Sunday, December 04, 2022

The Future is Now

Close of the Adler Fellows concert
Kristen Loken/San Francisco Opera
December 2, 2022

I made it to the annual Adler Fellow songfest the other night, after having missed the 2019 iteration. (I cannot even remember whether there was a 2021 concert. There definitely wasn't one in 2020.) As always, there was a lot of great singing from the Fellows.

The big news is the truly spectacular performances from sopranos Esther Tonea and Mikayla Sager, separately and together. They each had their own showcase: Tonea sang Liù in the stretch of Turandot that runs from "Tanto amore segreto" through to the end of "Tu che di gel sei cinta". Tonea, who won the Met Opera competition in May,  has a rich voice of great breadth - hear her is like having a wall of sound coming at you and surrounding you. She has a marvelously smooth legato and a great high register; she can float her sound gloriously and always maintains a beautiful line. It's a very big voice, and it'll be interesting to see what roles she takes in the future.

Mikayla Sager and Esther Tonea at "The Future Is Now: Adlers in Concert."
Photo: Kristen Loken/San Francisco Opera
Duet from Bianca e Fernando

Sager was equally impressive with a voice of a very different style: dark, focussed, vibrant, and, like Tonea, with wonderful control and a great line. She sang Desdemona's scene from Act IV of Verdi's Otello, and it was as good as I've heard. The high soft phrases were glorious, as were Desdemona's outbursts - and everything in between.

Together, they sang a duet from Bellini's Bianca e Fernando, and it was lovely, but I thought that the lion's share of the music went to Tonea, because Sager's character is an attendant, and ya know, they get interjections and sometimes more. I would have given them one of the Norma duets! Yes, Adalgisa is a soprano role! At intermission, chatting with a friend, neither of us could recall have heard Sager before, but it turned out that we had: as an attendant to Nicole Car, for probably three measures, in last June's Verdi concert. Well, I bet we'll be hearing a lot more from her.

We also heard great work from sopranos Anne-Marie MacIntosh and Elisa Sunshine. MacIntosh opened the concert with a flashy aria from Handel's Scipione, and did it proud, with great runs and terrific trills.  She returned with a few of Turandot's lines in Esther Tonea's big scene, then as Antonia, again really beautifully, in a chunk of Les Contes d'Hoffmann. (Fashion report: my favorite dress of the evening was MacIntosh's off-the-shoulder, very sculptural, red number in the first half of the program. Sorry, no photo!)

Stefan Egerstrom and Anne-Marie MacIntosh with Eun Sun Kim and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra at "The Future Is Now: Adlers in Concert."
Photo: Kristen Loken/San Francisco Opera

Sunshine, along with mezzo Gabrielle Beteag and bass Stefan Egerstrom, performed the singing lesson scene from La Fille du Regiment, and they were, individually and as a group, hilarious. Sunshine got to have a lot of fun, taking off her shoes at one point (and I think subsequently hitting someone with a shoe), interpolating recognizable bits of arias into the singing lesson, and generally have a great time. Again, I ask: why not more comic opera?! Especially when you've got a singer as vocally and dramatically gifted as Sunshine around.

Stefan Egerstrom and Elisa Sunshine in "The Future Is Now: Adlers in Concert."
Photo: Kristen Loken/San Francisco Opera

Sunshine got to show off her other side as well, with a fine rendition of the "Lied der Lulu" from the eponymous opera. 

I think that Beteag got the short end of the stick among the women on this program: her big moment was from Menotti's The Medium. She was fine, but...there's better music, she's a fine singer (and was very funny as the Marquise in the trio with Sunshine and Egerstrom), and I'd like to hear her in better music.

Among the men, Egerstrom gave a tremendous performance in Hunding's solo "Ich weiss ein wildes Geschlecht" from Die Walküre. He has a gorgeous dark bass, and, well, second-guessing everyone, I'd've given him Wotan's farewell if it's not too high for him. I like bass Wotans.

Timothy Murray sang Billy Budd's long scene from that opera, where Billy has been sentenced to death and is musing about about various things. He was good, but better diction would have been nice. Props to Stephanie McNab for some great piccolo playing in the scene.

Tenors Victor Cardamone and Edward Graves were very good in the duet "Ah! vieni, nel tuo sangue!" from Rossini's Otello (which bears little resemblance to Shakespeare's play!), a vocal battle between rivals for Desdemona's hand. (See what I mean?) They are both high tenors with flicker vibratos and good facility in fioriture. Unusually, this made me want to see the work in full, and I am not much of a Rossini fan.

Eun Sun Kim conducted; everything sounded great though I would have liked more schmaltz and rubato in the opening overture to Die Fledermaus.

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