New York: 2012 Richard Tucker Gala

Avery Fish Hall, New York
Members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
The New York Choral Society (David Hayes, Music Director)
Patrick Summers, conductor
Ildar Abdrazakov, basso
Jamie Barton, mezzo (2012 Tucker Career Grant Winner)
Olga Borodina, mezzo
Stephen Costello, tenor (2009 Richard Tucker Award Winner)
Tara Erraught, mezzo (U.S. debut)
Giuseppe Filianoti, tenor
Gerald Finley, baritone
Marcello Giordani, tenor
Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone
Quinn Kelsey, baritone
Liudmyla Monastyrska, soprano (New York debut)
Ailyn Pérez, soprano (2012 Richard Tucker Award Winner)
Erwin Schrott, bass
Brandon Cedel, bass-baritone
Ryan Speedo Green, bass-baritone
Andrew Stenson, tenor
New York, 11 November 2012
Created in 1975, shortly after the great American tenor’s death, the Richard Tucker Foundation has become a mainstay of New York’s musical community, not least through its annual, generous awards to worthy young singers. The list of recipients of the Tucker Award looks like a Who’s Who of American opera, beginning with the first winner, tenor Rockwell Blake, and continuing through Dolora Zajick, Renée Fleming, Deborah Voigt, David Daniels, Stephanie Blythe, Joyce DiDonato, and Lawrence Brownlee, to name only a few. The Tucker Foundation presents each year’s winner at a gala concert at Lincoln Center; this year’s winner, soprano Ailyn Pérez, holds the distinction of being married to a previous winner, tenor Stephen Costello, who won in 2009.
It’s customary in this country for critics to refrain from publishing negative judgments on events of this nature: after all, the artists donate their services. In this instance, it will be easy to keep the bile out of my pen, for this concert proved richly satisfying in many ways.
The Foundation enjoys an admirable degree of cooperation with the Metropolitan Opera, which allows both singers and instrumentalists to perform at the Tucker gala. This year, the top-name artists included Olga Borodina, Marcello Giordani, Gerald Finley, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, with members of the Met Orchestra under the baton of Patrick Summers, one of this country’s leading conductors who is also music director of Houston Grand Opera and principal guest conductor of San Francisco Opera. Despite the starry participants, the gala retains a homey feel, the tone set by the tenor’s down-to-earth, affable son, Barry Tucker, the Foundation’s president, who introduces the program each year.
Pérez opened the gala with a sparkling account of Manon’s Cour-la-Reine arias, “Je marche sur tous les chemins” and “Obéissons quand leur voix appellee,” supported by the New York Choral Society. Her voice possesses freshness and flexibility, neither as dark as the Metropolitan’s most recent Manon, Anna Netrebko, nor as light as New York’s most famous Manon, Beverly Sills. Like Sills, Pérez can exploit a plangent tone that made her Violetta quite affecting in the excerpt from Act II, Scene 2 of La Traviata that concluded the two-hour concert. (To end on a happier note, the Traviata brindisi was offered as an encore.)
Pérez was at her most appealing, however, in the Cherry Duet from Mascagni’s L’Amico Fritz, a work very seldom heard in New York but here performed by two real-life lovers ideally suited to this music: Pérez was joined by her husband, Stephen Costello, both at their most irresistibly charming. Costello also sang Alfredo’s lines in the Traviata scenes, displaying the impassioned acting and ringing clarity that are his signature.
While the Tucker Award itself is most often bestowed on artists who already claim significant achievement (Pérez hasn’t yet sung at the Met, but she’s enjoyed success at Covent Garden and the Bolshoi, in Zurich and Hamburg, as well as at notable venues in the U.S.), the Sarah Tucker Study Grant is bestowed on promising artists closer to the beginning of a career. This year’s grant recipient is mezzo Jamie Barton, who revealed a first-rate instrument, endowed with gorgeous warm tone, seamless legato, immense power and great flexibility in her aria, “O, mon Fernand” from Donizetti’s La Favorite.
