognition just bestowed upon soprano Heidi Melton, whom I’ve touted here before.
She is one of six winners being awarded the prestigious George London Award (that’s a $10,000.00 prize each!). Specifically, she won the Kirsten Flagstad Memorial Award, “for a singer with Wagnerian potential”. And, that she has in spades. By my count, there are at least six former and current San Francisco Opera Merolinis/Adlers on the list.
The details are featured in this NY Times article. I was amused by this excerpt from it, and imagine Heidi may have had something to do with it.:
“Gilder Lehrman Hall is a beautifully designed and acoustically warm space but a dangerous place for singers with something to prove. Despite its intimate size, some of the women, evidently determined to show that their voices could potentially fill the Metropolitan Opera House, inflicted eardrum-shattering moments on listeners.”
As if this is something to complain about?! This is the kind of voice that the opera world desperately needs now. This sort of sonic thrill is what Dame Jones, Eva Marton and Birgit Nilsson used to offer that we all crave. Yes, it’s important for a singer to be able to gauge the dynamics appropriate for a given venue, but a Wagnerian singer hardly need apologize, when in a competition with the namesake of a Wagnerian great. Opera critics and fans bemoan the lack of true dramatic sopranos on the scene. They should celebrate the assets of those when they do come along. Thankfully, the judges did!
Here are further excerpts:
“Highlights of the afternoon included an expressive rendition of “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka by Amanda Majeski, a soprano; a stellar performance of “Ah, la paterna mano” from Macbeth by Sean Panikkar, a tenor; and “Ritorna vincitor” from Aida sung with dramatic flair by Yannick-Muriel Noah, a soprano.
They were among the six winners of $10,000 George London Awards. The other three were Arthur Espiritu, a tenor; Marjorie Owens, a soprano; and Heidi Melton…
Eight singers were given George London Foundation Encouragement Awards of $1,000 each, including Jordan Bisch, a bass, for his characterful rendition of “La Calunnia” from The Barber of Seville; Layla Claire, a soprano, for a vibrant “Mi tradi” from Don Giovanni; and Michael Anthony McGee, a baritone, for an impassioned rendition of “Aleko’s Cavatina” from Aleko.“
Also, Merola/Adler’s own Daveda Karenas (mezzo-soprano), was one of the recipients of the Encouragement Award.
Although I’ve waxed poetic on my friend and diva-on-the-brink (of fame, that is) Heidi Melton elsewhere, this is my first time to share that GOSPEL in this forum.
San Francisco has been blessed with her presence, thanks to her status as a Merolini and Adler Fellow (shouldn’t it be “Fella”, in a divas’ case?) for the past 3 years. Her performances at multiple outdoor events here, including Opera in the Parks have been the unqualified treats, especially the rather rare “Ozean du Ungeheuer”, from Weber’s pre-Wagnerian Oberon last year.
My introduction to her art was at the 2006 Merola Grand Finals, where her presence and commitment alone made her a stand out, not to mention her voluminous tone and clear expressive gifts. I always eagerly attend that annual event, with a keen eye on who the next possible greats may be. She was clearly in that category. My next experience of her was her company debut as Diana in Iphigenie en Tauride, which REALLY left one wanting more, as she only graced about 3 minutes of music, sung ethereally from the Dress Circle balcony.
Never did I imagine I would attend a production of Der Rosenkavalier in which the Marianne Leitmetzerin (gotta love the surname) stole the show. In this 2007 SFO production Joyce Didonato was wonderful as Octavian, but perhaps a bit small-voiced for the role at this stage of her career. Heidi’s performance was for me the most memorable of that night. I’ve seen Don Joses steal the spotlight from Carmens, and Amnerises from Aidas, but this was an even bigger stretch. Thanks to Elza Van der Heever’s withdrawal, due to replacing another diva as Donna Anna, Heidi was able to step in to this role.
