Metropolitan Opera Summer Recital Series: Ben Bliss, Nathan Gunn, & Ying Fang

A Joyous Evening That Not Even A Little Rain Could Dampen

By Logan Martell

On Monday, June 10, 2019, the Metropolitan Opera’s annual Summer Recital Series was launched amidst stormy weather. Lovers of opera braved the rain to gather at Central Park’s Summer Stage for an evening of arias and duets sung by Metropolitan Opera artists Nathan Gunn, Ben Bliss, and Ying Fang. Through the cloudy sky and almost constant veneer of rain, their musical and dramatic outpouring shone wonderfully.

Much of Mozart

Opening the evening’s recital were three numbers from Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte,” with Bliss and Gunn having delighted audiences last December in the Metropolitan’s holiday production of the opera.

First up was baritone Nathan Gunn, with a jovial rendition of “Der Vogelfanger bin ich ja.” The use of a microphone allowed Gunn the clarity and presence to maintain an inviting and conversational quality of voice through the park’s open air. The jaunty accompaniment slowed to highlight the more thoughtful and lonesome shift that came in expressing his lack of a Pappagena, before the recap ended the aria on a bright and chirpy note.

Next was “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schon,” sung by tenor Ben Bliss. This early romantic number saw Bliss delivering lovely, ornamented phrases while treating the repetitions with a rising forte that bolstered his passion with sufficient power; his expressions conveyed the sense of one taking in the new and exciting possibility of love.

Third of the “Magic Flute” numbers was the duet “Bei Mannern.” Performed by Gunn and soprano Ying Fang, this selection made for a lovely and gentle praise to fidelity, an impression made all the more potent by the gorgeous ornamentations that Fang displayed through the night.

All You Need Is Love

Ben Bliss’ selections were all based around love, exploring the myriad of circumstances it creates. From Massenet’s “Manon,” Bliss sang “En fermant les yeux,” reaching a breathtaking delicacy with the high A which comes in the middle of the closing phrase “Il y faut encore Manon.”

His performances of Lenski’s aria “Kuda, kuda, kuda vy Udalilis,” from Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegine,” took things in a more dire direction as he awaited what would become a fatal duel; his somber phrases escalated before Bliss sighed them away to close the opening stanza “Blessed be the day of worries,  blessed be darkness coming.” Just as the following lighter section began to brighten the mood, Lenski’s thoughts of Olga dyed Bliss’ phrases with a rueful, ardent beauty.

One of his later numbers was the duet “Caro Elisir! Sei Mio!… Esulti pur la Barbara,” from Donizetti’s “L’elisir d’Amore.” Bliss’ fun, earlier indifference took a more meaningful turn when Fang made her entrance, the accompaniment likewise becoming more sentimental. Their harmonies spoke of a deeper connection while they maintained their facades and exchanged sparring phrases. Their dual cadenza came to a soft and beautiful close, with Bliss and Fang sharply turning and walking away from the other, opting to brush off rather than bask in the romantic atmosphere.

A Libertine and Love

Among Nathan Gunn’s numbers was the duet “La ci darem la mano,” from “Don Giovanni,” using the tender recitative to set the mood as he envisioned before them his “little home.” Fang’s interpretation was that of a Zerlina trying to be faithful, allowing her conflicted heart to bring out the colors of her descending phrases before finally giving in.

Gunn’s rendition of “Largo al factotum della cita,” from “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” was both fun and frantic. His entrance saw him engaging with the audience as a group of friends, relishing in life’s little pleasures, and treating the phrases with an ornamented affection.

From Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel,” Gunn sang Billy Bigelow’s “Soliloquy,” the accompaniment opening with the main melodic theme from the song “You’re a Queer One, Julie Jordan.” Gunn wonderfully laid out the possibilities of having a son, until the idea of a daughter froze him in his tracks. While Gunn displayed appropriate tenderness in earlier numbers, here he opted for a firmer approach to the traditionally delicate lines “My little girl is half again as bright…” and “My little girl gets hungry every night…” He built to a tremendous close, with the accompaniment delivering a series of rising chords on the last of Gunn’s sustained repetitions “Or steal it… or take it…”

Soprano Ying Fang delighted with favorites that were not limited to just opera. Her first solo aria was “S’altro che lagrime,” from Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito,” having taken on the role of Servilia with the Met in this season’s production. Fang’s lofty and elevated vocal beauty served well in her delivery of the admonishing lyrics. She showed great control in alternating between evenly-balanced ornaments and sustained phrases, while maintaining a natural quality of sound.

After a traditional and lovely rendition of Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” from “Gianni Schicchi,” Fang took the audience from the evening’s cloudy gloom to the land of Oz with “Over the Rainbow.” The opening leap of an octave was gracefully handled. In either her loftier, operatic register, or her more delicate conversational one, Fang carried a purity of tone that was highly enchanting.

Brightening with Bernstein

Bringing the evening’s recital to a close were three songs from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story.”

The first, “Maria,” saw Bliss opening with an awed treatment of the verse; his passionately-building repetitions of her name built so a fervent romantic chorus, capping the song with a gossamer pianissimo.

Following this was “Something’s Coming,” sung by Gunn.  The quick, melodic dissonance of the accompaniment made a nice compliment to Gunn’s ability to handle pattering phrases that ended with a stretched sense of wondering. His final “Tonight,” was treated with a soft vocal height that was appropriate for Tony’s tenor-like fach.

Finally was the “Balcony Scene (Tonight)” sung by Bliss and Fang. Her verse was treated with an operatic quality that conveyed the emotional height she was wrapped in, which worked well with the running accompaniment in laying out the possibilities held in store. The song and recital were brought to a stunning conclusion with Bliss and Fang’s gorgeous final harmony.

In all, there was much to enjoy despite the recital lasting for a little over an hour.  Due to the evening’s rain, there was no intermission, and the omission of one duet, “Au fond du temple saint” from “The Pearl Fishers,” likely in the interest of time.

The Metroplitan Opera’s Summer Recital Series will continue on June 12 with this cast, and on June 13, with Joseph Lim, Mario Bahg, and Leah Hawkins.


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