Arias Alfresco, Siren Accompaniment
New York City Opera, Bryant Park

New York Times
August 16, 2007

by Vivien Schweitzer


"You tend to forget how good opera is until you actually hear it," Tony Zertuche, a 36-year-old playwright, said Tuesday afternoon. He was waiting in a long line in Bryant Park to buy $25 tickets to coming New York City Opera productions, which were being sold after the company's Afternoon Arias lunchtime concert in the park.

Since the fall of 2005 City Opera's Opera for All plan has offered $25 tickets to some performances at the start of the season. For 2007-8 the company will sell at least 50 $25 tickets for orchestra seats for every performance of the season.

It's people like Mr. Zertuche (who said he liked opera but had never seen a live production) that City Opera hopes to woo. Also waiting to buy tickets on Tuesday was Tae Kim, 25, a student who was new to opera. Another customer was Alex Colby, 37, who said he had a subscription to the Metropolitan Opera last year but had never been to City Opera. He said he was curious to compare the companies' productions of "La Bohème."

An excerpt from that opera was included on Tuesday's program at Bryant Park, featuring the soprano Inna Dukach as Mimì, a role she will sing with City Opera next month. The other four able artists, accompanied by Gerald Steichen on piano, were Michael Chioldi, a baritone; Jennifer Tiller, a mezzo-soprano; Christopher Jackson, a tenor; and Malia Merad, a soprano. Their singing was interspersed with upbeat marketing pitches by Cori Ellison, dramaturge for City Opera, and Midge Woolsey, a program host on WQXR, the classical music radio station owned by The New York Times Company.

Most outdoor concerts are acoustically problematic, and Bryant Park is particularly noisy. It was difficult to discern more than an outline of each amplified aria amid the sirens, chatter and construction noise.

Still, Ms. Dukach and Ms. Merad both sounded lovely in their arias: "Donde lieta uscì" from Puccini's "Bohème" and "Glitter and Be Gay" from Bernstein's "Candide." Ms. Tiller sang an excerpt from Barber's "Vanessa" well. The program also included Mr. Chioldi singing the Prologue of Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci" and Mr. Jackson in an excerpt from Lehar's "Das Land des Lachelns."

To judge by the line to buy tickets after the performance, many listeners who had sprawled out under the broiling midday sun had enjoyed themselves.