Richard Tucker Gala: The stars are loud

Some of the stars came out for the Richard Tucker Foundation’s annual gala at Avery Fisher Hall on Sunday night. With a program dominated by 19th-century Italian meatballs (despite a complete absence of actual Italians onstage), there was much drinking, cursing, praying, pleading to Mama, and other traditional operatic activities as sung by loud voices such as Dolora Zajick, Stephanie Blythe, Bryn Terfel and Jonas Kaufmann. The recipient of this year’s award was Angela Meade, who also sang, but in my following write-up, everyone gets a prize.

Marcello Giordani and Marina Poplavskaya canceled; René Pape disappeared off the program sometime last week. (This is all normal operating procedure for this gala.) Angela Gheorghiu was rumored to be materializing to sing Carmen mit dem Jonas, but her name was not mentioned once and La Scala Carmen Anita Rachvelishvili turned up to do it instead–meaning that instead of Don José-ing his Adriana of Tuesday’s Adriana Lecouvreur, Kaufmann Don José-ed his Principessa instead. Also the chorus was not the Met chorus but rather the New York Choral Society and they sounded excellent.

Saint-Saens, Bacchanale from Samson et Delila
Emmanuel Villaume was conducting and did a fine, unobtrusive job (well, there were some strange tempos later on but I don’t know if that was him or the singers). The orchestra was “members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.” This was a sassy and zippy choice for an opener, I approve. I quickly realized that from my third-tier seat I could hear the strings barely at all, but considering the notoriously awful acoustics of Avery Fisher I’m not going to blame Villaume for this. Luckily the voices later on came through loud and clear. It helped that this was one loud bunch of singers.
Verdict: Most Brassy

Angela Meade:
Verdi, “Santo di patria” from Attila
I heard Angela Meade’s Met debut in Ernani back in 2008 and I was astonished at how much she’s grown (back then I was tipped off by a friend who went to high school with her, but she’s a secret no longer). She still has a big, clear, easy tone and agile coloratura but now sings with thrust and incisiveness, and a sense of pace that I didn’t remember at all from her before. Only a final high note came out a little shrill. This was exciting, gutsy stuff. Brava.
Verdict: Most Thrilling

Zeljko Lucic:
Verdi, “Eri tu” from Un ballo in maschera
Lucic has a lovely warm tone but not a lot of power at the top. The first half of this aria came out as barked, but the second half showed he can sing a good legato when he puts his mind to it. The bit with the cello at the start was shaky in the orchestra.
Verdict: Most Blah (sorry Zeljko)

Bryn Terfel:
Donizetti, “Udite, udite, o rustici” from L’elisir d’amore
The evening’s comedy act came from our current Wotan. To serve as his elixir, Terfel kept pulling bottles of beer from his jacket, including a Guinness, a Brooklyn Lager, and what I believe was a Sam Adams. That plus a lot of other gags made this more about the entertainment than the singing, but who cares to hear an amazingly sung Dulcamara anyway? Also, he seemed to chug the whole Brooklyn Lager at the end, showing fine taste in beer if not in consumption habits.
Verdict: Most Fun

Jonas Kaufmann:
Mascagni, “Mamma, quel vino è generoso” from Cavalleria rusticana
The programming sequence was unfortunate here; this was Very Serious Stuff after we’d just had lots of hijinks. But there was a real emotional intensity and trajectory to this that drew me in quickly enough. At times the phrasing was micromanaged but done so cannily that I almost didn’t notice. Also his fortes are really formidable and there were excellent pianos too. Powerful!
Verdict: Most Serious, possibly also Most Demented (Good Division)

Stephanie Blythe:
Thomas, “Connais-tu le pays” from Mignon
Everyone knows Stephanie Blythe can sing loudly but I at least forget that she can sing really prettily too. This had a gorgeous simplicity and floated quality that opened up naturally on the high notes. Very very nice!
Verdict: Most Enchanting

Dolora Zajick:
Chaikovsky, “Tsar vishnikh sil” from The Maid of Orleans
I was coming at this with a disadvantage because I don’t know the opera so I might have missed a lot, but I found it sung with conviction but rather unvariably. She’s monumental, but she’s kind of monochromatic.
Verdict: Most Resembling a Tank

Yonghoon Lee:
Massenet, “O Souverain, ô juge, ô père” from Le Cid
Lee has such a beautiful instrument but he shows even less musical variety than Zajick. Pretty much his only mode is a squillo-infused bellow, which is exciting but I never got the feeling he was taking me on a journey, and I DO know this aria. The tempo was on the (very) slow side.
Verdict: Most Squillo

Meade, Zajick, and Frank Porretta:
Bellini, Finale of Act I of Norma
Meade was again exciting, Zajick contributed some great chest voice (which is not quite what one listens to Bellini for but no mind) and I didn’t notice Porretta too much.
Verdict: Best Parterre Comment Thread Bait

(The squillo in this concert seemed unhappily apportioned. If Lee could give a little of his to Frank Porretta, they’d both be better off.)

Kaufmann and Terfel:
Verdi, “Dio che nell’alma infondere” from Don Carlo
Has Terfel ever sung this role onstage? I don’t think he has. Kaufmann looked more comfortable with it, to no surprise (or maybe it was the beer). But they blend surprisingly well and both have such hefty, heroic sounds that it sounded most unusually Wagnerian.
Verdict: Most Beneficial to Flanders

Maria Guleghina:
Puccini, Vissi d’arte from Tosca
Like everyone else said when they saw her in Nabucco (sorry, the early Verdi, I can’t do it), very loud vocal train wreck Maria Guleghina sounds surprisingly good right now! Her vibrato is still far wider than Broadway but she sounded amazingly in control, and sang a legit piano at the end. But she must have been miffed at only getting to sing one aria, because she sang it at a tempo where it could have been two.
Verdict: Slowest, also Most Demented (Probably Bad? Division)

Zajick and Lee:
Mascagni, “Tu qui, Santuzza?” from Cavalleria rusticana
Lee’s Turiddu is seemingly less conflicted than Kaufmann’s. Nevertheless, Zajick went for it with an enthusiasm to make up for the lack of staging, and Lee sounded quite impassioned before kind of running out of steam at the end. To be fair, if I had gotten cursed like that I’d probably crumple too.
Verdict: Loudest

Anita Rachvelishvili and Kaufmann:
Bizet, Act IV Duet from Carmen
This was my first time hearing Anita R., whose difficult last name was horribly mangled by Barry Tucker in his introduction. She’s got an even, sexy mezzo soprano that was very effective, though it seemed this time like Don José gets the more interesting singing in this scene. Or maybe that was just because Kaufmann was kind of totally fabulous in this, which he was. They tried to semi-stage it and, well, points for effort. I couldn’t see all of it from my seat location so I won’t comment further.
Verdict: Program Choice Most Unsuited to Concert Presentation

Terfel, Meade, and Blythe with additional help, Verdi, Fugue and Finale from Falstaff
This is a good way to end such a concert! It was quite well-balanced for a minimally rehearsed effort. but that’s partly because it’s composed so cleverly.
Verdict: Most Contrapuntal (sorry, I know that’s weak)

See you from Adriana on Tuesday. Hopefully our favorite current Romanian diva will show, if she doesn’t we’ll probably get Guleghina, which I’m dreading only slightly less now than I was earlier.

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