A-Plus for Adler Fellows in Final Concert

By Elsa Tranter

Photo credit: Kristen Loken /San Francisco Opera

(seated) Ashley Dixon, Natalie Image, Sarah Cambidge; (standing) John Elam, Aria Umezawa, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, Christian Pursell, Kyle van Schoonhoven, Andrew Manea, Amitai Pati and César Cañón.

(seated) Ashley Dixon, Natalie Image, Sarah Cambidge; (standing) John Elam, Aria Umezawa, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, Christian Pursell, Kyle van Schoonhoven, Andrew Manea, Amitai Pati and César Cañón.

It has never been more true—these young singers ARE the future, and it is now—they are ready for the big time.  The Saturday, December 8 concert was the culmination of this year’s activities, and for many of the young singers it was their last music making in San Francisco.

A little background—the San Francisco Opera Center has been (under the auspices of San Francisco Opera) training young singers for over 30 years, while giving them many opportunities to perform.  Two year fellowships named for Kurt Herbert Adler, music director for many years in San Francisco, enable the young people to spend all their time on their professional development. The program is run by the very capable Sheri Greenawald (herself a well-respected soprano).  Many of its alumni have gone on to stellar international careers, including, among many others, Patricia Racette, Ruth Ann Swenson, Deborah Voigt, Dolora Zajick, Brian Jagde, Alek Shrader, Mark Delavan, Lucas Meachem and John Relyea.   Thus it’s always exciting to witness their grand finale and try to guess who the biggest stars of the future will be.  But each year it gets harder to do that because so many of them are so good.  This was the case on Saturday in the beautiful and elegant Herbst Theater (next door to the San Francisco Opera House).

Tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven and baritone Andrew Manea

Tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven and baritone Andrew Manea

Because the stage is small at the Herbst (and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra took up most of the space) there was almost no staging.  There was a bit of movement and a few pieces of furniture, but mostly it was stand and sing in front of the orchestra.  The director of the evening’s performance was Adler Fellow Aria Umezawa, who made the most of the limited space. The musicians were very capably led by Christopher Franklin, who had the endearing habit of turning to the singer from time to time and drawing them (with a very outstretched arm) into the music.  As usual the musicians were topnotch.

The choices for the music were unusual and many quite unfamiliar.  The overture to Verdi’s Un Giorno de Regno opened the evening (the first of the selections that was unfamiliar).  The first singers were soprano Natalie Image and mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon.  They sang a duet from Lucia di Lammermoor that was bright and clear and very beautiful—the evening started out on a high that just kept going.  

Next we were treated to countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen who gave a poignant and rich rendering of an aria from Handel’s Admeto.  Mr. Nussbaum will be heard locally with Philharmonia Baroque orchestra in Handel’s Saul in the spring. 

"The Future Is Now: Adler Fellows Concert" with Christian Pursell

"The Future Is Now: Adler Fellows Concert" with Christian Pursell

Bass-baritone Christian Pursell sang ardently an aria from Rossini’s less well known opera  Il Viaggio a Reims (with the aid of others in the ensemble).  Mr. Pursell has appeared on the main stage in San Francisco several times this year, most notably as Sir Walter Raleigh in Roberto Devereux.

Next on the program was New Zealand tenor Amitai Pati (following in his brother Pene’s footsteps as an Adler Fellow).  He sang the very familiar signature aria from Flotow’s opera Martha, a much lighter and popular piece and he gave an excellent rendition.  He, too, has been on the main stage at SFO during the past year (and is also, with his brother and their cousin, part of a popular musical group in New Zealand).  

In a very different vein, soprano Sarah Cambidge sang a powerful scene from Richard Strauss’s opera  Die Agyptische Helena.  She has a huge voice and uses it to great effect—it was a moving performance. Accompanying her most ably on the celesta (along with the orchestra) was Adler Fellow John Elam.  She has appeared on the main stage this year as well.

Next was another heavyweight piece, this one from Wagner’s Parsifal, sung with great bravado and great style by baritone Andrew Manea and tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven.  Both men have had success in supporting roles on the San Francisco opera stage.

Closing out the first half of the program was a selection from Bellini’s I Puritani, sung with panache by Andrew Manea and Christian Pursell.

Natalie Image, Sarah Cambidge, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, Ashley Dixon

Natalie Image, Sarah Cambidge, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, Ashley Dixon

The buzz at intermission was electric—“how can they all be so good” was on everyone’s lips.  We hear that every year and every year it is true!!

Starting the second half of the evening was Ashley Dixon singing an aria from Berlioz’ La Damnation de Faust.  She sang with great sound and emotion, but perhaps needs a little more work on her French diction.

Next was Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen and another knock-out aria, this one from Rossini’s Tancredi.  Andrew Manea and Kyle van Schoonhoven followed with a duet from Verdi’s Attila and then a trio from Donizetti’s L’Assedio di Calais was sung by Natalie Image, Ashley Dixon and Amitai Pati.

In the one oddity of programming, Mr. Pati sang another popular tune, this one from a Franz Lehar opera, Das Land des Lachelns.  I would have liked to hear Mr. Pati in a more traditional operatic performance, rather than the two ‘light’ opera selections that he was given.

Closing the program, to great acclaim, was the love duet from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, sung superbly by Sarah Cambidge and Kyle van Schoonhoven.  They really nailed it!

An evening to remember it certainly was.  I’m betting that several of these young singers will have major careers very soon.  the future may not be RIGHT now, but it’s coming right up!!  Bravi Tutti!


Elsa Tranter is a Bostonian who has lived in Berkeley for over 40 years and has been an opera goer for most of those years.  She worked as a graduate student adviser at UC Berkeley and still attends Cal Performances regularly.  Her favorite composer is Wagner and her favorite opera is Tristan und Isolde.