Monday, November 7, 2011

Star-spangled Sunday

This year’s edition of the Richard Tucker Gala can be considered an unqualified success. All the stars, both new and familiar did their best to make the early evening event glorious. After a somewhat disjointed rendition of the erotic “Bacchanale” from “Samson et Dalila” conductor Emmanuel Villaume brought it all together with a display of precision and drama that led the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra to its customary peak of performance. Even allowing for the unfortunate absence of Marcello Giordani and Marina Poplavskaya, there was an abbondanza of talent onstage. Not to mention the huge forces of The New York Choral Society.

Angela Meade, a young soprano who has been winning competitions and dazzling audiences for the past few years lived up to her potential in “Santo di patria” from Verdi’s “Atilla”. Her voice is as ample as her body and she is sure to have a stunning future, with several appearances upcoming at the Met. Later in the program, she assayed the trio from Bellini’s “Norma” (the finale of Act I) with Dolora Zajick and Frank Porretta, a tenor who brought very little to bear on the performance. It was here that Ms. Meade revealed some minor shortcomings in the coloratura that a few more years should dissolve.

Ms. Zajick’s powerful voice was heard later in the program in Tchaikovsky’s aria “Tsar vishnikh sil” from “The Maid of Orleans”. Comparing this with a later duet, “Tu, qui?” from “Cavalleria Rusticana” demonstrated how much she requires another singer onstage to relate to. The first was rather lackluster, but bouncing off Yonghoon Lee’s persuasive tenor inspired her to a far higher level of performance; the acting was searing in its intensity. Mr. Lee, on the other hand was equally persuasive by himself in Massenet’s “O Souverain” from “Le Cid”. Just recently we had enjoyed his performance in “Nabucco”. He is a tenor to watch!

In the tenor department, Jonas Kaufmann made a splendid showing as Turridu in Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana”, squeezing every ounce of passion from “Mamma, quel vino e generoso”. There is something about his way with dynamics that tears at the listener’s heart. He can trumpet out a great big sound and then gently caress the vowels in a pianissimo that is still very audible. His duet with Bryn Terfel, “Dio, che nell’alma infondere” from Verdi’s “Don Carlo”, was thrilling, their two voices being so well matched.

Mr. Terfel was equally brilliant in his solo aria “Udite, udite, o rustici” from Donizetti’s “L’elisir d’amore” in which he was able to show a delightfully relaxed and humorous side of himself, engaging both the conductor and the audience. One wondered what he might have done with the role of Wotan, had he been unencumbered by “the machine” and clumsy costume and wig.

Two other “forces of nature” were on hand. Mezzo Stephanie Blythe gave a luminous performance of Ambroise Thomas’ melodic “Connais-tu le pays” from “Mignon”. One could listen to her large and lovely voice all night and never feel bored. Soprano Maria Guleghina also let loose with “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s “Tosca”. If there had been scenery one could say that she chewed it up. It was very emotional and very convincing, as was her performance in the aforementioned “Nabucco”.
Baritone Zeljko Lucic is always a pleasure to hear and his “Eri tu” from Verdi’s “Ballo in Maschera” was finely wrought and beautifully accompanied by flute and harp solos.

As a special treat added to the program, we got to hear and see the dazzling young mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili as she rejects Jonas Kaufmann’s Don Jose in the final act of Bizet’s “Carmen”. It is difficult to imagine anyone rejecting the glamorous Mr. Kaufmann, but she gets to die in his arms instead of falling to the ground. Oh rapture unforeseen!

The program closed with the final fugue from Verdi’s “Falstaff”, with parts being played by two stunning women, soprano Deanna Breiwick and mezzo Renee Tatum and by tenors Theo Lebow and Ta’u Pupu’a, baritone Edward Parks and bass Keith Miller. The orchestra played brilliantly and the voices blended masterfully, bringing this star-spangled event to a rousing close.

© meche kroop for The Opera Insider

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