The Tucker Gala blasts it out

Only excerpts allowed!

The Tucker Gala again brought a lineup of the Met’s current roster (plus some extras) to Avery Fischer Hall on Sunday in support of grants for young artists as well as in support of having a big party where everyone sings arias really loud. The choices can be unusual.

One moment I am introduced to the wonderful mezzo Jamie Barton, who I had never heard before and found stunning. Then the next moment Dmitri Hvorostovsky is singing Wagner in a sequined tuxedo, and I do not think that he should do either of these things (sing Wagner or wear a sequined tuxedo) outside a gala (or, possibly, anywhere), but it’s still somehow enjoyable. While I found this year’s group less exciting than last year’s, Bryn Terfel and his pockets full of beer bottles can’t always be in town at the right time. This year’s program had the advantage of a large number of singers who I had never heard before, and some of them were really great!

You can watch an edited version of this gala on PBS on December 13 (they might have a hard time dealing with the clap-happy audience). Here’s the rundown.

Galas are full of gimmicks and, in my opinion, best described using them. This one began with a recording of namesake Richard Tucker singing “Che gelida manina.” So for each performance I ask: if Richard Tucker’s disembodied voice is the soundtrack of the opening, what cinematic, TV, or similar habitat would the following live performances best inhabit? This may be particularly apt if you believe that Hollywood is killing opera.

