If I have learned an essential truth about life in New York, it is this: the Big Apple is one expensive city. And as cocktail parties and cultural events abound during summer time, every cash-strapped student faces an eternal dilemma. When then, however, one of the city’s most renowned cultural institutions offers concerts and artistic performances for free, it is rather self-evident that there will hardly be a better alternative to spend one’s weekend.
Those who have made their way to the Damrosch Park Bandshell on 62nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue last Friday night would definitely second that. In this space, Lincoln Center has created an outdoor venue that holds 3,000 people and that proves to be highly appropriate for the Center’s mission to go out of doors, beyond the conventional to provide high-class music, poetry and dance for every taste.
Had there been an overall theme of the performances presented by Lincoln Center Out of Doors last Friday night, it would have been love””love for art as a means of expression, love for choreography and dance, love for poetry and music, love for the beauty of the moment. Accompanied by the evening sunset, Cleo Parker Robinson and her Dance Ensemble took over the stage and thrilled the audience with diverse choreographies in which African-American tradition revives in modern dance moves and ballet figures. Tellingly, the first piece performed was called fusion and marked the wonderful beginning of a night full of energy and rhythm.
A colorful spectacle for the eyes was followed by an equally fantastic treat for the ears when Valerie Simpson and her friends from the Sugar Bar paid a musical tribute to her beloved partner in music and life, Nick Ashford who died last year. Yet, the performance was all but melancholic and with her powerful voice, the soul singer set the audience in motion until even the most introvert spectators could not help but shake their heads to the beat. Various artists joined in to the groove on the stage, creating a multi-layered, cool fusion of voices. And as Valerie was performing her classic “Solid as a Rock”, the audience did no longer stay like that, solid as a rock, but simply had to get up on their feet and sing along. When the show ended after three hours, the air was still filled with good vibrations and not a single person left without a smile on their face.
Tosca – composed by Puccini, staged by New York Grand Opera
If the heart and soul of New York resides in art and culture, the city’s green lung lies without doubt in Central Park. It is the very place of recreation in which stressed New Yorkers take time out from their fast-paced lifestyle to breathe and enjoy a moment of peaceful nature while the bustling city always remains within reach. Yet, when a niche of this green oasis turns into the stage for dramatic art at its finest, countless joggers and strollers interrupt their walks and pause for more than just an instant””for another spectacular mise-en-scÃ¨ne of the New York Grand Opera company is about to take place.
The love of art seems to permeate every corner of the city and it is thus little surprise that theatre and opera have found their way into New York’s great natural landmark. As a city of art, extravagance and innovation, the city’s three characteristic cornerstones have been unified in a most brilliant concept: opera in Central Park. It turns out that a mild summer night and a highly dramatic opera make an ideal combination and those who have come to the Naumberg Bandshell in mid-park at the level of 72nd Street soon realize that New York Grand Opera delivers what its name promises.
The idea of the company to make opera accessible to a wide public has been most successful for almost forty years and embraced by more than three million people who have all been captivated by the highly impressive, fully staged performances. The scenic design of the stage setting and the atmospheric light arrangement within the half-dome of the bandshell also add greatly to the charme of the spectacle and it hardly needs mentioning that both cast and orchestra prove to be equally powerful and professional. As complex and intricate as the story of the performed operas may be, the overall impression is all the more unequivocal: the grand masterpieces which the New York Grand Opera puts on every summer are simply umissable!
For all those who would like to experience this perfectly staged ‘natural’ spectacle, New York Grand Opera performs Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” at 7:30 pm on July 18 at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park; (212) 245-8837. FREE.