From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell – Santa Fe Part I

by Jonathan Pell

Last night was the first of two separate programs on successive Sunday evening’s that showcase the young artists who participate every summer in the Santa Fe Opera’s renowned apprentice program.  These talented young singers are recruited from around the country (this summer there are more than forty of them) and they appear throughout the season as the chorus, in smaller roles, and “cover” (or act as understudies) for leading roles.  In addition to that, they receive private coaching from the music staff and visiting artists, and are given the opportunity to display their talent in these fully staged and costumed scenes.

There are always wonderful singers “on display” and last night was full of burgeoning talent.  There were a few who really stood out, though.  In the first half of the program, which had extended scenes from Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI, Berlioz’s BEATRICE AND BENEDICT, Donizetti’s DON PASQUALE and Henze’s BOULEVARD SOLITUDE, the standout was tenor Theo Lebow in the Berlioz.  The role of Benedict suited him perfectly at this point in his development, and he really made the most of this opportunity.

The second half of the concert consisted of scenes from Bizet’s CARMEN, Rossini’s LE COMTE ORY, Handel’s ARIODANTE and Verdi’s FALSTAFF.

Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Panara was very impressive as “Isolier” in the Rossini, and is obviously ready to sing leading roles anywhere.

Two singers in the Handel excerpt also really stood out, tenor John Viscardi and mezzo-soprano Sara Mesko.  Their singing was heartfelt and elegant, and this scene seemed to be an audience favorite.

The final scene of the evening, from Act I of Verdi’s FALSTAFF, was utterly delightful and was a vehicle (if that can be said of an opera which is truly an ensemble work) for soprano Shelley Jackson, who provided the most polished performance of the entire concert.  As “Alice Ford” (made up to resemble Lucille Ball in I LOVE LUCY) she radiated star quality and sang exquisitely.

The Santa Fe Apprentice concerts not only showcase young singers, but are also directed and designed by emerging talents in those fields.  Stage director Michael Shell, who was an assistant director with Dallas Opera a few years ago, did wonderfully imaginative work staging the scenes from DON GIOVANNI and FALSTAFF.  Both excerpts showed great originality, and displayed great depth as well as humor.

Tonight begins the marathon of five opera productions in five nights.  First up is a performance in the world premiere run of OSCAR, starring David Daniels, Heidi Stober and two artists who have sung with the Dallas Opera, Dwayne Croft and William Burden…

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