The Merola Grand Finale was held Saturday night at the War Memorial Opera House for an enthusiastic audience. The 23 participants (called Merolini) performed solo and in various duets and trios. There was even the quintet from Die Meistersinger. With so many participants I won't detail every performance. All of the participants have a good evening, including especially nice work from the orchestra under conductor Antony Walker, but there were plenty of stand outs which merit specific attention and accolades.
Maya Lahyani's turn as Carmen was the highlight of the evening, reminding me of a young Beatrice Uria-Monzon. Lahyani has the voice, looks and presence onstage to perform the role today. She's captivating, seductive and it could well become a signature role for her. Brian Jagde's Don Jose was also fine, but Lahyani owned the moment so thoroughly that I found myself wanting to take his place onstage rather than listen to him.
Yohan Yi's solo from Rachmaninoff's rarely performed and under-appreciated Aleko was also compelling. Why not program the Rach trittico of Aleko, The Miserly Knight and Francesa da Rimini? SFO has only performed Francesca da Rimini once, back in 1956 and the other two have never been performed by the company.
Another strong turn in the Russian repertory came from Margaret Gawrysiak's solo from Tchaikovsky's Orleanskaya Dyeva (Joan of Arc). Hers was a masterful display of tone and beauty.
Caitlin Mathes and Paul Scholten excelled in their duet from Rossini's Barber, bringing just the right touch to the material and making it sound fresh. It's easy to dismiss Rossini since we're exposed to him so often, but when it's done well it's delightful- and this pair reminded us of that.
The set for the evening was consistently used to the singer's advantage and stage director Fernando Parra Borti's fine work paid off well for the participants.
The event was well-attended by the local press and blogging community: Josh Kosman (whom I'd like to thank for listing my blog), Allan Ulrich, Cindy Warner, Stephen Smoliar, Ms. Dodaro, SF Mike and the peripatetic Axel Feldheim were just some of the many people floating around the press room and the orchestra level, though Ms. Dodaro was comfortably seated in a box.
Finally, attention must be paid to the young woman from Salt Lake City via Dallas whose dress (Cavalli) was the star of the entire evening. I don't remember the last time I saw someone wearing something so perfect. Thankfully Herr Feldheim caught it (and me) on camera. Thank you to Mademoiselle MG and the Ginger for bringing the glamour to the house.