Arts & Events

The 2018 Merola Grand Finale

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Sunday August 26, 2018 - 10:02:00 AM

Each year, the Merola Opera Program takes in a new class of young singers. In some years, the last two, for example, there is a bumper crop, and the Grand Finale concert at summer’s end features one standout performance after another. This year that is not exactly the case. At the Saturday, August 18 concert at War Memorial Opera House, the overall level of technical artistry on display was high, but the truly incendiary, standout performances were few and far between. This year’s Grand Finale program got under way with Dean Williamson conducting the San Francisco Opera Orchestra in a somewhat subdued rendition of the Overture to Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri. Director Marcus Shields employed a unit stage set throughout which consisted of a semicircle of what looked like boxes in an opera house, though two staircases led from ground level to the first tier of three. 

The first vocal number on the program was a duet from Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz, featuring mezzo-soprano Megan Grey as Beppe and tenor Brian Michael Moore as Fritz. Both singers acquitted themselves well. Next came another duet, this time from Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict. Here we enjoyed the first standout performance, as mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh was a vivacious and vocally splendid Béatrice. On the other hand, tenor Zhengyi Bai was merely adequate as Bénédict. Following this number was soprano Patricia Westley singing “Care compagne…” from Bellini’s La Sonnambula. I expected great things from Patricia Westley, for she had stolen the show as Elisa in Mozart’s Il Re Pastore earlier in Merola’s Summer Season. However, though she handled Bellini’s difficult coloratura quite handily, Patricia Westley’s voice lacked power and failed to project sufficiently. That was not the case, however, for soprano Brittany Nickell who was a powerful Magda in a scene from Puccini’s La Rondine. Brittany Nickell as Magda was one of the highlights of the concert. She also had a bit part as Gräfin in a duet from Richard Strauss’s Capriccio, though the featured singer in this was tenor Christopher Oglesby as Flamand. Oglesby, who earlier in Merola’s Summer Season sang the role of Tom Rakewell in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, gave a good performance here as Flamand.  

I don’t quite know what to say about South Korean tenor WooYoung Yoon, except to say that he needs a great deal of vocal coaching. Earlier this summer, in a duet from Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de perles, WooYoung Yoon repeatedly mispronounced the French word “déesse.” Now, singing Tonio’s “Ah, mes amis” from Donizetti’s la Fille du régiment, WooYoung Yoon repeatedly sang the wrong word, substituting the English word “in” for the French word “à” in the phrase “militaire à Paris.” Given the excellent vocal coaching offered by the Merola staff, I can only conclude that WooYoung Yoon’s language facility is sorely lacking, and he apparently doesn’t listen to what he is taught. Oh, and by the way, the nine high C’s he was supposed to sing in this aria were cut short due to shortness of breath, which destroyed the rhythm of the aria and brought it to a sudden halt. In spite of all these shortcomings, he got a good round of applause from the audience, perhaps taking the difficulty of this aria into consideration and rewarding his effort. (I did not join in the applause.) 

In the role of Dinah in Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, mezzo-soprano Alexandra Urquiola sang well enough, though the role didn’t really offer much opportunity to showcase her voice. However, baritone SeokJong Baek was outstanding as Cascart in the aria “Zazà, piccolo zingara,” from Leoncavallo’s Zazà. Mezzo-soprano Ann McGuire was an adequate Principessa de Bouillon from Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur. The first half of the concert concluded with a standout duet from soprano Marlen Nahhas as Elisabetta and tenor Christopher Colmenero as Carlo from Verdi’s Don Carlo.  

After intermission, soprano Kendra Berentsen was excellent as Thaïs in the aria “Ah, je suis seule… Dis-moi que je suis belle.” This was another of the highlights of the concert. Later, bass-baritone Ted Allen Pickell gave a capable but uninspired rendition of Athaniel’s aria “Voilà donc la terrible cité,” also from Thaïs. Tenor Charles Sy sang an aria from Rossini’s rarely heard Otello. Baritone Xiaomeng Zhang was excellent as Ulisse in the aria “Dormo ancora?” from Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria. Tenor Addison Marlor gave a fine account of an aria from Smetana’s rarely heard Prodaná Nevěstna; and soprano Cheyanne Coss teamed up with baritone Jacob Scharfman in a duet from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. Baritone Andrew Moore sang Papageno, and soprano Patricia Westley sang Papagena in their recognition scene from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. Perhaps the vocal highlight of the evening was provided by soprano Meigui Zhang who beautifully sang the role of Gilda in a number from Verdi’s Rigoletto, which also featured a fine performance from baritone Jaeman Yoon as the vengeful jester. The 2018 Merola Grand Finale concluded with all the Merolini joining to sing “Già che il caso ci unisce…Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso,” from Puccini’s La Rondine.