Pastoral interlude: Met recital in Central Park

Metropolitan Opera Summer Recital Series in Central Park, 7/12/10.  With Nathan Gunn, baritone; Susanna Phillips, soprano; Michael Fabiano, tenor; and Julie Gunn and Jonathan Kelly, pianists.

Several other bloggers and I packed up a picnic and headed out to Central Park last night for the annual Met concert.  The weather was threatening, our picnic was derailed by a long line to get in and the confiscation of our vino, but it didn’t actually rain, there was opera, and we ate the food eventually, so all was more or less well.

The Met used to present an entire opera in concert with an orchestra for this event; this is the second year that we’ve been having recession-friendly recitals with piano instead.  And it’s too bad.  Piano accompaniment is fine in a small venue, but amplified through the giant Summer Stage?  Not so much.  And whoever thought that “Hai già vinta la causa” is a smashing idea for an opening number should never program a concert again.  But the singers were winning and despite some unevenness and persistent feeling of economy, it was a pleasant evening.

Nathan Gunn was the biggest name here, joined by his wife Julie Gunn on piano, and he was best-suited of the three to the park format, questionable Mozart opener aside.  He was at his best in English, including a somewhat cloying translation of “Ein Mächen oder Weibchen” that he made cute, and the final number, an intense but not over-the-top rendition of Weill’s “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?”  His storytelling abilities were put to excellent use in three of Bolcom’s Cabaret Songs–which I embarrassingly discovered I have not heard many of the words of for years (sadly, he did not include “Amor”–“even philosophers understood how good was the good cuz I looked so good”).

Gunn was joined by tenor Michael Fabiano and soprano Susanna Phillips, both of whom were new to me.  Phillips has a gorgeous lyric soprano with a beautifully natural feel for the musical line, put to excellent use in Donna Anna’s “Non mi dir” (with some cool ornamentation).  I found her “Je veux vivre” somewhat short on sparkle and trilling, but that might be a hard number to pull off in concert (though she did wear cowboy boots for it–I had to take her word for this, because I could not see her feet).  Her “Can’t Help Loving That Man” was maybe not the best example of opera singers tacking musical theater, and could learn something from Gunn about understatement and good arrangements.

Tenor Michael Fabiano is famous for being a hothead but I found him the least interesting of the three.  He definitely has a big talent and the voice is beautiful and solid, but I wasn’t captivated.  Perhaps picking repertoire other than inevitable tenor chestnuts “Una furtiva lagrima” and “La donna è mobile” would have helped?  I’m not a big fan of either aria, honestly.  He also suffered from overselling in his musical theater entry, “Be My Love.”  None of the singers managed very much dynamic variation, which I blame on the amplification system.

There were ensembles too!  These were entertainingly semi-staged, though given no introduction as to plot or anything (only Gunn talked about any of his numbers–I think they all could have benefited from a little friendly exposition).  “Au fond du temple saint” is going on the top of my new list of Numbers That Should Never Be Performed Without an Orchestra Under Any Circumstances, because I’ve never heard this lovely duet sung so well and be so underwhelming.  “Sulla tomba” was awkwardly sandwiched between Bolcom and the musical theater set, but sounded good if comparatively stiff and static after the animated, casual Bolcom.  Preceeding them was a sweet “Bei Männer, welche liebe fühlen.”  The first half included a charming “La ci darem la mano” and the similarly charming Nemorino-Adina-Belcore duet from LElisir d’amore (they played the sweet and charming card many, many times in this program).  As an encore we got the one piece I was surprised to not see on the initial program, the Traviata Brindisi.

I hope to see Philips in a staged opera soon, I remember that Gunn is totally fun, and I wish we had been able to drink the wine ahead of time.  But all in all a nice night out.

Similar programs will be happening in other boroughs in the next few weeks, check out the program here.

Video: Susanna Phillips sings “Non mi dir” (why couldn’t she have given this intro last night?)

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  1. You get the non-lazy award for blogging this so conscientiously! I went to the Thursday concert for the sake of Supporting the Met Coming to the Bronx and they DID have introductions, both informative and humorous. Also, the nice lyric tenor gave "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" as his encore.