We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Dan Saunders, Ginger Costa-Jackson, Mary-Jane Lee and Yunpeng Wang (photo by Ellen Godfrey)

It seemed as if the theme of last night's recital (one of several in The Metropolitan Opera's Summer Series) was seduction.  We the audience were seduced into sitting attentively in the nearly unbearable heat under a threatening sky.  And many of the well-chosen arias, duets and trios were about someone seducing or being seduced.  The fact that the three singers were bursting with sex appeal made each scene totally believable.

Take the gorgeous sultry-voiced mezzo-soprano Ginger Costa-Jackson singing the Habanera from Bizet's Carmen--both onstage and mingling with the audience.  If she doesn't own that role in her generation we will be very surprised.  In "Dunque io son" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, she is planning on seducing Lindoro (actually the Count) but must first seduce Figaro into being her go-between.

The wonderful baritone Yunpeng Wang as Figaro was the perfect foil for her foibles.  The two worked very well together, as seen/heard in the duet "Là ci darem la mano" from Mozart's Don Giovanni.  He was seductive and just a bit menacing while she demonstrated her ambivalence and eventual yielding.  It is such a pleasure watching singers who can act so well that the scene comes to life without scenery or costumes.

Mr. Wang was also a perfect match for the beautiful soprano Mary-Jane Lee in the duet from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci.  In this case, he portrayed Silvio importuning the unhappily married Nedda to leave her husband and run off with him.  We would be surprised if there weren't a few women in the capacity crowd who fantasized running away with him.

Ms. Lee was riveting in "Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiss" from Lehar's Giuditta, showing as great a facility with German as she demonstrated in Italian.  Not only that but she also sang in Czech--"Song to the Moon" from Dvořák's Russalka, one of our favorite arias.

Mr. Wang also has a facility with languages and did a fine job with "O vin, dissipe la tristesse" from Thomas' Hamlet, showing interesting variety of color in the central section.  We enjoyed his "Di Provenza" from Verdi's La Traviata, yet another seduction, convincing Violetta to break off with his son.

The two lovely ladies harmonized beautifully in "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour" from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann and, joined by Mr. Wang, "Soave sia il vento" from Mozart's Così fan tutte.  It was so convincing that we almost felt a breeze in the sultry summer air!

We loved the way each artist introduced him/herself and presented the story of each work before singing it.  This added a great deal for people who may not have been familiar with the operas. As if this excellent program were not enough, the lily was gilded with three encores, all solos.

The lovely Ms. Lee sang "Lovely" from Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and she sang it with great style.  Ms. Jackson sang "I Could Have Danced All Night" from Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady.  And oh, how she danced! Readers may feel free to disagree with us but we put these songs, sung by classically trained singers, in the same category as operatic arias.  They truly earned their place on the program.

Mr. Wang's encore was a heartfelt rendition of a song in which the singer yearns for his homeland.  It was composed by a Chinese composer living in Europe in the 1950's and had a moving folk-like simplicity that touched the heart.

Dan Saunders did a yeoman's job as accompanist, switching effortlessly from one style to the next.  The wildly enthusiastic crowd gave the quartet of artists a standing ovation which they richly deserved.

The necessary amplification for an outdoor concert was not excessive but, of course, somewhat impaired the ability to appreciate the colors of the voices and the accuracy of the fioritura.  For the "full Monty" you will have to buy a ticket!

ⓒ meche kroop

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