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In Celebration of Richard Tucker

New York
Avery Fisher Hall
11/14/2010 -  
Operatic arias, ensembles and scenes by Georges Bizet (Carmen), Francesco Cilea (L’arlesiana), Ruperto Chapi (Las hijas del Zebedeo), Gaetano Donizetti (L’elisir d’amore, Lucrezia Borgia), George Friedrich Handel (Xerxes), Emmerich Kálmán (Die Csárdásfürstin), Franz Lehár (Giuditta), Jules Massenet (Don Quichotte, Hérodiade, Manon), Amilcare Ponchielli (La gioconda), Giacomo Puccini (Turandot, La rondine, Manon Lescaut), Richard Rodgers (South Pacific) & Giuseppe Verdi (Rigoletto)

Paul Appleby (Prunier), Pavol Breslik (Nemorino), Ferruccio Furlanetto (Sancho Panza, Emile), Tom Fox (Barnaba), Elina Garanca (Luisa, Carmen), Susan Graham (Xerxes), Marcello Giordani (Calaf, Des Grieux, Enzo), Jennifer Johnson (Maddalena), Brandon Jovanovich (Ottavio, Don Jose), Simon Keenlyside (Herod, Rigoletto), Angela Meade (Lucrecia Borgia, Magda), Anna Netrebko (Sylvia, Manon), Lisettle Oropesa (Gilda, Lisette), Christophoros Stamboglis (Alvise), James Valenti (Federico, Ruggiero, Duke), Deborah Voigt (Manon Lescaut, Gioconda), Wendy White (Laura)
The New York Choral Society, John Daly Goodwin (Music Director), Members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Marco Armiliato (Conductor)

R. Tucker in the title role of Verdi’s Don Carlo
(© Sedge LeBlang/The Metropolitan Opera Archives)

James Levine has said of Richard Tucker: “There is no question that he was one of the great singers, with a fabulous voice, sensationally endless energy and commitment and a tremendous technical know-how. There are few people one imagines will go on forever. In a sense, Richard Tucker will.”

And he does – in memory, on recordings, on YouTube (for a new generation to discover), and in a very tangible way that surely would have delighted him, as the inspiration for the Richard Tucker Music Foundation. The Foundation, headed by his son, Barry Tucker, and now in its thirty-fifth year, supports promising young American singers. The roster of recipients for its main prize, the Richard Tucker Award, features many singers who have gone on to establish major careers. These include Aprile Milo, Renée Fleming, Joyce DiDonato, Stephanie Blythe, Lawrence Brownlee, Deborah Voigt, and Patricia Racette.

This year’s winner, the tenor, James Valenti, made a successful Metropolitan Opera debut last season as Alfredo in La Traviata. Valenti played a prominent role in the gala. He sang one aria, “E la storia solita del pastore,” with a lovely vocal line, blooming top notes, and excellent dynamic control; he also joined in two ensembles. Another recent Tucker Award winner, Brandon Jovanovich, sang an aria, “Freunde! Das Leben ist lebenswert” from Giuditta as well as the final scene of Carmen, along with his current co-star at the Met, Elina Garanca. Earlier in the evening, Ms. Garanca had sung a fiery and passionate zarzuela, “Carcelaras.”

Most of the singers who appeared last night are either singing at the Met or rehearsing for productions that will debut within the next month. Before the program began, Barry Tucker offered his effusive thanks to Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, for allowing performers under contract at the Met to appear in a fundraising event across Lincoln Center Plaza. Gelb had rescinded a policy, put into effect during the Joseph Volpe administration, which forbade anyone under contract at the Met from participating in the Tucker gala, an event that is vital to opera in America in general and to the Metropolitan Opera in particular. Those Volpe years must have been trying times for the Foundation. How wonderful it is that this misbegotten policy is now behind us.

The program for the evening featured eighteen arias and ensembles, sung without a break over a two-hour period. As is common in galas as well as operas (particularly as we enter the winter season), there were illnesses and resultant cancellations. Mariusz Kwiecien and Zeljko Lucic sent their regrets. There was one surprise guest, mezzo soprano Susan Graham, who sang a beautifully phrased, velvet-toned, and impeccably vocalized “Ombra mai fů.”

Ferruccio Furlanetto and Simon Keenlyside are about to open in the Met’s new production of Don Carlo. They took time out from a very busy rehearsal period to participate in the gala. Furlanetto, who has been performing in South Pacific in Vienna, sang the most despondent version of “This Nearly Was Mine” I have ever heard. As a portrait of the pathos of missed opportunity it was extraordinary, although Furlanetto’s unpredictable and at times glacial tempi seemed to try the patience of even the always good humored Marco Armiliato.

Keenlyside, ever the singing actor, managed to convey an entire characterization in one aria, the hypnotic and ecstatic “Vision fugitive” from Massenet’s Hérodiade. Recalling his riveting performance as Hamlet last season at the Met, where he drenched himself in red wine as a surrogate for blood, he brought along a glass of red liquid as a surrogate for wine. Perhaps it was the real thing; who knows? In any event, it was meant to be the drink described in the first line of the text. With his beautifully colored voice, impeccable phrasing, clear French diction, and blazing dramatic intensity, Keenlyside sang as a man possessed. His performance was a psychological and musical tour de force.

Another sort of force – an irresistible one – was Anna Netrebko. No one resisted; she had the audience in the palm of her hand. In her first selection, the cabaret singer Sylvia’s farewell to her countrymen before embarking on a tour to America, from Kálmán’s Die Csárdásfürstin, Netrebko turned in an animated, ebullient performance. She was a whirlwind of activity – conducting the chorus, clapping, dancing, and twirling so fast that she lost her jewelry. She had fun and so did the audience, which roared its approval. In her second appearance, Netrebko sang the St. Sulpice scene from Manon with Marcello Giordani. Here, Manon is a woman on a mission – to prevent her former lover from taking his vows. As the Richard Tucker Foundation’s Director Peter Carwell puts it in his always informative and charming, and often tongue-in-cheek program notes, “she pleads with him to remember his past love for her, body part by body part.” Netrebko certainly took the words to heart as she commenced a physical as well as musical assault on her tenor. The duet ended with a kiss that would win first place if there were a Guinness Book of World Records category for the longest opera kiss. If Netrebko did not have the personality she has, let alone the vocal goods, it might have all been rather cheap, even and vulgar. But she has vocal goods aplenty along with her outsized personality. So it all worked. But tenor Marcello Giordiani, who held his own vocally with his bright soaring top notes, did look rather bemused.

Because of the cancellations, there must have been a reconfiguration of the program. An insert informed us that the young Greek bass, Christophoros Stamboglis, had been added to the roster. He sang the role of Alvise in the last piece on the program, the gripping act three finale of La gioconda. As soon as we heard his marvelously resonant, sepulchral bass voice, projected with unforced power, it became clear that the Tucker award winners were not the only opera stars in the making. Without sacrificing vocal beauty, Stamboglis made Alvise (the head of the inquisition in Venice) a truly terrifying presence. Even in the midst of a good-sized ensemble, including a large chorus and Giordani’s bright, powerful tenor, he was a vocal standout. Aside from being a principal bass with the Greek National Opera, Stamboglis has sung at the Met and Covent Garden, and at the latter, to great acclaim. I expect that we will be hearing a lot more from him.

Arlene Judith Klotzko



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