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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Concert Review: An All-Star Team, Minus Two

The 2013 Richard Tucker Gala at Lincoln Center.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
This year's Richard Tucker Gala celebrates the singer's 100th birthday.
The annual Richard Tucker Gala is like opera's equivalent of the All-Star Game, a chance to hear today's foremost opera singers alongside the stars of tomorrow. Held to commemorate the Richard Tucker Foundation's annual awarding of the Tucker Prize to a promising young singer, this concert at Lincoln Center attracts affluent opera lovers and industry cognoscenti alike. This year's gala also celebrated the centennial of Richard Tucker's birth, and featured a new banner across the back of the stage with five portraits of the late tenor and New York native.

Each year, past and present winners of the coveted five-figure performing grant return to the stage of Avery Fisher Hall. They either perform their current repertory, their  favorite pieces, and occasionally offer hints at planned repertory in the next stage of a promising career. This year's gala, however was marred by the illness of two of its planned artists: Christine Goerke (scheduled to sing Verdi's "O don Fatal" from Don Carlos and Patricia Racette, who had planned to offer "La mamma morta" from the Giordano chestnut Andrea Chenier.

Despite the absence of these two talents, the 2013 Gala forged ahead, opening with a rousing performance of the overture to La Forza del Destino by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra under the baton of Riccardo Frizza. This surging Verdi work seemed to provide momentum to the two-hour event, with Mr. Frizza delivering a performance that balanced rhythmic drive with the sweeping melody of "Madre, pietosa Virgine" from the second act. Then the parade of singers started with the recipient of this year's prize: soprano Isabel Leonard. She opened with "Ombra vani, ingiusti orrori," an aria from the Vivaldi opera Griselda. Ms. Leonard's pliant, lyric instrument soared ably over the subtle baroque accompaniment, adding ornamentation as she expressed her character's torment.

She was swiftly followed by a parade of talented artists. Matthew Polenzani alternated between clowning and romantic loneliness as the poet Hoffmann in Offenbach's Kleinzach aria. Joyce DiDonato took the stage in drag as Bellini's Romeo to sing the big aria from I Capuletti e Montecchi. Last year's winner Ailyn Perez soared through "Despuis le Jour" from the all-but-forgotten French verismo opera Louise. The French trend continued with Stephanie Blythe and Greer Grimsley, splendid in the villains' duet from Act II of Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila. This thrilling duet was followed by Stephen Costello as the callow title character in Gounod's Faust.

Renée Fleming and Susan Graham are long-time partners on the operatic stage, with careers that started around the same time and frequent appearances together in operas like Der Rosenkavalier. Here, they sang the Flower Duet from Delibés' Lakmé, another old-fashioned French opera worthy of an eventual revival. But it was Angela Meade who came on and burned down the house, with a hair-raising performance of an aria from the Verdi rarity I due Foscari. Given the force and power showed here by this bel canto specialist, can a New York performance of this dark Verdi drama be in the planning stages?

Eric Owens, sounding restored to health, cut cleanly through the choral texture in the Te Deum scene from Act I of Puccini's Tosca. It was wonderful to hear this music liberated from the Met's egregious Luc Bondy production. Ms. Perez and Mr. Costello (a married couple in real life) returned to flirt as Adina and Nemorino in Donizetti's Elisir. But the comic highlight of the second half was Susan Graham's barn-burning turn as Offenbach's Grand Duchess of Gerolstein.. Equipped with a review line of four rifle-toting supernumeraries, Ms. Graham put sex and swagger into this opera-bouffe confection, showing the comic potential in this rarely heard operetta.

The end of the evening belonged to Rossini, with Joyce DiDonato returning (in a dress this time) to deliver the sparkling Rondo that ends the opera La donna del Lago.. This was jaw-dropping, athletic singing, leaping all over the mezzo's vast range with apparent ease and not a single hint of vocal "scoop." As a grand finale, Mr. Frizza conducted the finale of Rossini's last opera Guillaume Tell, featuring Messrs. Owens, Costello, Brandon Cedel and Angela Meade, Jennifer Johnson Cano and Ms. Pérez. As the dawn burst over Rossini's victorious Swiss forces, one felt hope, that this glittering evening of arias and concert pieces provides a beacon of hope for New York's opera scene in the seasons to come.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.