Ailyn Pérez, soprano (Tucker Prize Winner)
Massenet, Cour-la-Reine Scene from Manon
Pérez has a gorgeous light lyric soprano voice that really blossoms at the top, and a winningly charismatic stage presence. Manon is a perfect role for her. In the opening, however, the coloratura tended to show off her control for the sake of showing that she had it, rather than be used for musical-expressive purposes, and the effect was somewhat artificial. Arguably, though, a “willful” approach is appropriate to the character, which is why Manon is hella annoying, and that’s not Ailyn’s fault.
Soundtrack for: Confessions of a Shopaholic 2, in which the protagonist goes to Paris
Gerald Finley, baritone
“Sibilar gli angui d’Aletto” from Rinaldo
A peculiar choice, though I guess Finley doesn’t get frequent chances to show off his coloratura skills, which are indeed outstanding. It’s a very festive and ceremonial-sounding aria (due to the trumpets), which was nice, but I wish he had made some expressive contrast in the B section? Perhaps that is too much to ask in this rather Handel-hostile atmosphere.
Soundtrack for: A montage of overly elaborate wedding preparations in a romantic comedy
Tara Erraught, mezzo
“Una voce poco fa” from Il barbiere di Siviglia
I have enjoyed a number of Erraught’s performances as a member of the Bayerische Staatsoper’s ensemble and it was a pleasure to hear her get a chance to shine here. She got off to a fluttery start but ripped through the coloratura with dexterity and her lyric mezzo really opened up towards the end. She is also very animated and entertaining for a concert performance.
Soundtrack: Baby tigers frolicking in a nature show
Erwin Schrott, bass-baritone
Boito, “Ave Signor” from Mefistofele
I swear the Schrott-ster was wearing the same long leather coat he did as the Devil in Vienna’s disastrous Faust. Unfortunately he did not bring the ukulele this time, and was wearing a shirt. He has sufficient personality and charm to compensate for a certain lack of musical and linguistic specificity, but his voice was maybe not ideally large for this selection.
Soundtrack: something out of the Scary Movie franchise
Jamie Barton, mezzo
Donizetti, “O mon Fernand” from La favorite
Barton has a giant, freely produced mezzo with lots of chest voice drama in the lower reaches, and this was really excitingly sung. She has a good sense of musical timing, varied her big tone’s color nicely, and sounds great up high too. Can she sing Eboli like, really soon?
Soundtrack: Something major happening to a minor character in a Paul Thomas Anderson movie
Giuseppe Filianoti, tenor
Verdi, “Quando le sera al placido” from Luisa Miller
Filianoti is a very expressive and idiomatic singer with a lovely plummy sound in some places but there’s a ripe and wobbly quality in much of it that says all is not, in fact, placido. It’s unfortunate, because there is so much nice stuff there too, and he is very sincere and direct. The top seems most problematic.
Soundtrack: A pastoral scene in a movie about ancient Romans.
Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone
Wagner, “O du, mein holder Abendstern” from Tannhäuser
Wha???? Yes, Hvorostovsky, Russian Italianate baritone par excellence, sang Wagner. It wasn’t bad, exactly, and this is a number that demands his silky legato approach, but the vowels were peculiar, and the entire effect rather disconcerting. While this is a  contemplative number, something about it here came off heavy and threatening, particularly in the huffing and puffing in the last few minutes. That evening star is coming to get you!
Soundtrack: A montage of war damage on Downton Abbey
Quinn Kelsey, baritone and Ildar Abdrazakov, bass-baritone
Verdi, “Tardo per gli anni e tremolo” from Attila
Two big low voices! Both are fine voices but I can’t say I think this duet is very interesting. Let’s talk about them later, separately.
Soundtrack: The scene from the really questionable grand opera in Phantom of the Opera, given a musical upgrade
Olga Borodina, mezzo
Saint-Saëns, “Ma coeur s’ouvre à ta voix” from Samson et Dalla
Olga Borodina still has the lushest, richest mezzo in the business, and this was absolutely fantastic. The high note at the end wasn’t a keeper, however.
Soundtrack: A sex scene in a French art film
Marcello Giordani, tenor
Leoncavallo, “Vesti la giubba” from Pagliacci
Of course. The meatball count was lower than last year, but someone had to do it, and the responsibility fell to the extremely Italian Giordani, whose hand gestures would give away his ethnicity if his voice had not already. This was on the whole stronger than his Friday night Calàf, but this voice sounds worn out, and the sobs were over the top.
Soundtrack: The Godfather, Part IV
Filianoti, Erraught, Barton, Abdrazakhov, and co.
Offenbach (NOT REALLY), Septet from Les Contes d’Hoffmann
It’s a big dramatic piece, but it’s kind of over-the-top and not by Offenbach! Arguably it sounds less ridiculous out of context than it does smushed into Hoffmann, though. But short for this purpose. Why not the infinitely better Antonia ensemble?
Soundtrack: A dramatic rescue scene in a superhero movie
Erwin Schrott
Ziegler, “Rojo Tango”
Who did Schrott sleep with to get two solo numbers? …. Oh. Right. It’s a great idea, but this would have been more fun had he been more audible and had the words not been entirely unknown to me. Also he matched Hvorostovsky in the sequined tux department.
Soundtrack: A chase sequence in a James Bond movie
Ailyn Perez and Stephen Costello, tenor
Mascagni, “Suzel, buon di” from L’amico Fritz
Costello has a reedy timbre that while pleasant enough fails to open up on the top notes like his wife Perez’s does (she, on the other hand, doesn’t sound like she has a middle voice is strong enough to sing this kind of thing full time). But for the purposes of this excerpt it was all perfectly lovely, and they probably wouldn’t have sounded lightweight in non-Tucker company–this gala, like most Tuckers, tended towards big and meaty voices.
Soundtrack: Before Noontime, which takes place in Florence. Julie Delpy doesn’t fly out until 18:00, but she’s on Ryanair and has to get to Pisa.
Ildar Abdrazakov, bass-baritone
Rossini, “La calunnia” from Il barbiere di Siviglia
Abdrazakov has an agreeably deep timbre and admirably precise and tasteful musicianship, but he failed to project in the patter sections. Nonetheless, a nice selection.
Soundtrack: The clock is running out on Top Chef!
Quinn Kelsey, baritone
Giordano, “Nemico della patria,” from Andrea Chénier
To be honest by this point in the program I was beginning to check out; it was a long succession of numbers without any break at all. Kelsey has an impressive voice, though, very big and secure.
Soundtrack: ? You say in the comments. Sorry.
Liudmyla Monastyrska, soprano
Verdi, “Vieni, t’affretta” from Macbeth
And then I woke up! Monastyrska cutely brought a crumpled piece of paper to read in the letter opening to this aria, and then launched into the singing with a giant, metallic, very Slavic soprano. While not all the coloratura was the model of exactitude, her voice is big and impressive from top to bottom and this was genuinely thrilling singing. Her upcoming Aida at the Met should be something to hear.
Soundtrack: A serial killer is sharpening his knives in a Korean horror movie
New York Chorale Society
Verdi, “Va, pensiero” from Nabucco
“So we hired this chorus, what should we have them sing?”
“Va, pensiero, what else?”
“But didn’t they sing that last year?”
“No, you just think they did, because you can’t imagine them singing anything else. According to what you wrote, they didn’t get their own number last year. Unless you just left it out.”
“OK, whatever. Shouldn’t this gala have an intermission?”
Soundtrack: A video of last year’s Tucker Gala, which apparently didn’t involve “Va, pensiero,” but might as well have
Borodina and Hvorostovsky
Rimsky-Korsakov, “Zachem ty?” from The Tsar’s Bride
This is a gorgeous, gorgeous duet and they are the perfect people to sing it, and their voices match wonderfully. They tried to make this dramatic, which would probably be more effective for me if I understood a word of the text (the gala still doesn’t provide translations), but it seemed urgent and impassioned and all that. And also the vocal equivalent of shag carpet.
Sountrack: Due to the extreme quantities of Russian-ness involved we have to stick with a national theme here. Let’s say a BBC mini-series with too many Princes whose plot may or may not owe something to 100 pages of War and Peace. 

