As the Metropolitan Opera company’s Summer Recital Series rolls on, the artists and crew took to Williamsbridge Oval Park in the Bronx for an afternoon of arias, duets, and a trio from some of opera’s most cherished composers.
Kicking things off was tenor Gerard Schneider, singing “Questa o quella” from Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” This amorous aria made for a spirited opening, and demonstrated Schneider’s ability to be vocally strong and still gentle. These traits, along with Schneider’s confidence, took a backseat in the superb trio “Tran, tran, tran, tran… In guerra ed in amor,” from Donizetti’s “L’Elisir D’amore.” True to Nemorino’s situation, Schneider was embittered and inebriated; despite this drunkenness, Schneider’s vocal entrances were all spitefully-sharp as he jeered at the flirtations of Adina and Belcore, sung by soprano Gabriella Reyes de Ramirez and baritone Adrian Timpau. This number was not lacking in either comedic interpretation or vocal technique, and was one of the afternoon’s highlights.
Adrian Timpau’s selections played to his strength as a suave, if dangerous, charmer. His first number was the recitative and aria “Hai gia vinta la causa… Vedro mentr’io sospiro” from Mozart’s “La Nozze di Figaro.” Here Timpau, as the womanizing Count Almaviva, relished in the falling duplets set to the line “e giubilar mi fa,” the last of which ended with Timpau displaying coloratura not often heard from the lower voices. Timpau was later joined by Ramirez for the duettino “La ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” Ramirez took this chance to captivate the crowd with silky duplets of her own, set to the line “non son piu forte,” as she found herself falling into the amorous arms of Timpau’s Don.
Ain’t it a Lovely Night?
While soprano Gabriella Reyes de Ramirez was enchanting throughout the afternoon’s recitals, this quality reached a celestial height with her aria “Ain’t it a pretty night” from Carlisle Floyd’s “Susannah,” an opera which premiered as recently as 1955. Ramirez treated the language of the text, florid and yet colloquial, with a fittingly-enraptured delicacy. These glittering tones, however, almost eclipse the country twang of the lyrics, which is heavy on contractions such as “ain’t,” and “y’see,” and dropped D’s for words such as “and” and “diamond.”
Bringing the recital to an end was the duet between Ramirez and Schneider: “O soave fanciulla,” from Puccini’s “La Boheme.” Their rendition was full of the unbridled hope found in a budding romance, and just as lovely to listen to, when Schneider and Ramirez slowly walk away in each other’s embrace. However, the piano blocked my line of sight to the spot where they delivered a highly charged, final “amor!”
In all, the artists were at the top of their game, both vocally and dramatically. They were able to naturally interact with the audience when the song and circumstance called for it, while allowing none of the surrounding distractions to interfere with the performance; and there were quite a few.
The stage had been set up in Williamsbridge Oval Park, just a stone’s throw away from a basketball court. This inevitably led to moments where one could hear the rattle of a ball hitting a chain fence and the unmistakable squeak of basketball players in sneakers making hard turns. Behind the stage was the park recreation center, where people, including a class of children, often came in and out directly behind the singers. Despite all of this, the closer nature of the venue made the performance all the more intimate, and allowed the audience to see the wealth of emotion Schneider, Timpau, and Ramirez brought with them; especially when Schneider, in character as Nemorino, staggered into the seats to feign indifference and shoot the breeze with the audience during the trio at the beginning.
This summer has seen the Metropolitan Opera company travel all across the city of New York, and this was the organization’s first time bringing their talents to Williamsbridge Oval Park. As a Bronx native, I believe the company would have found a better venue in Van Cortlandt Park, but bringing opera to new locations is almost always something to commend.
There remain two performances in the Summer Recital Series, and lovers of music won’t want to miss their chance to see these stars before they’re only found under the roofs of operas most famous houses.