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

by Jonathan Pell

Yesterday afternoon at 4:00 under the auspices of the Santa Fe Concert Association composer Jake Heggie played a recital of some of his songs, accompanying tenor William Burden, soprano Heidi Stober and mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer, all of whom are singing with the Santa Fe Opera this summer.

The only set of songs that I had heard before was a cycle set to some texts written by Sister Helen Prejean, the inspiration for Heggie’s first opera DEAD MAN WALKING, beautifully sung at the end of the program by Miss Mentzer.

The rest of the material was new to me (including one song performed by a surprise guest, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is a great friend of the composer, and for whom he is writing GREAT SCOTT, commissioned by the Dallas Opera, and scheduled to open the season in the fall of 2015.)

A cycle of four songs (with texts by Gene Scheer, librettist of Heggie’s MOBY-DICK and the forthcoming EVEREST by composer Joby Talbot commissioned by the Dallas Opera) inspired by French composer Francis Poulenc’s friendships with four very different people, opened the program.  The songs were superbly sung by Bill Burden with impeccable diction that made the texts printed in the program superfluous, and I found them particularly affecting and wrenchingly beautiful.

The newest material was the group of four songs sung by Heidi Stober, that just premiered (by another soprano in California) a few weeks ago, and Miss Stober sang them beautifully.

Last night was the second of two programs of staged opera scenes showcasing the young singers who make up the Santa Fe Opera’s apprentice program, and there were some extremely promising young voices on hand.

The first half of the concert consisted of the opening scene of Richard Strauss’ ELEKTRA (where the five maidservants chatter away about the title character), the death of Claggart from Britten’s BILLY BUDD, the market scene from Delibes’ LAKME, and an extended scene from Act III of Smetana’s THE BARTERED BRIDE.

The second half featured an excerpt from the last act of Johann Strauss’ DIE FLEDERMAUS, a scene from Handel’s JULIUS CAESAR, a scene from Douglas Cuomo’s DOUBT (an opera which just premiered in Minneapolis earlier this year) and the evening ended with the finale of Act I from Rossini’s L’ITALIANA IN ALGERI.

There were quite a few interesting singers, but for me two of the standouts were the young basses, Patrick Guetti as “Achille” in the Handel and Adam Lau, who displayed extraordinary versatility by appearing as “Claggart” in BILLY BUDD and “Mustafa” in L’ITALIANA.

Tenor John Viscardi, who I mentioned after last week’s “Scenes” concert, impressed me again, this time as “Captain Vere” in the Britten.

Two other tenors also stood out, Joseph and Joshua Dennis from McKinney, Texas, who sang wonderfully but were also terribly funny as “Alfred” and “Eisenstein” in the jail scene from FLEDERMAUS.  I have previously mentioned Joshua (he was an apprentice in Santa Fe last summer and stood out in last year’s Apprentice Concert and again in an appearance in last week’s concert) but this was the first time that I had heard his twin brother Joseph.  Both of them are very talented, and it will be interesting to see how their careers develop.

Baritone Dan Kempson also made a strong impression as “Father Flynn” in DOUBT and mezzo-soprano Megan Marino was simply terrific as “Isabella” in the scene from L’ITALIANA.

A fitting ending for my time in Santa Fe—listening to a group of talented young singers just getting started, among whom are undoubtedly some of the “stars of tomorrow.”

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