Giordani and Finley

Bizet, The Duet (you know the one), Pearl Fishers
This was supposed to be the duet from Otello,
but it was changed. I’m not sure if this was a good thing or not, but
I’m sure that Costello or Filianoti could have pulled off this
high tenor part better than Giordani, who sounded strained. I fear
for Les Troyens.
Soundtrack: Ironically pretty music used in a gritty noir  

A moment for the conductor, Patrick Summers, and the orchestra (“Members of the Met Orchestra”)
were some embarrassing issues with wind solos, but no outright
catastrophes. I’m sure they didn’t rehearse this much. Tempos seemed

Like, everyone with Perez as Violetta, Costello as Alfredo, Kelsey as Gérmont, and co.
Verdi, Act II finale from Traviata
This started at Alfredo bursting in on Violetta, which is a tense place to begin but Costello and Perez made it startlingly vivid. She shows signs of being a really great Violetta, and this was her most compelling singing of the evening, with a rare level of dramatic life and connection between music and character. She might be great in the Met’s production should spring’s Violetta, Diana Damrau, be excessively postpartum, no?
Soundtrack: Too dramatic and narrative to be the background of anything. 

Encore: Brindisi from Traviata

The Tucker Gala shows no fear in embracing the predictable. I must admit I was sad that there were no surprise guests, though.

Parting Questions:

  • Were the women all asked to wear black or white gowns? Only Pérez wore a color (and Erraught a very dark muted green). Dull, particularly when some of the men were so out there, fashion-wise.
  • Who is now dying to hear Monastryska as Aida? (I AM.)
  • Did they ask a surprise guest who then didn’t show up on them?
  • Did the winds rehearse at all?
  • Is there a rule about how much of the repertoire has to be Verdi or verismo?
  • What is Tara Erraught doing in NYC? (“Visiting her auntie” would not be the most interesting answer, even if it’s true.)
  • Which parts will make the PBS broadcast? (Hopefully not Pearl Fishers.)
  • Wouldn’t it have been awesome if PBS host Audra McDonald had sung? (She did not. She and Finley could have done Doctor Atomic! That would not have been very Tucker-like, though.)
  • Why didn’t Olga Borodina sing “I Am Easily Assimilated,” as I had helpfully recommended? (Alas. The Dalila was very appreciated, however.)

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  1. Why didn't Olga Borodina sing "I Am Easily Assimilated," as I had helpfully recommended?
    …and the soundtrack would've been from "Star Trek First Contact"?

    Nice review. OMG you write well!