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 22, 2018


Curtain Call time at Richard Tucker Gala at Carnegie Hall

We don't have to worry about the future of opera as long as The Richard Tucker Foundation is around to support young singers. The sold out house testifies to the fact that there is an audience for opera and the standing ovation tells us just how enthusiastic this audience is. The gala was live streamed on medici.tv and can be seen and heard on Facebook. This is the foundation's 44th year and has succeeded admirably in honoring the memory of the great Richard Tucker.

Audience members received a warm welcome from Barry Tucker followed by two uninterrupted hours of pure aural delight. We have every intention of telling you about this year's winner but something else excited us so much that we are just bursting with enthusiasm to tell you about it.

Perhaps our enthusiasm is because we have been writing about soprano Nadine Sierra since we began reviewing and have a special interest in her career and a deep attachment to her success. Her winning the 2017 award last year surely helped to advance her rapid rise to stardom both in the USA and abroad.

Last night she literally stole the show. She gave a lesson in seduction the likes of which we have never witnessed. Sporting a slinky backless red gown, she proceeded to tear Des Grieux away from the priesthood in a manner that recalled the desperation of Madam Arkadina working her wiles on Trigorin in Chekhov's The Seagull.  We have always thought of Ms. Sierra as "the diva next door"--all girlish innocence; so it was a revelation to hear her use her gorgeous instrument in the service of manipulation. On the receiving end of this manipulation in "N'est-ce plus ma main?" from Massenet's Manon was 2014 Richard Tucker Award winner tenor Michael Fabiano.

We saw a totally different side of this versatile soprano in a charming and lighthearted aria ("Me llaman la primorosa") from El Barbero de Sevilla, a zarzuela composed by Gerónimo Giménez and Manuel Nieto. This is a gloss on the Rossini opera and the singer is the soprano of a young company rehearsing that opera. Regular readers know of our enthusiasm for zarzuela and we love this aria but never heard it done so well. The fioritura virtually sparkled and there was a lovely "competition" with the flute.

So, dear readers, we received a lesson in seduction from a young woman of outstanding physical and artistic gifts; but we also got a lesson in seduction from a mature woman who dazzled us with an over-the-top rendition of the "Habanera'" from Bizet's Carmen. If you have already guessed that this was a surprise appearance by mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe (1999 award winner), you deserve one of the red roses that she showered upon the audience and Maestro Marco Armiliato, as well as the Concertmaster. This artist can still raise the temperature in the room and we love her dearly.

We might add that we got a bit teary-eyed when she sang "Take Care of This House" from Leonard Bernstein's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Our tears sprang from the realization that no one is taking care of the White House these days. "This house is the hope of us all", sang Abigail Adams in the show. We comforted ourself by converting the house in the song to Carnegie Hall; this is a house we can take care of! And we must!

And now, let us move on to 2018 award winner Christian Van Horn. He is one of only three bass-baritones to have ever won the Richard Tucker award. He opened the program with an exciting aria from Verdi's Nabucco in which the high priest Zaccaria responds to his people's lament "Va Pensiero". (The incomparable Metropolitan Opera Chorus was on hand and we wished that his aria had been set up with a performance of that work.) It was a fine impassioned performance nonetheless, demonstrating the artist's flexibility in the cabaletta.

Later on, he tackled the complex "Ella giammai m'amò" from Verdi's Don Carlo, in which we are meant to feel compassion for the evil King Philip who oppresses his people and has stolen his son's intended bride. He even asks the Grand Inquisitor for permission to kill his son!  It is only Verdi's music aided and abetted by Mr. Van Horn's artistry that permitted "sympathy for the devil".

The rest of the evening's program achieved its customary level of excellence. With big voices like these, we got to hear quite a bit of Verdi. Mr. Fabiano, the 2014 winner, performed "Quando le sera al placido" from Luisa Miller with pleasing vibrato, delivering a lot of angst in the recit and plenty of lyricism in the aria. We liked his use of dynamic variety and color.

Soprano Angela Meade tackled the fiery "No,no! giusta causa" and wrestled it to the ground. Ms. Meade, the 2011 award winner, is a force of nature with a rich tone and a soaring upper register. There were some gorgeous tones floated up toward the balcony but it was the fiery cabaletta that grabbed us. There were significant contributions from the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. We have never heard this early opera by Verdi-- I Lombardi al prima crociata, but somehow we feel we got the best moment!

Baritone Quinn Kelsey performed "È sogno? o realtà", from Falstaff.  Accompanied by the horns, he delineated with building intensity, the ultimate expression of masculine pride and poisonous jealousy, as Mr. Ford believe his wife to have been unfaithful.

We had never heard tenor Yusif Eyvazov but what a sweet sound he has! He knows just how long to hold a note without strain or excess and his tone just sailed over the orchestra in Manrico's beloved aria "Di quella pira" from Il Trovatore. We liked the change of color and intensity in the recapitulation.

There were plenty of goodies besides Verdian ones. We were particularly fond of soprano Christine Goerke's performance of "Es gibt ein Reich" from Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. Her voice and phrasing did justice to the composer's soaring vocal lines.

Ms. Goerke, the 2001 award recipient, reappeared as the excommunicated Santuzza singing the Easter hymn from Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, supported by the chorus and organist--another superb performance.

Tenor Javier Camarena addressed the audience with a humorous anecdote before launching into an aria from an opera unknown to us--Manuel Garcia's Florestan. Himself a singer and father of two singers (Pauline Viardot and Maria Malibran) Garcia knew how to write for the voice. We loved the way Mr. Camarena handled the French and are pleased to learn that he is interested in promoting the career of Garcia, whom we only know of through a musical evening we reviewed that celebrated his introduction of Mozart operas to the USA.

In a lovely duet with Ms. Meade from the lesser known Rossini opera Armida, we enjoyed his flexibility in the fioritura, as he portrayed the Christian knight Rinaldo being seduced by the titular sorceress.  More seduction!

We got to hear one more selection from Mr. Van Horn in the stunning duet "Suoni la tromba" from Bellini's I Puritani.  Sharing the duet with Mr. Kelsey, it was a fine example of harmonic writing for contrasting voices, in martial rhythm.

We were waiting to hear soprano Anna Netrebko sing "Pace, pace" from Verdi's La Forza del Destino but that never happened. But we did hear her in a duet with Mr. Eyvazov, the final duet from Giordano's Andrea Chenier in which Maddalena and Chenier go to their death on the guillotine. Their two large voices filled Carnegie Hall with overtones.

Maestro Armiliato conducted the always wonderful Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; both orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera Chorus added greatly to the evening.

It was a sensational evening. We heard some of our favorite singers and some that were not yet known to us. We heard several arias and duets that we don't often get to hear. We renewed our appreciation for the Richard Tucker Foundation. And we made plans to attend Boito's Méfistofélè at The Met so that we could hear Mr. Van Horn, Ms. Meade, and Mr. Fabiano together!

(c) meche kroop

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