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July 4, 2017

Lineup for Merola Productions

It is now time for the public-performance phase of the Merola Opera Program, now celebrating its 60th birthday. The famous institute provides the opportunity for young artists to strut their stuff in staged productions following the 12-week-long program of coaching, workshops, master classes, and other activities.

Between July 6 and August 19, Merolini perform in two Schwabacher Summer Concerts (one at Stanford for the first time); staged performances of four operas, and the grand finale. In addition to these public programs, attendance at Merola activities is also available to supporting members of the program.

An example of what the Merola program means to participants is Ashley Dixon‘s preparation to sing the role of Popova in William Walton’s The Bear. The mezzo from Georgia was first selected in 2015 and returns to the program after a year off. Based on a play by Chekhov, The Bear portrays Popova as a young, romantic woman, determined to remain faithful to her unfaithful husband who died seven months before. Dixon says the role was a musical-theatrical challenge:

I was very nervous to prepare this role. The character and the singing was so different than anything I had ever done. Popova is a tour de force. She wants you to believe she is a mourning widow but the story reveals that her tears may not always come from the heart. Through the learning process (and many phone calls with my voice teacher) I realized this role let me be the most free with my acting and singing. I have become a different singer-actor because of it.

The conductor Chris Ocasek worked with me to create tempos that were comfortable for me to take the time I needed to set up all of my singing. Also the director Peter Kazaras gave me such wonderful staging that made the singing have direction. The whole process has been truly amazing.

One of the scariest things about this role is the vocal range. One minute I’m singing above the staff and the next below. I was having trouble figuring it out on my own. With the help, I got to a place where I now love the fact that Popova’s singing is all over place because it makes her who she is.

These are the public performances:

Schwabacher Summer Concerts, July 6 in the Conservatory Concert Hall; July 9 in Bing Concert Hall, Stanford: conducted by Anne Manson, directed by David Lefkowich. Staged scenes from Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, Moore’s Ballad of Baby Doe, Massenet’s Thaïs, von Weber’s Der Freischütz, Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, and Weill’s Street Scene, accompanied by full orchestra, with English supertitles.

Triple bill on July 20 and 22, in the Conservatory Concert Hall, conducted by Christopher Ocasek and directed by Peter Kazaras: Pergolesi’s La serva padrona (with Jana McIntyre and Daniel Noyola); Holst’s Savitri (with Addison Marlor, Kelsea Webb, and David Weigel); and Walton’s The Bear (with Ashley Dixon, Daniel Noyola, and Cody Quattlebaum).

 Rossini’s La Cenerentola, Aug. 3 and 5, in the Conservatory Concert Hall, conducted by Mark Morash, directed by Chuck Hudson; with Samantha Hankey, Anthony Ciaramitaro, Natalie Image, Edith Grossman, Andrew Hiers, Christian Pursell, and Szymon Wach.

Merola Grand Finale, Aug. 19, in the War Memorial Opera House; staged opera scenes with all Merolini participating.

More details at the Merola Public Performances website.

Opera Medal to the Head of Wardrobe

In the Shadow of the Stars is not only a great film about the S.F. Opera Chorus, it’s also where the action is in companies, where meeting the manifold challenges of producing opera requires so much more than just big-name singers. San Francisco Opera is a shining example of an organization where this is recognized and celebrated.

The company’s top award, the San Francisco Opera Medal, last year went to Jim Meyer, chorus and dance manager. In years past, in addition to awards handed to star singers, the Medal has also been awarded to conductors Donald Runnicles and Sir Charles Mackerras, directors John Copley and Francesca Zambello, and Chorus Director Ian Robertson, among others.

Last week, at the conclusion of the final performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto, S.F. Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock presented the Medal to Geoffry M. Craig, head of wardrobe, who oversees dressing hundreds of soloists, chorus members, and supernumeraries each season.

Craig joined the wardrobe department staff in 1981 as a dresser, became head of men’s wardrobe in 1986 and assumed his current position of department head in 1999. After 36 years of service, Craig will retire from San Francisco Opera at the end of the 2017 summer season.

