We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Friday, February 6, 2015


Matthew Polenzani (photo credit -Dario Acosta)

Perhaps there is no tenor in his generation who can fill the Metropolitan Opera with so much beautiful sound.  Nonetheless it is a special thrill to experience his artistry in a smaller house.  It is over a year since we heard his recital at the Morgan Library as part of the George London Foundation recital series--a return which celebrated his 1998 award.  And this week we had the pleasure of hearing him once again, this time at Alice Tully Hall as part of the Lincoln Center Great Performers series  "The Art of the Song".

And Art it is with a capital A!  Mr. Polenzani's generous Italianate tone is replete with resonance and his diction, thankfully, makes every word count--even in French which seems to be the downfall of most American singers.  Still, the house lights were kept at a level that permitted those who do not understand foreign languages to read the translations.

The sound is huge and operatic when passionate intensity is called for-- but our preference was for the tender passages in which he mined great depth of feeling at even the most pianissimo level of dynamics.

Accompanied by the fine pianist Julius Drake, he opened the program with Beethoven's youthful masterpiece "Adelaide", in which he achieved variety in the many repeated phrases.

His set of five songs by Liszt included "Die stille Wasserrose" which we had hoped to hear him sing again, having enjoyed it so much at the George London recital.  It's just one of those memorable moments that linger and bear revisiting. To hear what he did with the word "vergehn" was to be thrilled to the very toes.  As a matter of fact, there were several instances where a single word achieved great importance, often at the climax or end of the song.  In "Wie singt die Lerche schön" the vibrato on "sonnenschein" was incredibly lovely.  In "Der Glückliche", something special was going on in "schlummernden" and "geruht".  We wondered whether anyone else felt that special feeling.

We loved the rippling arpeggios in Mr. Drake's piano in "Im Rhein, im schönen Strome".

After the Liszt songs in German, the duo moved on to four Liszt songs in French, all settings of texts by Victor Hugo.  What a gorgeous Gallic line we heard in "S'il est un charmant gazon".  In "Enfant, si j'étais roi", the sweetly imploring "Pour un regard de vous!" and "Pour un baiser de toi!" moved us deeply.  But it was "Oh! quand je dors" that held the audience spellbound, hushed and breathless until Mr. Drake ever so slowly lifted his hands from the keys.  Magic!

On a lighter note, Erik Satie's Trois mélodies injected notes of humor into the program.  The wit of "La statue de bronze" was reinforced by Mr. Drake's bouncy accompaniment and Mr. Polenzani's swallowing of the insects at the conclusion. Wisely, Mr. Polenzani explained the wordplay of "Daphénéo".  As a matter of fact, he frequently introduced his songs with small bits of information that served to engage the audience on more than one level.  

His Cinq mélodies populaires grecques were well remembered by us from his George London recital and we delighted in hearing them again.  His performance of "Quel galant!" was well served by his portrayal of a cocky fellow addressing his lady love. So much was said with vocal color and physical posture in a short minute!

We do not consider ourself fans of Samuel Barber but Mr. Polenzani sang the Hermit Songs very well and we enjoyed the very brief sardonic "Promiscuity" and the charming "The Monk and his Cat".

Of course the audience would not let Mr. Polenzani off the stage without an encore. It was here in "La Barcheta" from Reynaldo Hahn's Venezia that we got to hear the artist in his gentle mode, singing in Venetian dialect, which he translated beforehand for a grateful audience. We would love to hear the entire cycle and hope that Mr. P. will offer that at his next recital.  His diminuendos are like no others!

Yet another encore was offered, Frank Bridge's "Love Went a-Riding", a setting of a poem by Mary Coleridge, composed in 1917.  A standing ovation paid tribute to this amazing artist and his fine collaborative pianist. Our wish for the future would be to hear the entire Venetian cycle by Hahn.  Always leave them wanting more!

© meche kroop

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