Big talent is one thing, a great performance is another. Blessedly,
at tonight's Grand Finale, closing the 51st annual Merola Program, there
was plenty of both. In a three-hour musical orgy of superbly prepared
and executed program, the War Memorial Opera House once again served as
the venue to an event that could (and perhaps should) be a fine part of
the subscription season.
Among two dozen young singers - a group without a weak link - two sopranos
and two tenors took gold. Leah Crocetto and Amanda Majeski have both
crossed the line between talent and accomplishment, equally impressive,
until just before the end, Crocetto brought down the house with one of
the most spectacular performances in Merola Finale history. (She bested
even that of Elza van den Heever a few years back - coincidentally,
tonight van den Heever took first place in Seattle Opera's second
International Wagner Competition.)
Already distinguished by a "Don Pasquale" excerpt in Herbst Theater a
month ago (http://www.sfcv.org/2008/07/08/music-news-66/), and a searing
performance of Leonora's aria from "Il Trovatore" earlier tonight,
Crocetto's Luisa in a duet with Ben Wager's imposing Wurm from "Luisa
Miller" ("Il padre tuo... Tu puniscimi, o Signore") went from strength
to strength, provoking premature (but well-deserved) applause before the
cabaletta, and ended to a major chorus of "BRAVA!"
What is special about Crocetto is her absolute certainty, an intensity
that amplifies an already huge voice (but never in excess), and an
unparalleled flexibility of the voice. Add to that a command of drama
(or comedy, in case of the Donizetti), and an innate, irresistible
musicality. An Adler Fellowship for Crocetto and a long-term binding
contract thereafter would well serve San Francisco audiences.
An Adler is certain to await Majeski as well, last month's spectacular
Donna Anna (http://www.sfcv.org/2008/08/05/music-news-70/#anchor2), with
two wonderful performances tonight - a soaring Nedda in an "Il Pagliacci"
duet with Silvio (Austin Kness, in a rock-solid performance), and then
in the title role of Barber's "Vanessa," in the "At last I've found you"
duet with Anatol (James Benjamin Rodgers). The quality of Majeski's
voice, her projection and legato coalesce in a thing of joy.
There are no less than four excellent tenors in this Merola class, and
tonight, two of them performed in personal-best fashion.
Nathaniel Peake's Werther (in the "Ah mon courage m'abandonne" scene,
with Renee Tatum's Charlotte) was elegant, silk-smooth, appealing.
David Lomeli, made to strip to seduce Maddalena (would a Duke of Mantua
struggle with his suspenders instead of just commanding his prey?),
belted out (yes, intentional juxtaposition) the role in the Quartet most
impressively. In the too-brief mezzo role, Nicole Birkland made her
mark. Lomeli showed another aspect of his voice in a fine performance
of the Italian Singer's "Di rigori armato il seno" from "Der Rosenkavalier."
Among lengthy excerpts, standouts were from "Pelleas et Melinda" (with
Joelle Harvey, Eugene Chan, and Ben Wager), and an Act II scene from
"Lohengrin" with Kate Crist as Elsa and Nicole Birkland as Ortrud.
Joel Revzen conducted the Opera Orchestra (in its summer manifestation)
very well, serving the music and helping to showcase the voices. With
two minor exceptions, voices soared above the sound from the pit.
(Does a three-hour vocal concert need an overture? Not really.)
A more complete report is coming in Tuesday's www.sfcv.org.
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