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.

Monday, October 31, 2016


Star-studded cast of Richard Tucker Foundation Gala at Carnegie Hall

Perhaps you enjoyed the gala webcast live on medici.tv; we were fortunate enough to be there in person, right there in Carnegie Hall, a venue we much prefer to host an event of this magnitude. It's been a quarter century since the Richard Tucker Foundation Gala was held here.

Every year the Richard Tucker Foundation throws a helluva party to celebrate the current year's winner of the Richard Tucker Award, a ginormous $50,000 cash prize. That buys a lot of gowns and coachings!

The Richard Tucker Foundation was begun shortly after Mr. Tucker's untimely and premature death.  It has perpetuated his artistic legacy by supporting young artists for 40 years and bestows its incredibly generous award on an artist poised at the edge of a major international career. Soprano Tamara Wilson sure meets that requirement in spades (and in hearts, diamonds, and clubs).

This versatile artist made several appearances tonight, opening the program with "Dich, teure Halle" from Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser, following the "Entrance of the Guests" from the same opera, performed by the superb New York Choral Society and members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra led by Maestro Asher Fisch.

Ms. Wilson is one of those big beautiful girls with  big beautiful voices that come along every few years; she sure knows how to use this impressive instrument. We loved the way she sensitively modulated the volume and the way she limned the character of Elizabth. 

She is just as adept with Verdi as with Wagner. Now that we have heard her sing "Tu al cui sguardo onnipossente" from I due Foscari, we will be very disappointed if the Met doesn't stage Verdi's early work and cast her! The flexibility in the fioritura fireworks, coming from such a huge voice, was remarkable.

With her mezzo-soprano counterpart Jamie Barton as Adalgisa and tenor Joshua Guerrero as Pollione, the finale of Act I from Bellini's Norma made a great impression.  As versatile as she is, perhaps Cunegonde was not the best choice for the closing number, although her voice did harmonize well with Mr. Guerrero's in "Make Our Garden Grow" from Leonard Bernstein's Candide.

Getting back to Jamie Barton, this artist never fails to astonish us. There is something about her self-possession and the ability to get inside each character and make it her own that makes her a standout. Not since Marilyn Horne performed the role have we heard such luscious seductiveness pouring out of Dalila in "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" from Camille Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila. No Samson could resist!

Her duet with mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato "Son nata a lagrimar" from Georg Frideric Händel's Giulio Cesare was stunning. It was a perfect example of two fine artists of the same fach sounding very very different.  Having just come from Ms. DiDonato's master class, we witnessed exactly what she was trying to teach the youngsters in her class--giving the audience YOU, not what they expect.

We wish we could say that of soprano Kristine Opolais. She has a small voice without much variety of color but the major deficit, from our point of view, is that she "presented". We did not perceive much depth in her "Song to the Moon" from Antonin Dvorak's Russalka (a favorite of ours) and her "Un bel di" from Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly was filled with extravagant gesture but not much feeling. We may be alone in this opinion since the audience seemed pleased with both arias.

We suppose we have been spoiled by Renée Fleming's Russalka and wished that she had sung it last night. Not that we were at all disappointed in her choices!  The violins set the tone for her "Adieu, notre petite table" from Jules Massenet's Manon. The colors of grief gave way to colors of joy in Ruggero Leoncavallo's  lovely serenade "Mattinata".

Soprano Nadine Sierra can be counted on to give a superior performance each and every time. She is an artist of the finest caliber and graces the stage with her presence. We have witnessed the growth of her career for several years and she just keeps getting better and better. 

In "Regnava nel silenzio" from Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, she was totally present and made Lucia's character her very own. She wisely set up Lucia's fragility and instability while maintaining vocal integrity.  Her duet with tenor Javier
Camarena--"Vieni fra questa braccia" from Vincenzo Bellini's I puritani showed a generosity of spirit and some lovely harmonies.

Mr. Camarena delighted the audience with his garlic-infused tarantella "La danza" by Gioachino Rossini, an old chestnut made new. His duet with tenor Lawrence Brownlee--"Ah vieni, nel tuo sangue" from Rossini's Otello was kind of strange with each tenor holding onto the "money note" for unreasonable lengths of time, causing the audience members to laugh out loud. Somehow, this rivalry seemed wrong for the aria in which Otello and Rodrigo are planning a duel, not a vocal competition.

The appearance of Anna Netrebko was most welcome. Having passed through the ingenue phase she has emerged with a glorious burnished instrument that thrills us in verismo territory even more than it did in bel canto land. Hearing her "La mamma morta" from Umberto Giordano's Andrea Chénier was a revelation and we can't imagine Gérard resisting any better than Samson resisted Dalila.

She has not lost her scintillating upper register with overtones galore while the lower register has expanded, offering a plenitude of texture. Her interpretations serve the character.

She followed this aria with an unscheduled one--"Io son l'humile ancella" from Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur--which further confirmed our impression. How interesting that Joyce DiDonato sang an aria on a similar theme--"Si, son io" from Jake Heggie's opera Great Scott which premiered exactly one year ago in Dallas with Ms. DiDonato as the star.

We have never enjoyed Heggie's writing as much as we did this aria. The thought occurred to us that the Italian language dictates a far lovelier vocal line than does the English language. And Ms. DiDonato's performance demonstrated all the principles that she taught in her master classes, reviews of which will appear within a couple days, right here.

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee performed "Seul sur la terre" from Donizetti's forgotten opera Dom Sébastien. His French was lovely, as was his phrasing but his voice did not capture our interest; we found the vibrato a bit too wide for our taste and there was some closing off of the high notes that made our throat hurt--a problem we experience so often with tenors. 

We enjoyed the participation of the New York Choral Society in the opening number especially but also in the Norma trio, the Verdi, and in the closing number from Candide. Several musicians from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra made significant contributions, especially the harp in "Seul sur la terre".

Our ears are still tickled 8 hours after the concert.  We imagine the walls of Carnegie Hall are still vibrating! Long may they vibrate!

And here's a link to the broadcast....https://www.medici.tv/richard-tucker-opera-gala/embed/.  Now you too can enjoy!

(c) meche kroop

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