My own SFO stage debut as a “Super” (ie: Extra, aka SILENT!) was in Philip Glass’ World Premiere Appomattox. Heidi played the crazed Mary Todd Lincoln. I was thankful to connect with Heidi on a personal level during that production, to watch her weave her magic spell from the backstage wings, and to enjoy my “15 minutes” every night, as a looter who is shot and falls dramatically to his death in the flight from Fort Richmond scene.
I was able to enjoy a private preview of her Schwabacher Debut Recital in her accompanist John Parr’s home. The neighbors must have settled in to their couches and gone through a few bags of popcorn before that very special night was over. It was transcendent for me. (See my past musings on that recital here.) And, the recent Adler “The Future is Now” concert showcased Heidi in her stage debut in “Weh, ach wehe, dies zu dulden,” a scene from Tristan und Isolde (paired with the potent Brangane of Daveda Karenas). Heidi has stated that this excerpt may be one of the easiest things she’s ever sung. Clearly she was born to sing it, and although only performing a portion of a role that would require much more stamina, in a much longer night, she left one wanting nothing from the performance, other than the opportunity to experience ALL of it! She provides that thrill only a true dramatic soprano can provide, that rafter-shaking, fully supported, but still on-the-breath sound. But, she is more than just a big voice, she is a true developing artist, one who believes in and connects fully to her material and the character at hand, and loves her art.
On February 4th, I attended Heidi’s Salon at the Hotel Rex. It was a great opportunity to enjoy her talents in a very intimate setting. I hope that this salon series continues successfully, as they strip away the costumes, sets, and pomp of the opera house, and present an artist in an almost home-like setting, much like one would imagine in times of old.
Her recital included Purcell’s (arr: Britten) “The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation”, which provided some small opportunities for Heidi to show her flexibility, in vocal runs throughout. Next were Berg’s “Sieben frühe Lieder”, which were presented very idiomatically, as they are just a step away from Strauss, a composer to which Heidi’s talents are perhaps best suited, and whose work she is most passionate about.
Selections from Messiaen’s “Hawari” and Debussy’s “Trois Chansons de Bilitis” were next up. She embraced the sensuality of the Bilitis, and of the french language itself. She also shared engaging insights, with John Parr’s embellishment before each set to give the audience some background and context, including the inuendos of “La Flute de Pan”, which are hardly subtle! She ended with Bolcom’s “Toothbrush Time”, “Waitin'” and “George”. These latter more cabaret style songs showed Heidi’s comedic gifts.
I was deeply touched by “Waitin'”, which could very well be done by Alison Kraus, as its simplicity of melody and message felt almost bluegrass or folksong-like in style:
“Waitin, waitin, I’ve been waitin.Waitin, waitin, all my life. That light keeps on hiding from me. But is someday just might bless my sigh. Waitin.”
During a Q&A afterwards a member of the audience asked if we could expect to see any actual cabaret from Heidi. This might be the closest we get to “cabaret” for her, once she steps further into the dramatic operatic rep, but she’s surely capable of going down that path as well, should she wish to. I’m still dying to hear her do “Bill” from Showboat as an encore! When asked what role she would love to do that belonged to another vocal type, she responded “The Dutchman”. And, in response to inquiries about who her favorites were, she professed a love for Astrid Varnay, Regine Crespin, and Anna Moffo, among others. She also shared that it would be 10-15 years or so before we’d have the pleasure of experiencing her in the entire role of Isolde. I’m so very pleased she is doing things right and is going to take things in their right time.
As I shared with her after the recital, she was and is “Hochdramatische, Chanteuse, and a coloratura Blessed Virgin…all rolled into one.”
What’s upcoming for her, you ask? This Sunday, March 8 at 2:30, Heidi performs Messiaen’s complete hour-long epic Harawi song cycle (on the theme of Tristan and Isolde) at Old First Church, www.oldfirstconcert s.org. This spring, she returns to L’Opera de Bordeaux to sing her role debut of Elisabeth in Tannhäuser. This summer she understudies international dramatic soprano extraordinaire in Alceste, with Santa Fe Opera. And, the following season will understudy Voigt as Chrysothemis at the Met! What a crime that one can’t plan for understudy performances, or my tickets would be purchased for both debuts!