The Merola Opera Program, whose past participants include Anna Netrebko, Ruth Ann Swenson, Deborah Voigt and Thomas Hampson among others too numerous to mention, is presenting Mascagni's rarely performed L'Amico Fritz this weekend at Fort Mason's Cowell Theater.
As a fan of the composer's Cavalleria Rusticana, I was happy to get an opportunity to finally see a production of this lesser-known work, which was pretty popular at one point. It seems the last time it was done by SFO was back in 1924 (!), although I can't confirm this because SFO's archive is down at the time of this writing. After Friday night's performance I think a case can be made for bringing Fritz back to the War Memorial. I'd love the chance to hear it performed by the entire orchestra. While I'm wishing for things, I'd also like to see Giordano's Andrea Chenier on the schedule and an entire festival dedicated to verismo- I think it would suit the city and the times we live in quite well.
The Merolini are essentially very advanced students, grad students if you will, and because of that status I'm not going to cast too critical an eye on their performances. Most of them are already capable of taking on lead roles in smaller markets, but they're here to be groomed because of their potential to "make it big." It has to be stressful enough to prepare for a role you're only going to get two chances to perform in front of an audience that includes people who can be very influential to your future career. These productions (which also include Cosi Fan Tutte in two weeks) are a great opportunity to see infrequently performed works and a chance to discover some real emerging talent in an intimate setting.
Last night's performance included a very touching duet between Nathaniel Peake (Fritz) and Sara Gartland (Suzel). Maya Lahyani also did a nice turn as Beppe, though I'm at a loss as to why Beppe was an amputee- doesn't Beppe play the violin at one part? Alexsey Bogdanov managed the part of David well. It's too bad Susannah Biller, who made a huge impression on me a couple of weeks ago at the Yerba Buena concert, was cast in a tiny role- I think she may be the future star of the bunch ala Heidi Melton. I see an Adler Fellowship in her future.
The production was suitable to the cause, though putting sawdust on the floor, which raised a lot of dust (duh) was a pretty dumb move. The orchestra (as well as some of us seated up front) were breathing the stuff through most of the third act. I did overhear one pontificating man trash the production at length during the intermission, which seemed like a ridiculous stance to me. Hey dude, it's not the War Memorial- lighten up and enjoy yourself, or at least don't be a blowhard while you're standing next to a group of four people who all happen to be bloggers.
There may still be tickets for Sunday's matinee. Check it out.