The Merola Opera Program’s 2017 Summer Festival continues this week with a triple bill of fully-staged one-act operas – Pergolesi’s La serva padrona, Holst’s Sāvitri, and Walton’s The Bear. Christopher Ocasek conducts, and direction is by Peter Kazaras.
Pergolesi’s La serva padrona (The Servant Turned Mistress) is a 45-minute opera buffa, with a libretto by Gennaro Antonio Federico, after the play by Jacopo Angello Nelli. It premiered on September 5, 1733, at Teatro San Bartolomeo in Naples. The opera tells of Uberto, an ageing bachelor, whose scheming maid, Serpina, assumes the role of mistress of his household, and who ultimately tricks him into marrying her. All ends well, however, since Uberto ultimately realises that he loves Serpina after all.
The role of Serpina is sung by soprano Jana McIntyre – in her second season for Merola Opera – and Uberto by bass-baritone Daniel Noyola.
Gustav Holst wrote both the score and libretto for his chamber opera Sāvitri. First performed on December 5, 1916, it represents an episode from the Mahābhārata, one of the major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the mythology of which held a particular fascination for Holst. With a theme of the triumph of love over death, the opera opens with Death summoning Sāvitri’s husband Satyavān, but she begs Death to allow him to live, saying that her life would be incomplete without him. Death finally yields to her pleas, returning to his kingdom, and the opera ends with Sāvitri singing of her love for her husband.
Soprano Kelsea Webb sings the title role, tenor Addison Marlor is Satyavān, and bass-baritone David Weigel – a 2013 Merola artist – takes the role of Death.
William Walton’s The Bear is described as “an extravaganza in one act for three soloists and orchestra” (Oxford University Press). Based on a short story by Anton Chekov, with a libretto by Paul Dehn, The Bear was commissioned in 1965 by the Koussevitsky Foundation, and first performed at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1967. Set in 1888, the action takes place in the home of Madame Popova, a widow determined to be faithful to the memory of her – apparently promiscuous – husband. She is courted by Smirnov, one of her late husband’s creditors, but they quarrel, and at one stage threaten each other with pistols. Neither is able to open fire on the other, though, and they realize that they have fallen in love.
The role of Madame Popova is taken by mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon – a 2015 Merola artist. Bass-baritoine Daniel Noyola sings the role of Luka, her servant, and bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum – a 2016 Merola artist – is Smirnov.
Conductor Christopher Ocasek has appeared throughout the US and Europe, leading productions of Carmen, Mark Adamo’s Little Women, La Tragèdie de Carmen, Cendrillon, The Mikado, and The Medium, among others. He is a member of the conducting staff of both San Francisco Opera and Washington National Opera – principal guest conductor and assistant/cover conductor of the latter – and has worked with stage directors such as Francesca Zambello, David Pountney, Calixto Bieito and Peter Kazaras.
Peter Kazaras, who has worked with Merola on a number of occasions, is currently Director of Opera and Music Theater at UCLA, prior to which he was Artistic Advisor and Artistic Director of the Young Artist Program at Seattle Opera. A former operatic tenor, Mr Kazaras has performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Houston Grand Opera, San Francisco Opera, Seattle Opera and Vienna Opera, and directed educational programs such as the Wolf Trap summer program, the Chautauqua Institute Voice Department, the Academy of Vocal Arts, the Hartt College of Music, and Florida State University.
The 2017 Merola Opera Program is an intensive 12-week training program, in which 23 singers, five apprentice coaches and one apprentice stage director are taking part. Representing Canada, Poland, China, Colombia and Mexico, as well as 14 states in the US, the participants were selected from over 600 young artists who auditioned for a place on this highly selective, all expenses paid, summer program.
The Merola Opera Program production of three one-act operas – all with English supertitles – takes place at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on Thursday, July 20 at 7.30 pm and Saturday, July 22 at 2.00 pm. For more information and tickets visit the Merola Opera website.
Merola Opera program notes