Vocal Fireworks at the Annual Richard Tucker Gala

United StatesUnited States Various composers – 2018 Richard Tucker Gala: Soloists, members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, New York Choral Society / Marco Armiliato (conductor), Carnegie Hall, New York. 21.10.2018. (HS)

Michael Fabiano & Nadine Sierra
© Dario Acosta

Verdi — ‘Oh, chi piange?’ from Nabucco Christian Van Horn (bass-baritone); ‘Quando le sere placido’ from Luisa Miller Michael Fabiano (tenor); ‘No, no! Giusta causa’ from I Lombardi Angela Meade (soprano); ‘È sogno? o realtà?’ from Falstaff Quinn Kelsey (baritone); ‘Ah si ben mio…Di quella pira’ from Il trovatore Yusif Eyvazov (tenor); ‘Ella giammai m’amò’ from Don Carlo Christian Van Horn (bass-baritone)
Gimenez and Nieto — ‘Me llaman la primarosa’ from El barbero de Sevilla Nadine Sierra (soprano)
R. Strauss — ‘Es gibt ein Reich’ from Ariadne auf Naxos Christine Goerke (soprano)
Zingarelli — ‘Là dai regni dell’ombra e di morte’ from Giulietta e Romeo
Garcia — ‘Ô ciel, de ma juste furie’ from Florestan Javier Camarena (tenor)
Rossini — ‘Amor! Possente nome’ from Armida Angela Meade (soprano), Javier Camarena (tenor)
Mascagni — ‘Regina Coeli…Inneggiamo’ from Cavalleria rusticana Christine Goerke (soprano)
Bernstein — ‘Take Care of This House’ from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Stephanie Blythe (mezzo-soprano)
Massenet — ‘Toi! Vous!’ from Manon Nadine Sierra (soprano), Michael Fabiano (tenor)
Bellini — ‘Suoni la tromba’ from I puritani Quinn Kelsey (baritone), Christian Van Horn (bass baritone)
Bizet — ‘Habañera’ from Carmen Stephanie Blythe (mezzo-soprano)
Giordano — ‘Vincino a te s’acqueta’ from Andrea Chenier Anna Netrebko (soprano), Yusif Eyvazov (baritone)

The present and future for breathtaking opera singing is in good hands. Last Sunday, the parade of accomplished sopranos, mezzos, tenors and baritones on display emphatically underlined that at Carnegie Hall for the annual gala presented by the Richard Tucker Music Foundation. The singers demonstrated why they are among today’s most celebrated, handling their assignments with panache on a program heavy with Verdi and other top-shelf Italian composers of the Bel Canto and Romantic eras, but also replete with lesser known works, a nice change from the usual cavalcade of chestnuts typical of opera galas.

Recent recipients of the Tucker Award, for artists ‘poised on the edge of a major international career,’ made their presence felt with the sort of accomplished singing that infuses the music on the page with human emotion. Tops among them were last year’s winner, soprano Nadine Sierra,

who wowed the capacity audience earlier in the evening with a colorful confection from the Spanish zarzuela canon. The showpiece aria ‘Me llaman la primarosa’ (‘They call me the beautiful one’), from Géronimo Giménez Manuel Nieto’s El barbero de Sevilla, gave her plenty of opportunity to flirt with the audience and show off trills, high notes and other vocal flourishes as well.

With tenor Michael Fabiano, the 2014 winner, she heated up Carnegie Hall with a flame-hot ‘Toi! Vous!’, the sexy seduction scene from the final act of Massenet’s Manon. Sierra, in a backless red dress, was all over Fabiano physically by the end of the duet. At one point she grabbed him by the lapels and pulled him to her. He resisted nobly, but the way their richly textured voices intertwined as the temperature of Massenet’s music rose amped up the intensity, until passionate embraces (plural) and kisses were inevitable.

In his solo turn, Fabiano unfurled a sinuous account of ‘Quando la sere el placido’ from Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

This year’s award winner, the bass-baritone Christian Van Horn, impressed with the stentorian quality of his sharply focused sound from top to bottom of his range. If he attacked phrases with more emphasis than the composers might have wanted, he did so with assurance and precision.

‘Oh chi piange’ from Verdi’s Nabucco opened the evening and built to a roaring climax. Later, ‘Ella giammai m’amò’ from Verdi’s Don Carlo came through with more of an extroverted style than the interior monologue some prefer, but there was no denying the splendor of the voice. Van Horn’s best effort, the leatherlung duet ‘Suoni la tromba’ from Bellini’s I puritani, contrasted his voice with baritone Quinn Kelsey’s rich, velvety texture. They did not sound like the same singers, which helped make it work.

Kelsey’s solo effort, ‘È sogno? O realtà?’ from Verdi’s Falstaff, emphasized his sonorous low range, but he had no problems rising to secure high notes.

Three other previous Tucker Award winners validated the criteria for the award. Sopranos Angela Meade (2011) and Christine Goerke (2001), as well as mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe (1999) have gone on to impressive careers.

Meade’s ‘No, no! giusta causa’ from Verdi’s I Lombardi soared with controlled passion. Her true coloratura chops held their own with Rossini specialist Javier Camarena in ‘Amor! Possente nome’ duet from Armida. Goerke lavished nobility and a golden tone on ‘Es gibt ein Reich,’ the island aria from Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, but she missed the requisite Italianate fire for Santuzza’s aria from Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusiticana.

After delivering a stately ‘Take Care of This House’ from Bernstein’s 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which showed off her chocolatey low notes, Blythe nearly stole the show with a vocally sinuous ‘Habañera’ from Bizet’s Carmen. Clutching an armful of individually wrapped red roses, she casually tossed them to the front rows of the audience as she sang. (Was that a reference to Florence Foster Jenkins, whose campy Carnegie Hall concert in 1944 is a thing of legend?)

When Camarena walked out on stage for his solo turn — two arias associated with the 19th-century tenor Manuel Garcia — he told the audience that he was wearing Tucker’s formal gear provided by the tenor’s son Barry (head of the Tucker Foundation). Camarena’s home in Barcelona was robbed two days before he left for New York, and he had no time to replace his tuxedo, cufflinks and studs. (‘What hurt the most,’ he joked, ‘was that they did not take my CD.’)

The vocal highlight of the evening came last. Soprano Anna Netrebko, still deeply tanned from her role as Aida at the Met, unleashed hair-raising vocal intensity in the final duet from Giordano’s Andrea Chenier. Azerbaijan tenor Yusif Eyvazov, her husband (and portrayer of Dick Johnson in La fanciulla del West at the Met), matched her decibel for decibel with a lusty sound and precise intonation.

Members of the Metropolitan Opera, conducted by Marco Armiliato, provided idiomatic and sensitive instrumental support throughout the two-hour intermission-less concert, streamed live on medici.tv. The New York Choral Society delivered the necessary choruses with gusto.

Harvey Steiman

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