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.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


What a lineup at the Richard Tucker Music Foundation Gala!    
(photo by Dario Acosta)

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Richard Tucker Music Foundation. Sunday night's recital was not just an opportunity to hear some of the greatest voices onstage today; it was also a celebration of the foundation's work in supporting young American opera singers with awards, grants and performance opportunities at every stage of their careers. As if this were not enough to perpetuate the legacy of Richard Tucker, the foundation also offers free performances in New York City and supports music education enrichment programs.

The biggest prize, the Richard Tucker Award, went this year to the glorious and glamorous mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton who gives us goose bumps every time we hear her. The best part is that this glorious instrument belongs to a completely likable and unaffected young woman who exudes Southern charm from every pore.

Anyone interested in acquiring stage presence should observe Ms. Barton as she strides onto the stage knowing that she is her own woman and in full confidence of what she has to offer.  And offer she did!  In fine French she bid farewell to Carthage in Queen Dido's aria "Je vais mourir...Adieu, fière cité" from Berlioz' Les Troyens.  She knew exactly when to give forth and when to pull back, milking the aria for every ounce of pathos. She floated a top note so effectively it seemed to evaporate.

Her delivery of "Acerba voluttà", the Principessa's aria from Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, revealed the luscious texture of her voice when confronted with soaring Italian melody. Phrasing and dynamics lent even more interest.

The other famous aria from this opera belonging to the titular character "Io son l'umile ancella" was given a touching performance by the glorious soprano Renée Fleming whose career was launched by a Richard Tucker grant 25 years ago.  To hear a glamorous star sing of humility in such a convincing fashion was evidence of her incomparable artistry.

She also contributed two lovely duets.  The first had her singing Marguerite to Piotr Beczala's Faust in "Il se fait tard" from the Gounod opera of the same name. Their voices balanced beautifully. We were not so enthusiastic about the second pairing when she sang Mimi to Andrea Bocelli's Rodolfo; she did fine but Mr. Bocelli's slender tenor was no match for her vocally. We could barely hear him. This was an impoverished Bohème leaving us as cold as Mimi's hands.

Perhaps he was invited to participate because he is famous with the general public but it seemed somewhat unfortunate to me that he was put on stage with all these great voices. In his solo, "M'appari tutt' amor" from Friedrich Flotow's Martha, one strained to hear him; this was also the case in his duets with any of the other singers.  No matter!  The audience loved him.

Soprano Nadine Sierra, who has won career and study grants, has been achieving phenomenal success recently and deserves it. Although she did not perform a solo, we greatly enjoyed her duets. She sang Juliette to Stephen Costello's Roméo in Gounod's "Va! Je t'ai pardonée" and the two of them had such incredible chemistry that we forgot it was a recital. We have already lined up tickets to Mr. Costello's performance of this role in Santa Fe next summer!

Mr. Costello's solo "E la storia solita del pastore" from Francesco Cilea's L'Arlesiana revealed a fineness of tone and depth of feeling. The night we went to hear Mr. Costello as Percy in Anna Bolena (we had enjoyed his performance so much a couple years earlier) he was out sick but this performance made up for it. He won his award in 2009, after getting a career grant two years earlier. The foundation really does nurture it's grantees.

Christine Goerke has a soprano that shakes the walls. If there had been a set we could have said that she chewed up the scenery when she sang Princess Eboli's aria "O don fatale" from Verdi's Don Carlo.  It was an electrifying performance, giving different colors to each of the three sections, creating a complex character. Ms. Goerke always knows her characters and brings them to vivid life. Although we love Mozart and bel canto, we are glad that this amazing artist is finally achieving her true purpose onstage. She won the Richard Tucker Award in 2001. Perhaps they saw her potential before anyone else did.

Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard is a star of the first quality who stood out since her days at Juilliard. Her award came in 2013 and we have never seen her give a performance that was less than brilliant. She performed "Nacqui all'affano...Non più mesta" from Rossini's La Cenerentola. With her brilliant bel canto technique and rich flexible instrument, she is the perfect Rossini heroine. The fireworks of her fioritura linger in the memory.

Coming onstage towards the end of the recital was Angela Gheorghiu who impressed with her performance of "In quelle trine morbide" from Puccini's Manon Lescaut and "Ebben! Ne andrò lontano" from Alfredo Catalani's La Wally. She stuck us as an old school diva with great command of the stage, the material, and the audience's attention.

We were happy to hear tenor Piotr Beczala because his communication with the audience was so far superior to that in his Zankel Hall recital two nights earlier. He knew his way around "Nessun dorma" from Puccini's Turandot and managed not to imitate anyone else. He exhibited the easy top notes that had sounded strained at the recital. He had some excellent choral assistance from the massive New York Choral Society who had opened the program so effectively with the well-chosen curtain raiser "Ohè! Ohè Presto" from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci.

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee sang "Terra amica...Cara! deh attendimi" from Rossini's little known opera Zelmira. His voice was exposed by the light orchestration and proved to be pleasantly flexible. However, he tended to push his high notes rather than floating them.

We have saved the best for last.  Christine Goerke and Jamie Barton joined forces for the duet "E un anatèma" from Ponchielli's La gioconda. Two huge voices, perfectly matched, dukeing it out for romantic supremacy=major wow.

The evening closed with excerpts from the "Triumphal Scene" from Verdi's Aida. The New York Choral Society, under the direction of David Hayes, and members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra conducted by Maestro Eugene Kohn, were joined by all the singers onstage. Trios of trumpets blared from the second ring of the newly renamed David Geffen Hall, creating a Surround Sound effect that was thrilling, drawing the evening to a sensational close.

(c) meche kroop

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