From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, Santa Fe Part III

by Jonathan Pell

I am often asked to judge the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions around the country and several years ago I found myself in New Orleans where we were to select someone to go to New York to compete in the semi-finals.  The crop of singers that year wasn’t particularly good and at one point I turned to one of the other judges and said “Do we HAVE to send someone on?

Then walked in a very young soprano from Baton Rouge named Lisette Oropesa, who was so promising that she, not only won in New Orleans, but won in New York and was immediately invited to join the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artists Program.  She has subsequently gone on to an incredibly successful career sing leading roles at the Met and elsewhere.

I mention all this only because she was the “Susanna” in last night’s THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, and you can only imagine how touched I was after the performance when she thanked me backstage for being one of the first people to believe in her.

Lisette is wonderful in this role (which she has already sung at the Met) but she was only part of a terrific ensemble cast.

Susanna Phillips was a touching “Countess” (the role which served as her Dallas Opera debut in 2008) and opposite her was Daniel Okulitch as the “Count.”  An interesting thing to mention here is that Dan was also in that Dallas Opera production of FIGARO, but then he sang the title role.  He is very good in both parts, so it will be interesting to see if he continues to alternate them or opts to sing one role over the other.

The “Figaro” last night was Zachary Nelson, who was a delightful presence and sang beautifully.  A recent graduate of AVA in Philadelphia (the Academy of Vocal Arts) he must hold the record for the fastest ascent to stardom in the history of the Santa Fe Opera.  He was an apprentice here only last season, and now he is singing the leading role in an important production.

Even Susanna Phillips, who was an apprentice in Santa Fe in 2004, had to wait until 2006 to sing “Pamina” in THE MAGIC FLUTE!

Emily Fons, who I first heard as part of Lyric Opera’s Ryan Center young artists’ program, was the “Cherubino” and she was really charming and funny and also sang beautifully.  She will be coming to the Dallas Opera this season to sing in two family concerts and then will make her stage debut with us in the fall of 2014 in our opening production that year.  I hate being coy about what she will be singing, but we haven’t announced the season yet!

Also in the cast was veteran mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer as “Marcellina” who launched her career in the early 80’s at the Dallas Opera, and returned to Dallas to sing “Dorabella” in COSI FAN TUTTE opposite Carol Vaness, and was also a heartbreaking CENERENTOLA at TDO in 1994.

Keith Jameson, who sang the “Simpleton” in BORIS GODUNOV at Dallas Opera a couple of years ago, was the suitably unctuous “Don Basilio” and created another indelible cameo.

This MARRIAGE OF FIGARO was a revival of a Jonathan Kent production first seen in Santa Fe a few year’s ago, but this time it was staged by Bruce Donnell who did a masterful job of telling the story of an opera with an incredibly convoluted plot.

The conductor was John Nelson, who was returning to the company after many years (his debut in Santa Fe was leading a production of Britten’s OWEN WINGRAVE in 1973) and from the opening notes of the overture I knew we were in for a wonderful evening of Mozart’s extraordinary music.

It was a delightful performance, and tonight I am looking forward to Rossini’s rarely produced LA DONNA DEL LAGO, which I have only heard in concert and never seen staged.

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