Culture Magazine

Blogging Backlog: Einspringen at SummerStage

By Singingscholar @singingscholar
Almost an entire (calendar) season has elapsed since I attended the first in the Met's SummerStage series. I won't weary you, Gentle Readers, with a tale of my travails, but having moved and started a new job, inter alia, I've been fairly comprehensively busy. In retrospect, the evening's tranquility takes on something of the quality of an all-too-brief idyll. Several of the pieces, understandably, were drawn from operas due to be performed in the Met's upcoming season. Whether the others were chosen by singers or programmers, I was impressed by the judicious mixture of familiar crowd-pleasers and more unusual fare. This was true, I noted, for all the programs on offer in the series; I was delighted to hear the Cherry Duet and "Seien wir wieder gut." Although the singers were miked, this was better-handled and less distracting than in previous years. A quibble, for me, was the omission of any description of the music in the program. The glossy paper of the programs must be expensive, but I still think that two-line summaries of the selections' content and dramatic context and function would be helpful for the intended audience. I'm sure the Met has people on staff who could write them. I'd write them! On the evening, Mary Jo Heath presided, proving herself (excitingly) to be more than a disembodied voice, and the singers -- Susanna Phillips, Elizabeth DeShong, and Petr Nekoranec -- also glossed some of their offerings.
Susanna Phillips opened the recital with (inevitably?) "Summertime," which she gave wth generous tone and a welcome introspective dreaminess that did much to rescue it from cliché. She gave "Come scoglio," the signature aria of one of her signature roles, with its recit, by which I was pleased. The aria's challenging intervals hold no terrors for her. In Rusalka's "Song to the Moon," she took a very deliberate tempo, sustained phrasing beautifully, and displayed radiant high notes. Special mention should go to Dan Saunders for evoking Dvorak's score on the piano. Phillips participated in 4 duets with the other singers, beginning with Semiramide's stunning "Serbami ognor si fido... Alle più calde immagini" with DeShong. Dramatic escalation was, I thought, brilliantly handled by both singers, giving full play to the political and sexual tensions between the queen and Arsace. Phillips made "Tutto avrai da me" surprisingly, appropriately filthy. She deserves credit also for the warmth and professionalism she brought to duets with the evening's stand-in tenor, Petr Nekoranec. Together they gave the lovely Cherry Duet from L'amico Fritz, in which Phillips was tender and warm as Suzel. Both singers did beautiful dynamic shading, and charted the tensions between the lovers' timidity and desire. I always wish (unlike audience majorities everywhere, it seems) that the great final sequence of Bohème's first act could be given without the interruptions of applause, but Nekoranec and Phillips gave it with charm. They showed impressive commitment to evoking a garret with the aid of a single chair, and Phillips made "Mi piaccion quelle cose" almost unbearably poignant.
Elizabeth DeShong's first aria of the night, "Cruda sorte!" led me to scribble Are we experiencing a 'moment' for bel canto mezzos? in my program. Text and phrasing were alike impressive -- as was, indeed, her generosity in giving such a polished, engaged and engaging performance of a comparative rarity (at least from the perspective of many hearers, as I suppose.) "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" was delicious, credibly and appropriately seductive. Partnering Phillips in more Rossini, her Arsace was not only ardent, but richly characterized. Singing the ecstatic "Nacqui all'affano... Non più mesta," she was utterly charming, again creating vivid characterization, as well as singing with rich tone and great agility. DeShong's audacious "Il segreto per esser felice" made me wonder when we'll hear her Eboli. Hopefully soon. In "Sein wir wieder gut," I thought DeShong's German consonants could have been clearer, but it was vocally beautiful. The barcarolle from Les Contes d'Hoffman, with Phillips, was appropriately lush.
Petr Nekoranec, as a very late substitute for Stephen Costello, made me -- and those around me -- sit up and take notice. He has a lovely lyric tenor, dramatic flair, and abundant charm. He opened with "La donna è mobile" with unusually nuanced dynamic variation. Whether motivated by the aria or the singer, three people around me videoed it. His "Ah! mes amis" was given with an easy manner and easy, ringing Cs, his Tonio eager to please and assured of pleasing. During Nekoranec's meltingly beautiful "Je crois entendre encore," the long-married couple sitting in front of me moved toward each other by mutual consent. His breath control and his voix mixte were alike impressive, and it was an oft-neglected line (oft-neglected by me, at any rate), "Entrouvrir ses longs voiles," that made me catch my breath. I had a little bit of trouble following "Au mont Ida, trois déesses," but I know the aria scarcely at all; still, I applaud the giving of Offenbach on principle, and Nekoranec's shaping of phrases was lovely. Despite the heat of the evening, his Rodolfo was sung with apparently limitless reserves of enthusiasm. Moreover, all the singers most generously gave encores, crossing into popular territory. Nekoranec's "Granada" was unapologetically, joyously showy. I think I laughed outright, so irresistible was such brio. Nekoranec will be spending the next two years in the Met's young artists' program; look out for him.

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