Merola Grand Finale Review (San Francisco Opera, 2008)
Merola singers firmly embrace ‘Werther’ duet
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Not long after, in what remained the evening’s single most compelling extract of musical theater, mezzo-soprano Renée Tatum, as Charlotte, and tenor Nathaniel Peake, in the title role, sang the Christmas reunion scene from the third act of Massenet’s “Werther.” Tatum was fully in the grip of Charlotte’s fervent agitation when she entered. Acting and singing merged, with taut, spiraling energy. Then, as she and Peake’s Werther began to invoke their sublime past, the scene took on an expansive tenderness, keyed by the searching, lyrical cast of Peake’s handsome voice.
Working, as all the singers did, on an unfurnished unit set with a raked parquet floor, downstage steps and a large upstage right doorway, Tatum and Peake pulled off one of those transporting feats that can happen in Merola’s season-ending showcase: They plunged the listeners hip-deep into the opera. The conviction of everything these two young artists did – their phrasing and watchful pauses, their tiniest gestures and rapturous high notes – put “Werther,” fully formed, before the audience.
Steven Winn, San Francisco Chronicle