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City Park's Foundation And The Metropolitan Opera Summer Recital Series, Monday, June 23rd, 2014, Reviewed

Jamie Barton and Amber Wagner perform Verdi

Jamie Barton and Amber Wagner perform Verdi

This is the fourth time I’ve caught The Metropolitan Opera Summer Recital Series produced with the City Park’s Foundations and the fourth time I have had a thoroughly enjoyable experience, but with a difference. The sense of playfulness that infused the first three times I watched the best up and coming singers around, the evening had a sense of playfulness, and also, a sense of the neophyte. Any timeyou are using only a pianist for instrumental backup and young, in the full of life, full bloodied singers, you are going to get something almost bursting at the seams. And any time you are performing at Summerstage you will get a mix of the neophyte opera fan tip toeing into the waters and the opera buff. The Met has responded with playful recitals, which mixed the cheerful absurdity of opera with high drama and the cherry on top always a couple of major pop songs to bring the evening home.

On Monday, three of the best opera singers, possibly the best mezzo-soprano I have ever seen at Summerstage, gave serious interruptions from mostly the book of Verdi. And when an English language song was performed, around the midway of the first half, it was a devastating take on Gershwin’s”My Man’s Gone Now” by the aforementioned mezzo-soprano the sublime Amber Wagner.

In 2012 I wrote: “Pittas, lapping up and guzzling the love potion, eyes bugged out, is a visual treat and de Niese and Del Carlo, play off each other with a light heartedness that builds as Del Carlo tempts her with the potion, and de Niese resolves not to use it, is like a Shakespearian Comedy: not the ingenue but the shrew.” There was simply no such moment this night. The closest we came was Jamie Barton,’s take on the Witches Aria by Humperdinck, Barton played the wide gesture perfectly but it was an exception m.

Much more typical were the three Verdi Aria’s that ran through the middle of the second half of the programme. Russell Thomas, who has played Malcolm before, made a powerful Macbeth, the singer has a great deal of presence and he gains enormous momentum very quickly, arias from “La Forza del Destino” and a pas de deux from “Il Trovatore” followed, and the evening glowed deep. Pianist Dan Saunders accompaniment was a thing of extreme beauty and restraint all evening.

But the ending seemed rushed and while “La Donna e mobile” was the only real fan fave of the night, it seemed a little strange to end the evening with Thomas alone on the stage,

Having made all those caveats, who ever decided to put Barton and Wagner on the stage deserves an award. After the intermission, it is mentioned that the stage has been shaking from the power of the voices, and starting the evening at the very top, the duet by Amber and Jamie on “Fu La Sorte dell’armi” probably peaked too soon. Jamie was excellent but Amber left the entire audience slack jawed, she seemed to turn every corner of the song only to find somewhere else to reach. Jamie made her debut in 2009 and Amber in 2011 but their power, passion and professionalism was a great thing.

It was the highlight of a wonderful but strange evening and it is playing again tonight at 9pm at Brooklyn Bridge Park

Grade: B+

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