Simply everyone chimes in today about Monday night’s Met in the Parks recital at Central Park SummerStage.  JJ has one take, Anthony Tommasini quite another, and for depth of detail, you need look no further than Our Own Sanford

What does it mean when the purported star of the show is out sung by the two newcomers? It means that I was at Central Park SummerStage for the first of the Met’s summer parks concerts.
The singers for the evening were Paulo Szot, Lisette Oropesa and Alek Shrader. I have some quibbles with programming choices. For instance, “Finch’han  dal vino” seems like a piece of fluff for a recital concert. It’s an extremely difficult aria to bring off well, and unfortunately, Mr Szot didn’t. Rhythmic values were fudged throughout.

This was followed by “La ci darem la mano,” joined by Lisette Oropesa. From the moment she started singing, I knew the evening would be redeemed. Ms. Oropesa got off to a wonderful start; I don’t believe the duet is worth excerpting for a setting such as this, but it didn’t help that Mr. Szot didn’t rise to the occasion.
The first star turn of the evening came with Alek Shrader singing “Il mio tesoro” — beautifully, with accurate coloratura and ardent characterization.
Ms. Oropesa returned for “Ach, ich liebte”, from Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail. She’ll be singing Konstanze with Welsh National Opera and she proved tonight that she has it in her voice. Her voice is lovely, and even throughout its range, and proved herself equal to the technical demands of the aria. Her high notes rang out without sounded forced.

Mr. Szot returned to sing “Deh,vieni alla finestra”. He achieved some lovely effects, particularly in the second verse, but he his vowels, to me, sounded too dark and covered, when they needed to be a bit brighter.
Ms. Oropesa and Mr. Shrader returned to sing “Tornami a dir” from Don Pasquale. It seemed to be the perfect music for this lovely evening in the park. It wafts as gently as the breezes. Ms. Oropesa was lovely, her singing well controlled and her trills distinct. Mr Shrader, on the other hand, attempted to sing the entire duet in pure head voice. The balance of the duet was lost because his head voice is the least interesting thing about him. It sounded undersupported and his rather fast and attractive vibrato, so evident in mezzo forte and forte singing, disappeared, leaving him with a nearly straight tone throughout the duet.
Mr. Szot then sang “Come Paride vezzoso”, from L’Elisir. This was better.
“Caro nome” is one of those pieces most opera buffs could hum in their sleep. I never get tired of hearing it, but I was unsure about tonight. An announcement was made before the concert started that rather than sing “The Doll Song” from Hoffmann, she’d be substituting “Quando men vo”. Speculation was that her high notes might have been a little off this evening, but as she did with the Mozart, she proved again that her voice was solidly in place. She is quite young herself, so she was believable as Gilda. The voice is as lyrical as you could want, but her coloratura and acuti were spot on. And the high notes were gorgeous.
Mr. Shrader than sang “Cessa di  piu resistere”, Almaviva’s final aria from Barbiere.  All the coloratura was solidly sung. His voice is evenly produced from bottom to top. He also cuts a rather handsome figure on stage. I described him last night as looking as if he stepped out of a Tommy Hilfiger ad or should be rowing crew somewhere. One thing I noticed though, is that he seems to sing with a lot of tension in his jaw; his teeth appeared clenched through much of the singing.
The first half closed with another throwaway piece of fluff, “Zitti, zitti, piano, piano”  from Barbiere.  Surely there are better trios to show off soprano, tenor, and baritone. It was pleasant but unmemorable.
Following the intermission, Mr. Szot sang “Votre toast” from Carmen, and proved once again that he’s an unmemorable and adequate operatic baritone, but could have quite a career on Broadway.
Mr. Shrader than sang what has become his calling card, “Ah! mes amis”, from Fille du Regiment. Glorious singing. His high c’s rang out and the rest of the aria was charmingly sung. Ms. Oropesa next sang the “Quando men vo”.  She was adorable, and sang it beautifully.
Next was one of the moments I was most looking forward to, because I was curious what would happen when Mr. Szot had so sing opposite Mr. Shrader in “Au fond du temple saint”, from Bizet’s Pearl Fishers . I thought that Paulo sang this better than anything up to that point, and the Alek had gained a measure of control over his softer singing. They blended rather well together.
The rest of the program was show tunes.  Lisette sang a terrific “I could have danced all night”, Mr. Shrader gave us a beautiful “Maria”, including perfectly judged head voice (finally), and Mr. Szot sang “Some Enchanted Evening” and “If Ever I Would Leave You”. He sounded much more at ease in the show tunes.

I so have some quibbles. One, he takes breaths in odd places. For instance, during the final phrase of “Some Enchanted Evening”, he sang “never let her [breath] go”, which destroyed the line and the effect it could have made. And his vowels are so covered that on the occasion when he would allow them to brighten, there was a noticeable difference. His operatic voice might make more of an impression if he allowed that to happen more often.
We had encores, too. Mr. Shrader sang a Neapolitan song quite charmingly and Ms Oropesa sang a lovely and fiery Spanish song, but since neither piece was announced, I can’t tell you what pieces they were. [La Cieca’s note: the songs were “La danza” and “Zarzuela.”] Mr Szot sang “Besame Mucho”. He’s gorgeous, but for someone trained as a dancer, I don’t think he moves well.
Mr. Oropesa has the makings to be a star. She has a wonderful lyric instrument, but can also sing coloratura (she is currently singing Lucia in New Jersey), and she’s lovely on stage.

Mr. Shrader is an exciting tenor, who can obviously handle Bel Canto and French coloratura tenor roles, so it will be interesting to see what direction he takes.

Mr. Szot is still hot.  — Sanford