Monday, November 12, 2012

Godiam, godiam: Richard Tucker Gala 2012

No small part of the Richard Tucker Gala's charm lies in its oddities and incongruities. An endearingly informal introduction embraces the audience as an almost timeless opera-going community, in a tone suited to a gathering of friends. The gala itself, filled with singers fortuitously present in New York City, presents a cornucopia of opera excerpts with no clear organizing principle, except perhaps the preferences of the singers. This year, honoree Ailyn Pérez thoroughly charmed an audience who seemed determined to express their rapture by applauding not only early and long, but also in the middle of scenes. Members of the Met orchestra played with noisy gusto for Patrick Summers, whose efforts at keeping orchestra and singers in sync were not always successful. Out of this cheerful chaos, Gentle Readers, I have distilled several lessons.

1. Bass-baritones are often boisterous, and never bland

Last night featured a veritable bounty of bass-baritones, performing together and separately. Bass-baritone showdown central came in the form of Attila and Ezio's duet, as performed by Ildar Abdrazakov and Quinn Kelsey. I'd never heard Kelsey live before, and was very impressed. His warm timbre contrasted nicely with Abdrazakov's darker sound, and both men sang with precision and charisma, keeping the tension of the duet up despite audience interruptions. Kelsey also provided a vivid account of "Nemico della patria," with solid, emotionally honest singing. Abdrazakov sang "La calunnia" with gleeful relish, impressive phrasing, and a finely-honed Evil Chuckle (he appears to have several in his repertoire.) Another essential of the bass-baritonal toolkit, a high-collared black leather coat of military cut, was brought by Erwin Schrott,who sidled and swaggered on with it to sing "Ave, Signor" as the eponymous antihero of Boito's Mefistofele. He did so with stylish singing and, if you'll pardon the adjective, devilish charm that were alike compelling. Schrott's "Rojotango" seemed equally stylish (I could picture him without difficulty in a film noir nightclub) but was, alas, less than perfectly audible from the third tier. Further charismatic singing was provided by Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who partnered Olga Borodina in a gripping "Zachem ty?" from The Tsar's Bride. The music was gorgeous and sung expressively enough that I was unsurprised to learn later that their roles were those of one of the Tsar's bodyguards and his neglected mistress. Hvorostovsky also gave the most ominous "O du mein holder Abendstern" I've ever heard. He sang with superb legato, and made the row of elderly ladies in front of me very happy; I was somewhat distracted by the suspense of wondering what would happen to his German syllables next. Clearly the evening suffered from no shortage of bass-baritone treats, but I felt that Gerald Finley was sadly underused. (I have been temporarily besotted with him since Thursday, though.) In a somewhat mismatched "Au fond du temple saint," he contributed genuine eroticism in sensitive and expressive phrasing. Oddly, this version of the duet left out the dramatic "Ta main repousse ma main!! ...Que rien ne nous separe!!!" sequence, and paired Finley with Marcello Giordani, whose verismo fervor seemed oddly overlaid on Bizet's dreamy exoticism. Ah well. Finley also sang a confident and chiseled "Sibilar l'angui d'Aletto"; if Argante's rage did not showcase Finley's capability for emotional nuance, it did convince me that I need more Handel in my life.

2. Italian tenors will be Italian tenors

Giuseppe Filianoti led the final ensemble of Contes d'Hoffmann with ardent and sweet-toned sound, as well as giving "Quando le sere al placido." At the outset of the unhappy hero's meditation, I was distracted by the extent to which Filianoti's pacing and even vocal coloring seemed to be modeled after Domingo's, but as he settled into the strophes, his own clear timbre seemed to emerge more decisively. Marcello Giordani, for his part, created a surprisingly effective "Recitar! ... Vesti la giubba" by indulging in all the cliches of verismo anguish with such sincerity that they worked.

3. Mezzos (and Monastyrska) are not to be messed with

Sunday night's mezzos unequivocally meant business. Tara Erraught tore through "Una voce poco fa" at a manic pace, with impressive coloratura if slightly wild intonation. Jamie Barton, another singer new to me, showed off her rich, dark-hued mezzo in "O mon Fernand" from Donizetti's La Favorite. I didn't catch all her French, but she sang with such emotional sincerity that I wanted to, as well as lovely phrasing (and she has impressive gravi as well.) Olga Borodina made a passionate Dalila: the veneer of helplessness applied to the text had no counterpart in her fearless singing. Still more formidable was the Lady Macbeth of Liudmyla Monastyrska, who sang "Nel di della vittoria... Vieni, t'affretta" as both come-on and battle cry. The visceral excitement of the audience at hearing a voice of that size wielded with such panache was expressed through vociferous applause.

4. Ailyn Pérez is adorable

The heroine of the hour, who donned a succession of sleek gowns over the course of the gala, chose to open with Manon's gavotte and scene, flirting ecstatically with the concert hall as well as the chorus. Her high note veered slightly out of control, but her singing was vibrant, with lovely tone and good dynamic control. (I wondered for a minute or two whether all the charm was not perhaps a shade too self-delighted, and then remembered: of course it is; she's Manon.) The later selections on the program showed Perez' voice in its lyric sweet spot, displaying more of the variety in vocal color which would seem to be one of the soprano's greatest expressive assets. Together with Stephen Costello, Perez gave a lovely account of the cherry duet from L'amico Fritz. Costello and Perez have good vocal chemistry together, and the luxurious romantic lines of the duet gave them both a chance to shine. In the second act finale from La Traviata (sniff!) this chemistry stood them in good stead, as they were faced with the necessity of creating a credible relationship between Violetta and Alfredo in a short time. This they did; both sang with ardor, and Perez with a warm, impulsive tenderness which made the lovers' doom seem less inevitable than usual. The assembled company responded to audience enthusiasm by going back in time and giving the brindisi, with Violetta exultantly in the center of things. Clichéd, no doubt; but it made a fitting enough close to an evening which posits itself as a microcosm of the atmosphere a rising singer might hope to enjoy, with a warmly if erratically enthusiastic audience, and colleagues both friendly and illustrious. Maybe the chaos is more or less inevitable. 


  1. We used to get this on TV. It sounds terrific.

  2. I sing with the New York Choral Society. It was taped for broadcast on "Live From Lincoln Center" on December 13th. Program notes are already up:

    1. Thanks for the information, as well as for the evening's performance!


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