Arts & Events

Once Again, The Future Is Now: The 2017 Adler Fellows Concert

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Saturday December 09, 2017 - 03:43:00 PM

On Friday evening, December 8, at the War Memorial Opera House, the 2017 crop of Adler Fellows gave a concert that was remarkable for the high standard of singing by all participants. There was hardly a singer in the entire program who did not demonstrate outstanding talent, and even those who fell slightly short of the highest category always showed sufficient promise to expect that in a year or two they too will be outstanding. 

The program got under way with conductor James Gaffigan leading the Opera Orchestra in the Prelude to Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel. Gaffigan, who was making his local debut, made a strong case for this music, as he emphasized the smooth, suave qualities of this prelude. Following this opening number, tenor Pene Pati and bass-baritone Brad Walker sang an excerpt from Gounod’s Faust. Pene Pati led off by singing “Mais ce Dieu, que peut-il pour moi?” Here Faust renounces any belief in God, prayer or Goodness, and he declares himself ready to worship the Devil. Arriving on cue, Mephistopheles strikes a bargain with Faust. Singing in French, Pena Pati was outstanding as usual, exhibiting surprising vocal flexibility here by adding a vulnerable touch to his usual power. As Mephisto Brad Walker was all swaggering confidence, wrapped up in dark tones. Next on the program came soprano Amina Edris, who sang the aria “Eccomi in lieta vesta…O quante volte” from Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Following a trumpet introduction, Amina Edris sang much of this music accompanied only by a harp. Edris handled the long melodic lines with rapturous ease. Likewise, she navigated the exposed coloratura passages with utmost felicity and lush tone. This aria by Amina Edris was one of the highlights of the concert. Edris, a second-year Adler fellow, definitely has what it takes, vocally and dramatically, to go on to have an outstanding career.  

Up next on the program was tenor Amitai Pati, who sang a lovely aria from Bizet’s Les Pècheurs de Perles in which Nadir fervently recalls his first encounter with the lovely Leila. Amitai Pati sang this impassioned aria with great feeling and also great sensitivity. If Amitai’s brother Pena Pati is all about power (though he’s learning to harness that power), Amitai himself is all about balance and grace. He seems to be coming into his own and stepping out from the shadow of his brother. For a change of pace, the next item was a duet from Richard Strauss’s Arabella, in which soprano Sarah Cambridge sang Arabella and baritone Andrew G. Manea sang Mandryka. First-year Adler Fellow Sarah Cambridge possesses a lovely voice, though her delivery in this aria was perhaps not as smooth as it might be. On the other hand, Andrew G. Manea’s voice never quite rang forth, especially in the low register, where he tended to undersing. When he could let his voice ring forth, Manea was excellent. Likewise, in spite of a few rough edges, Cambridge was otherwise impressive.  

Following this number, bass-baritone Brad Walker’s “Aprite un po’ quelli occhi” from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro was one of the vocal highlights of the evening. In the role of Figaro, Walker warned men of the cruel inconstancy of women as he let his erroneous belief in Susanna’s betrayal color his view of all women. Gesticulating energetically and pointing to the audience as if to challenge them to open their eyes to women’s deceits, Brad Walker sang with great gusto. Next on the program was Pene Pati performing the aria “Angelo casto e bel” from Donizetti’s Il Duca d”Alba. In this aria Marcello di Bruges prays to God for the happiness of his beloved Amelia, whom he praises as an “angel chaste and beautiful.” Sung with great feeling by Pene Pati, this too was a highlight of the concert. 

To close out the first portion of the concert soprano Toni Marie Palmertree and tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven sang the love duet, “Gia nella notte densa” from Verdi’s Otello. As Desdemona, Palmertree was vocally lush, although her voice may be a bit overripe for the youthful and innocent Desdemona. As Otello, Kyle van Schoonhoven sang with power but without the hints of darkness called for by this role. In spite of the fact that these roles may not be perfect for Palmertree and van Schoonhoven, they sang beautifully, and they were utterly believable as a couple deeply in love with one another. 

After intermission, Sarah Cambridge teamed up with Brad Walker in an excerpt from Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera. Renato, Amelia’s husband, vows to kill her for her alleged infidelity. Amelia biiterly questions Renato’s judgment if his mere suspicion warrants her death. She acknowledges that for a moment she loved the king but never gave in to her feelings for him, remaining faithful. But if she must die, she asks only to see her son once more. Sarah Cambridge’s rendition of Amelia’s plea, “Morro, ma prima in grazia,” was movingly sung, although a bit under-voiced. By contrast, Brad Walker’s Renato was vocally aggressive. 

Next came a duet from Amina Edris and Pene Pati. This husband-and-wife team in real life sang the roles of lovers Benvenuto Cellini and Teresa in Hector’ Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini. Somewhat surprisingly, Pene Pati, who usually sings with great power, seemed to harness his voice here in French, while Amina Edris sang with with power and passion. Needless to say, they were utterly believable as a couple deeply in love with one another. 

Following this duet, baritone Andrew G. Manea sang “Il balen del suo . sorriso” from Verdi’s Il Trovatore. Here Count di Luna declares that Leonora’s smile gives him the courage to abduct her against her wishes. In this aria Manea seemed more at ease than he had been in singing the duet from Arabella, and his voice here was robust. Next came heldentenor Kyle van Schoonhoven singing “Mein lieber Schwan” from Wagner’s Lohengrin. If van Schoonhoven’s voice was not quite right for the role of Otello, it was spot on for the role of Lohengrin. His voice crackles with Lohengrin’s self-rightousness as he bids farewell to Elsa.  

In the penultimate selection of this concert, bass Anthony Reed gave a rather lugubrious rendition of the Sicilian patriot Procida’s embrace of his homeland and his appeal to his fellow Sicilians to rise up against oppression. To close out the concert in dramatic fashion, soprano Toni Marie Palmertree sang the recitative-and-aria, “Col sorriso d’innocenza … Sole! Ti vela di tenebre oscure” from Bellini’s Il Pirata. Palmertree’s sumptuous tone and exquisite coloratura were true highlights of this concert full of highlights. Throughout the evening, director Aria Umezawa found imaginative ways to offer semi-staged or, occasionally, fully staged excerpts from each of these renowned operas. As the Adler Fellows Program correctly asserts, the future is now.