Shilvock said, “In over three decades of exemplary service, Geoffry has led the wardrobe department with great professionalism, heart, and care. His exacting rigor and compassionate understanding have been critical in allowing us to present some of the finest performances in the world, night after night, on the War Memorial stage.”

Craig described his work as being “all about the details  — we check every garment, every closure, every hem, every time. That’s the job.” His staff includes four assistants and between 19 and 35 dressers, depending on the size of the production.

A native of Indiana, Craig earned early experience dressing performers at the Pasadena Playhouse. In 1981, a friend who knew about Craig’s theatrical experience asked if he would like to work on San Francisco Opera’s ambitious new production of Verdi’s Aida with Margaret Price in the title role and Luciano Pavarotti as Radames. Craig agreed, but a cancellation backstage led to him making his “debut” a month earlier than expected. He filled in to dress some of the supporting roles in the S.F. Opera premiere of Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow starring Joan Sutherland.

When asked if there were any productions during his 36-year tenure that tested the limits of his foolproof organizational system, Craig did not hesitate: Prokofiev’s War and Peace in 1991. “There were 135 supernumerary men in the show  — the Russian and French armies! We had to dress them at Zellerbach rehearsal space and then march them in formation to the opera house and out onto the stage.” For Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele in 2013, Craig supervised a “quick change” of 150 cast members from the prologue to the carnival scene of Act I.

A Tale of Two Audiences

It was the best of Wednesdays, it was the worst of Saturdays.

In Davies Hall, at the superb Michael Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Symphony season-ending performances of Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet, the audience was well behaved on Wednesday, awful on Saturday. Noisy, inattentive, phone screens on during the concert (no attempt to hide them), smattering of applause in every break, a mini-mass exodus after an hour. It was as bad as the response to Mahler was a decade ago.

It was all a sorry contrast with Wednesday, the final Series A concert, when the last of elite audiences lived up to their reputation. I don’t mean to usurp Charlise Tiee’s Operatattler territory, nor am I a concert snob  — I was the first to shout in mid-Wagner in the War Memorial for Leonie Rysanek’s“Entweihte Götter! — but Saturday night was just too much. I hope you’re reading this, Box-D commentator on everything, mid-music.

From MTT’s body language, I guess the commotion reached to the stage, but to his credit, concentration and performance were undiminished.

Of the many responses to my carping about the audience misbehavior, the most memorable reminiscence came from singer-teacher Alexandra Ivanoff, who wrote:

I have a vivid memory of attending a SFS performance (sitting in a sparsely attended balcony area) of Debussy’s Daphnis and Chloé. A guy behind me was munching on a bag of shelled nuts throughout the piece. In between the chewing he would burp and sigh audibly while he threw the shells on the floor

At the intermission, I rose and verbally excoriated him so much the ushers rushed over to see what the ruckus was. He had no answer for his behavior, and he thus left immediately. I was steaming mad, and glad I had taken action.

Maybe things are getting better ...

Vinyl Triumphant

I might have been just a tiny bit ahead of time when I greeted the return of vinyl records two years ago. The trend is full-blown now, and the reasons for this retro-innovation are as true now as they were then:

“The vinyl boom,” according to an article in The New York Times, “has come as streaming has taken off as a listening format and both CDs and downloads have declined. The reasons cited are usually a fuller, warmer sound from vinyl’s analog grooves and the tactile power of a well-made record at a time when music has become ephemeral.”

Now it’s mid-2017, and besides burgeoning sales, SONY joins the parade in a big way: after a 28-year hiatus, the company will start pressing records again. The scale has diminished  — back in the 1970s, Japan produced 200 million records each year. Today, worldwide purchase of records is expected to hit 20 million by the end of 2017, according to Fortune magazine.

Still, Deloitte, the global consulting firm, predicts that global revenue for vinyl records and related accessories (turntables, etc.) will reach $1 billion this year.

In the U.S., boutique outlets such as Jack White’s Third Man Pressing in Detroit, SunPress Vinyl in Miami, and vinyl-only labels like Warner Music’s Run Out Groove and U.K.-based Omertà have emerged. But withal, Fortune says: “The format will likely remain niche, albeit high-margin. Vinyl is back, but only as a collectible. The rest of us, meanwhile, will keep on streaming.”

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].