Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Night in Red Hook: The Metropolitan Opera Summer Recital Series with Joyce El-Khoury and Keith Miller at Coffey Park

This evening we went back to Red Hook, to Coffey Park this time, for the last of the performances of the Metropolitan Opera's Summer Recital Series. We had the thrill of seeing the soprano Joyce El-Khoury and bass Keith Miller, a superbly talented pair of singers (who happen to be married) perform classic and modern works for an hour of pleasure in a leafy setting on a gorgeous evening.

With the versatile Vlad Iftinca at the piano and genial Damon Gupton as host, the recital featured some favorite arias and duets of Rossini, Donizetti, Puccini and Mozart in addition to some surprises. El-Khoury and Miller, the subject of a recent New York Times article noting his former career as a football player, were consistently excellent.

We enjoyed last year's single Met extravaganza in Prospect Park, so we were happy to have the Met back in a Brooklyn park. This was the third of three scheduled appearances by El-Khoury and Miller, but two Fridays ago, bad weather put the kibosh on the one in East River Park. Last week they were on Staten Island, in pretty Tappen Park, which we recall from our time as a grad student 35 years ago at Richmond College (now the College of Staten Island).

Since our cell phone pics are so crappy, we thank Thomas Good of the blog Next Left Notes (a great source for intelligent community news and commentary about the peace movement and other left-related causes from a Staten Island perspective; it's now on our RSS feed) for giving permission to reprint these close-ups of the principals from last week's Tappen Park recital. You can see the full set here.

Due to a work-related phone call, we left Dumbo HQ in Williamsburg later than we expected, and although the fabulous G train and B77 bus got us close to Coffey Park - a very pretty oasis named for a Brooklyn legislator - we missed getting a program, arriving just as the first duet was being announced.

We're pretty sure it was from The Marriage of Figaro, though. The park was really beautiful, and it was not as hot and humid as Tuesday at Red Hook Park for Lisa Lisa.

Lots of people - a very middle-class crowd, by the looks of it - had blankets, and we saw whole families or groups of friends having a picnic on the grass, as we used to for the Met summer concert in Marine Park when our friends would bring goodies from Zabar's.

As Keith was singing the wonderful Non piú andrai aria from Figaro, we found a patch of grass under a huge, thick and leafy tree to the right side of the stage. (Later we and the dog next to us barely missed being bopped by an acorn dropped from way up in a branch, apparently by a squirrel.)

Without a program, we had to scribble from Damon's introductions what was being sung. Above, Joyce is Marguerite in Gounod's Faust, performing the Jewel Song, when she is captivated by how the jewels she's trying on enhance her beauty(Ah! je ris de me voir si belle en ce miroir). Some of us know the beginning words from the Tintin comics where the bombastic soprano character Bianca Castafiore is always bursting into it, singing at a high volume.

There was pretty stiff competition for the opera singers coming from the crescendo of cicadas that seemed all around us. We just tuned them out and pretended they were percussionist accompanying Vlad Iftinca's piano. From where we were sitting, we had great view of the stage and the beautiful Gothic tower of the Roman Catholic Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (Hey, tomorrow is her Assumption!)

The voices of both performers were gorgeous to us, though we cannot talk about their singing with any kind of authority, though we think Keith effectively sang Basilio's scheming La calunnia è un venticello aria from The Barber of Seville in a tone lower than the original D major. "Woo! Yeah!" we heard people cry during the applause.

After Joyce sweetly sang the famous aria of filial love from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi - we teach Dante's Inferno every spring, and if you blink you miss the story's source in Canto XXX - Lauretta's O mio babbino caro, Keith joined her onstage for the duet between Adina and the roguish quack Dulcamara from Donizetti's The Elixir of Love. The acting here was magnificent.

Unfortunately, the companion sitting to our left spotted a large black dog during the duet and felt the need to bark until his mistress got him to quiet down.

Then we had two great solos from Broadway musicals that made us tear up a bit because they were sung with such deep feeling. Joyce was Lily's ghost in The Secret Garden, singing "How Could I Ever Know?" to Archibald, her bereft widower. And though it's impossible to listen to "Old Man River" from Show Boat without hearing Paul Robeson's incomparable version in our head, Keith did a wonderful job at conveying the weary dignity.

After sustained applause and cheers and bows, Keith Miller and Joyce El-Khoury came out for an encore, the delicious duet "I Remember It Well," from Gigi, which we can recall vivid as life seeing on the huge screen at a Manhattan movie palace (The Roxy?) when we were only seven. And no, we didn't get the courtesan part, but it hardly mattered.

Again, we couldn't help thinking about Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold (both of whom we were lucky enough to see, on separate occasions, in real life) - as well as of a first date (Midwood Theater, Chloe in the Afternoon, November 1972) with a friend who used to tutor on Saturdays right here in Red Hook. Ah yes, we think that's right.

After another round of applause, the audience started to disperse. We walked over to the City Parks Foundation booth on the other side of the stage to see if we could score a program. No luck, but we did get to see the stars of the evening talking to their fans and signing autographs.

It was a joyful evening. Thanks, Metropolitan Opera. Thanks again, City Parks Foundation.

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