A model opera training program
It’s well known that many of today’s world-class singers have passed through San Francisco’s Merola Program, a 12-week summer intensive that teaches promising young opera singers some of the broader-ranging and more subtle necessities of opera performance. Among the numbers Merolini, as the students and graduates are called, are Anna Netrebko, Patricia Racette, Ruth Ann Swenson, Carol Vaness, Deborah Voigt, Susan Graham, Brian Asawa, Kurt Streit, Jess Thomas, Rolando Villazón, and Thomas Hampson, to name just a few.
Is it any wonder that a program that nurtured such talents is regarded worldwide as a model of opera training?
This summer 21 singers and musicians will study the program’s offerings in musical style and interpretation, role preparation, movement and acting, accompaniment and conducting, languages and diction and, the all important, breath work. In the course of the master classes and one-on-one coaching, the singers, accompanists and directors also prepare a series of performances. And we, the Bay Area audiences, have the opportunity to savor the extraordinary talent that is the Merolini.
Besides the Schwabacher Summer Concert, a series of scenes from favorite operas, which was held in July and the Grand Finale and Reception in the War Memorial Opera House, held Aug. 21 at 7:30 p.m., the Merola Program offers a full production of an opera or two. This year is slated to present Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, sung in Italian with English supertitles.
The Merola productions are some of the most charming and beautifully realized operas available during the year in the San Francisco Bay Area, and this year promises to be as delightful as previous years. It’s to the program directors credit that they choose operas that complement the youth and vitality of their singers.
A model bel canto opera
Donizetti’s opera tells the story of Nemorino, who, desperately in love with the beautiful and lofty Adina, approaches a traveling magician and quack, Dr. Dulcamara, for a love potion. The potion is simply wine, but it’s potent enough for Nemorino to cast aside his bashfulness and approach the rich girl of his dreams. Ultimately, Adina realizes her affection for the sincere and pure-hearted Nemorino, and they all live happily ever after.
Director Nicola Bowie, who recently directed “Le nozze di Figaro” for Eugene Opera and choreographed “Die Fledermaus” for The Dallas Opera has updated the story by setting this production in a San Francisco theater in 1942, with Adina as the lead actress and manager of a play and Nemorino as a poor props boy.
The opera is double-cast with the two casts on alternating days of the four-day run. Sharing the role of Adina are Metropolitan National Council Audition Finals winner Nadine Sierra and Sara Tucker Award winner Valentina Fleer. Nemorino is played by Australian singer Alexander Lewis and southern California tenor Daniel Montenegro. The duplicitous Dr. Dulcamera is played by Florida Grand Opera’s Young Patronesses of the Arts competition winner Sidney Outlaw and baritone Thomas Florio. And Nemorino’s blustering rival, Belcore, is shared by Canadian baritone Benjamin Covey and Chinese national Ao Li. 2009 Career Bridge Competition winner Hye Jung Lee and Abigail Santos Villalobos are cast as Giannetta.
Martin Katz will conduct members of the San Francisco Opera Center Orchestra in this production.
If you see anything this summer, see this!
The Merola Program’s production of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore runs August 5-8 in Fort Mason’s Cowell Theater. For tickets and information, call (415) 551-6299 or visit www.merola.org.
Photos: Above: Nadine Sierra (left) and Valentina Fleer as the two Adinas; below: Alexander Lewis (left) and Daniel Montenegro as the two Nemorinos.