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.

Thursday, June 13, 2019


Dan Saunders, Nathan Gunn, Ying Fang, and Aaron Blake

The stars came out in the sky overhead just as the opera stars finished their concert at Brooklyn Bridge Park. We cannot say which shone more brightly. The concert is part of The Metropolitan Opera Summer Recital Series. Unwilling to spend hours waiting in line to attend the recital in Central Park we made the trek to Brooklyn where cheerful opera goers with amazingly quiet children gathered to share an experience that could only win more converts to opera.

It would be impossible to listen to these three superstars, accompanied by Dan Saunders at the piano, and not become a convert. Each one brought something unique and special to this program comprising predominantly famous arias and duets of the canon, with some American musical theater added at the end.

Soprano Ying Fang dazzled us the first time we heard her and she has grown in artistry since then. Ms. Fang has it all--a sparkling coloratura of remarkable flexibility, and a gracious stage presence that can only add to her physical beauty. At the opera, one is not supposed to care about appearances but between us, dear reader, eye candy is always a plus. A tasteful and flattering gown completed the picture.

We witnessed great emotional variety from this stunning artist who seems to lose herself in whatever character she portrays. Whether it be the perky Pamina sharing a moment with Papageno (Nathan Gunn, whom we will get to later), Zerlina responding to an importuning Don Giovanni (Mr. Gunn again), the lovely Lauretta begging her father to enable her marriage, the seductive Alcina (although "Tornami a vagheggiar" is sometimes sung by Alcina's sister Morgana), the aristocratic Adina, the pleading Servilia, the wistful Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, or the love besotted Maria from West Side Story--all these characters she portrayed would be immediately identifiable. What astonishing versatility!

It would be impossible to choose our favorite but we must make note of her vocal artistry in the Händel; the fioritura was perfect and the ritornello after the plaintive B section was incredibly exciting. We would also like to mention the Chinese song she chose as an encore, translated as "The Bridge". Not only was the vocal line marvelously melodic but the piano accompaniment was rich in texture. What an appropriate choice since we were in full view of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge!

Baritone Nathan Gunn is a regular at The Metropolitan Opera but we are quite sure we first heard him many years ago singing a Schubert song cycle accompanied by his wife Julie. He brings to the stage an authoritative presence and a mellow voice that seems able to make the most of whatever role he assumes. He too slips readily into a variety of characters. We enjoyed his winning Papageno, his seductive Don Giovanni, the yearning Zurga, the irrepressible Figaro, the reminiscing Pierrot, the fantasizing Billy Bigelow, the loyal Lancelot, and the excited Tony.  

Each one received full vocal and dramatic value. Perhaps our favorite was Billy's soliloquy from Carousel in which Mr. Gunn's voice, gesture, and face altered with each new emotion and each new idea.

Tenor Aaron Blake made a fine addition to the program, filling in for an ailing Ben Bliss. What we liked best about Mr. Blake was that his immersion in each character was so intense that we felt we were seeing everything through the eyes of each one. As Nadir, in his duet with Mr. Gunn, we could see the crowd of worshipers and the beautiful but inaccessible Leïla. As the tormented Lensky, we felt his anguish. In the famous "Dein ist mein ganzes herz", the passion could be cut with a knife. We don't think we have ever seen a better Nemorino as he swigged from a bottle and did a crazy jig around the stage. Don Ottavio's challenging "Dalla sua pace" was marked by some fine embellishments in the repeat when he filled in the notes of the scale. His encore "O Sole Mio" was filled with garlic.

The only thing that we would like to see Mr. Blake accomplish would be floating the high notes, since he tends to push the volume in the upper register. We noted Mr. Gunn's floated high notes in Pierrot's "Tanzlied" from Korngold's Die Tote Stadt and loved the ethereal quality, much as we loved the pingy sound of Ms. Fang's upper register. 

It was a glorious night and well worth the trek to Brooklyn!

(c) meche kroop

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