A pure guess (but from a former Herald-Tribune junior police reporter
in charge of crowd estimates) is that some 18,000 attended the San
Francisco Opera's 33rd annual Opera in the Park today, imbibing and
cheering lustily, in turn or synchronously. The weather couldn't have
been better: mid-60s and cloudy, with occasional gusts knocking over a
few in the brass section.
General Manager David Gockley officiating, Music Director Donald Runnicles
trotting out his straw hat to conduct a windblown Opera Orchestra, the
two-hour program had some genuine gems. Shining the brightest: the young
soprano Heidi Melton, singing a tremendous "Voi lo sapete," from "Cavalleria
Rusticana." Hers is a full-bodied voice (to go with a Jane Eaglen figure),
bright, brilliant, moving from note to note, phrase to phrase with
complete ease, and a good measure of blood and guts too.
Under Kurt Herbert Adler, principals singers in the season-opening
productions used to report to (unpaid) duty in the park, but times have
changed - making the program less important, but perhaps more interesting.
There was a wealth a velvety baritones: Dwayne Croft, with "O Carlo,
ascolta," from "Don Carlo"; Britain's James Rutherford, singing both
"Non piu andrai" ("Marriage of Figaro") and "O du mein holder Abendstern"
("Tannhauser"), and bringing repeated acknowledgments from Gockley; Brian
Leerhuber, in two "Magic Flute" duets (one with Ji Young Yang, Melton's
Adler Fellow colleague in 2006-'07, an appealingly intelligent and musical
singer, the other with Rhoslyn Jones, also responsible for Doretta's
soaring "Chi il bel sogno" ("La Rondine"); and the less velvety but
explosive and hilarious Andrew Shore in Falstaff's "L'onore!"
Bass baritone Eric Halfvarson was tremendous in "Come dal ciel precipita"
("Macbeth"), but sounded rather dry in Aleko's aria from Rachmaninoff's
opera. Petra Lang (Venus in the upcoming SFO "Tannhauser" to Petra Maria
Schnitzer's Elisabeth) tossed off the Composer's Aria from "Ariadne auf
Naxos" effortlessly, using a beautiful, unaffected tone. Her accuracy
in the heavily dissonant opening measures was most impressive. There
wasn't a false note either in Chad Shelton's impassioned "Here I Stand"
from "The Rake's Progress."
Those eagerly awaiting Melton's return in the second half had a surprise
in store. Unlike her amazing performance in the Mascagni, her Verdi
("Ernani, involami") was mere "good," and not even too much of that,
even though this should be a "killer aria" for her. Gone was the
effortless legato, some notes were clipped and not getting their full
measure, Melton also miscalculated breathing for the final measures.
Due the to peculiar layout of the concert space - an open "backstage"
and the artists are visible from the audience when they are in the area
on either side of the stage - a possible reason for the "two Meltons"
was clear in view. This talented and intelligent artist is also very
young and fearless; both being double-edged weapons.
Minutes before she was due to sing the Verdi, Melton was chatting amiably
in the park, she made it to the stage just in time for her appearance,
joked with the violinists about her skirt billowing in the wind too near
their instruments, and then - BOOM! - she became the desperate Elvira,
pleading for rescue. No wonder she couldn't be at her best.
With a bit more experience and discipline, the soprano will devote a few
minutes to "getting into the role" before facing 18,000 opera fans who,
presumably, know what they hear. Fear is an obstacle while performing,
but lack of concern in preparation is not a good thing.
Preparation, dedication, and excellence were all present in the traditional
program-closing "Libiamo," led by Jones, Shelton, and somebody yet unknown
to me, called Tutti.
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