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Subject: Baritones to the fore at Merola Finale
From: janosG <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:janosG <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 23 Aug 2009 00:56:38 -0700
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Every year, the concert concluding the Merola Opera Program in the War 
Memorial is an important event: it puts young singing stars of the next 
generation before a large audience, ends the summer doldrums, an acts as 
a warm-up act of the opening of the season, just around the corner 
(Sept. 9).

This years, there was something extra: a thoroughly, delightfully 
enjoyable evening of opera with consistently excellent performances, 
some mind-bogglingly so, and the "summer-replacement" orchestra, under 
the direction of Antony Walker playing sensationally. The 
evening-closing "Falstaff" finale could have made any opera house in the 
world proud.

Among the surprises: baritones were the stars just once - and not for 
lack of competition from sopranos, mezzos, tenors... and countertenor 
Ryan Belongie, with a drop-dead gorgeous aria from "Xerxes." It's just 
that baritones are so often also-runs, and this was different, right 
from the very beginning and a wonderful performance of the Prologue from 
"Pagliacci."

Born in Odessa, raised in San Francisco (where he played the guitar in 
high school, rather than sing), Aleksey Bogdanov showed off a warm, 
appealing, sensitive, intelligent baritone, startlingly mature for 
somebody in his mid-20s.

Exactly the same adjectives applied to another Odessa-born baritone, 
Michael Sumuel, whose Alidoro from "La Cenerentola" was a triumph. 
(Sumuel's Odessa is in Texas, by the way, not Ukraine, and he may be a 
bit older than Bogdanov.) Both baritones excelled in diction, 
projection, stage presence.

In the concluding Verdi, they appeared side by side, Bogdanov as 
Falstaff and Sumuel as Ford. I'd give an eyetooth to hear the whole 
opera with those two. Defying age and career standards, Bogdanov also 
sang briefly as Hans Sachs in a "Meistersinger" excerpt.

Yet another talented baritone, Yohan Yi, sang Aleko's aria from the 
Rachmaninoff opera, with deep feeling and impeccable Russian.

During the Merola season, soprano Susannah Biller and mezzo Maya Lahyani 
distinguished themselves, but tonight they both reached new heights: 
Biller's Zdenka (with Lori Guilbeau's Arabella), Héro (from "Béatrice 
[Lahyani] et Bénédict" (Suzanne Hendrix as Ursule), and - especially - a 
playful and winning "Fledermaus" Rosalinde showed a young artist ready 
for the big time.

Lahyani's Carmen (with Brian Jagde's Don José) was both seductive and 
vocally satisfying. To return to "Fledermaus" for a minute, there was 
something remarkable about John Chest's Eisenstein - a voice full of 
promise in an undemanding role (I know, I know, there are no easy 
roles... but still) - there is another singer to watch.

The youngest singer of the Class of '09, Eleazar Rodriguez, showed off 
his elegant lyric tenor in an "Entführung" aria, needing only more work 
in German diction... and a more supportive editor, who doesn't drop him 
from the program (which didn't arrive until the intermission anyway).

There were a couple of fine, but rather "generic" tenors, and then 
Gregory Carroll with the obvious distinction of a 
helden-tenor-in-the-making. His "Flying Dutchman" Erik (with Kate 
Crist's Senta) was impressive. Ditto for Nathaniel Peake's powerful 
Duke, with Sara Gartland's effortless Gilda.

Programming for the evening was delightful, with some lesser-known 
selections pre-empting the customary warhorses. In addition to "Aleko," 
the Berlioz, and Suzanne Hendrix's affecting performance of Cornelia's 
aria from "Giulio Cesare," there was a duet from Thomas' "Mignon" (with 
Ellie Jarrett and Evan Boyer) and Lothario's aria (with Boyer), and 
Margaret Gawrysiak sang Joan's aria from Tchaikovsky's "Joan of Arc."

I am afraid with Youtube or an MP3, I cannot do justice to that closing 
"Tutto nel mondo e burla." It was all there, and all good. Take 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igCZGOO0u-E as a poor substitute.

-- 
Janos Gereben 
www.sfcv.org 
[log in to unmask]
 

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