Typically, the repertoire at any Tucker gala is traditional, even conservative. The Uruguayan bass Erwin Schrott strayed farthest from convention with his selections, “Ave Signor” from Boito’s Mefistofele and, most surprisingly, Pablo Ziegler’s  “Rojo Tango.” Unfortunately, the tango’s big, bright orchestration competed too much with Schrott’s voice, which did not project clearly into some sections of Avery Fisher Hall. (The accordionist received no credit in the program.) In both numbers, Schrott demonstrated his abundant stage presence and sex appeal: in two very different characters and by different means, he was equally seductive.
Baritones Gerald Finley and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, both New York City favorites, arrived with surprises in store, too. Finley offered a commanding “Sibilar gli angui d’Aletto,” Argante’s entrance aria from Handel’s Rinaldo, usually sung by a basso. He lacked nothing either in heft or accuracy as he navigated the rapid-fire challenges of this number, with outstanding support from the orchestra’s brass section. Hvorostovsky contributed “O du mein holder Abendstern” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser, a rare outing for him in German-language repertory, perhaps intending to signal to New York that he is ready to take on Wagnerian roles.
Hvorostovsky joined another Met favorite, mezzo Olga Borodina, for “Zachem ty,” a crowd-pleasing duet from Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tsar’s Bride, a work seldom heard in New York but perfectly suited to the temperament and (naturally) style of each artist. Borodina’s other contribution, “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” from Samson et Dalila, was in its way an archetype of a Tucker Gala aria: a beloved chestnut, performed flawlessly by a singer who is closely associated with the opera from which it’s derived. As a plus, Borodina is looking slimmer and more glamorous these days.
She’s engaged to sing Amneris at the Met this season. Beside her as Aida will be Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska, new to local audiences, who threw down an audacious account of “Vieni, t’affretta” from Verdi’s Macbeth, unstinting in old-fashioned diva glamour and blazing passion, of a kind that sweeps aside any conventional principles of criticism. We went nuts for her. There’s no point denying it.
Italian tenor Giuseppe Filianoti offered a stylish, beautifully — one might even say cunningly — executed “Quando le sere al placido” from Luisa Miller, beginning with a suave elegance that lent extra impact to the searing emotionalism of the later passages of the aria. With nicely pointed French diction and lyric flair, Filianoti also sang Offenbach’s poet in the ensemble that concludes the Giulietta act of Les Contes d’Hoffmann, joined by Erraught, Bariton, tenor Andrew Stenson, and bass-baritones Brandon Cedel and Ildar Abdrazakov, especially impressive in Dapertutto’s lines.
Abdrakazov also contributed a nicely understated “La calunnia” from Il Barbiere di Siviglia and joined young baritone Quinn Kelsey in a rousing rendition of Verdi’s duet for Attila and Ezio, “Tardo per gli anni e trumulo.” Kelsey is increasingly acclaimed as a major talent, endowed with a meaty, powerful baritone voice that recalls the fabled Golden Age. His solo contribution, “Nemico della patria?” from Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, showed a complete mastery of the idiom, and his command of Germont’s lines in the Traviata ensemble gave no hint of his relative youth.
Sicilian tenor Marcello Giordani delivered another warhorse — and, surely not by coincidence, one of Richard Tucker’s calling cards — “Vesti la giubba” with plenty of brio and not much finesse. He returned to join Finley in the duet from Les Pêcheurs de perles, in which the contrast with Finley’s more polished style and superior French seemed to draw helpful distinctions between the characters of Nadir and Zurga. The gentlemen originally planned to perform Verdi’s “Si, pel ciel,” switching to Bizet at the last minute. One especially regrets Finley’s Iago, but the substitution proved otherwise pleasurable.
Tucker Galas are presented without intermission, the better to get to a reception and dinner after the performance; this year’s program proved unusually long, since none of the artists was compelled to cancel (quite a rarity in this sort of engagement). Throughout the evening, the musicians from the Met Orchestra maintained a celebratory mood, playing under Maestro Summers’ skillful baton with clear enthusiasm for the exotic scores of Ziegler and Rimsky-Korsakov, and evident affection for the very familiar Leoncavallo, Rossini, and Saint-Saëns. They left a listener eager for more — from them, from the singers who joined them onstage, and from L’Amico Fritz, for that matter. Dario Acosta Photography