Although every one appearing onstage during the Merola Opera Program's all-Italian, all night long Schwabacher Summer Concert acquitted themselves quite nicely, there were four standouts, and two of those were sensational. Of the sensations, Zanda Švēde, a mezzo from Latvia, has magnetic presence, exceptional looks, and a huge voice. She was delightful as Isabella during an extended segment from Act 1 of Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri, though the speed of the music proved a bit tricky for her and Alex DeSocio as Taddeo. The other sensation was New Zealand tenor Pene Pati, who shone early in the evening as the title character in a scene from Verdi's Don Carlo in a duet with DeSocio (also quite good here). But both Švēde and Pati would impress the audience even more when they returned- she as Beppe in a segment from Mascagni's L'Amico Fritz, he as Edgardo in an aria from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, delivered with Pavarotti-like heft and tone, including a bravura finish which physically rippled through the audience.
The evening closed with a beautiful, devastating version of "The Willow Song" from Verdi's Otello sung by Canadian soprano Aviva Fortunata. She was ably matched by American Issachah Savage as the Moor, whose imposing size and dramatic delivery was perfect, but all that would have been for naught had he not been able to nail the vocal, which he did impressively well. These four singers are ready- remember their names.
The orchestra sounded superb under the conducting of Kevin Murphy. The direction by Roy Rallo made the most of the limited space with the orchestra taking up most of the stage, and the costumes by Christopher Verdosci were flattering, especially the dresses for Fortunata's Desdemona and Švēde's Emilia. Up next in the Merola season is a repeat of this concert Saturday afternoon in Yerba Buena Gardens (free- bring a blanket or a low-rise lawn chair and a picnic), followed byperformances of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro August 1 & 3 and the Grand Finale in the War Memorial Opera House on August 17th. Tickets are available through San Francisco Opera,