BWW Review: All-Star RICHARD TUCKER GALA is a One-of-a-Kind Treat at Carnegie Hall with Winner Oropesa
Lisette Oropesa is Latest Queen of Tucker-ville
It's hard to imagine the logistics--never mind the personalities involved--in putting together a complex program like the one that the audience at Carnegie Hall was treated to on Sunday evening for the 2019 RICHARD TUCKER GALA.
But New York-born conductor James Gaffigan pulled it off wonderfully with the help of members of the Met Orchestra and the New York Choral Society--and a gaggle of amazing singers, beginning with this year's winner of the Tucker Award, Lisette Oropesa, who showed us a different side of her art from the MANON she portrayed at the Met earlier this season.
The lineup didn't stop there, of course: There were such previous winners as Jamie Barton, Stephen Costello, Michael Fabiano, Ailyn Perez and Christian Van Horn, along with show-stoppers including Angel Blue, Ermonela Jaho, Lucas Meachem and Artur Rucinski.
But let's start with Oropesa, who was all bel canto, all the time at the concert, showing us that the Met doesn't have to look far for an Elvira in Bellini's PURITANI or a Lucia in Donizetti's LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR. Her shimmering "Qui la voce" from PURITANI and her part in the famed sextet from LUCIA (though it sounded more like a trio here, with three young singers no match for Oropesa, Costello and Rucinski) were memorable moments and smart choices for the soprano.
And though it's unlikely that the Met will do Rossini's TANCREDI anytime soon, Oropesa's "Come dolce all'alma mia" showed off her gilded soprano in the ingenue-ish role of Amenaide. Yet, she could be paired up very nicely with another of the evening's headliners, Jamie Barton, in the title role.
Barton was on fire in her two excerpts as Princess Eboli from Verdi's DON CARLO: first the enchanting "Song of the Veil," but most furiously in a death-defying take on "O don fatale." She tore the place up and thoroughly enjoyed doing it, judging by the glint in her eye--as did the audience.
The two tenors on the program--both Tucker honorees themselves--showed how different they were, even if the Met chooses to cast them in some of the same roles. Michael Fabiano took on a role he hasn't done at the Met, Lensky in EUGENE ONEGIN, and showed that his interpretation of "Kuda, kuda" from the Tchaikovsky opera can stand up against the best. While I often find him too serious in some of the standard Italian repertoire, here he was staggeringly wonderful. I wish the Met brought in more Russian works--not known for their lighter moments--to feature him.
The other tenor was Stephen Costello, whose demeanor and charms as a singer have changed distinctly over the last few years (though not his oh-so-casual attire). His excerpt as Don Jose in CARMEN, the fabled "Flower Song," was not one I would have though he could pull off, but he had the sound and the size to make it work quite well. His other number was the glorious love duet from MADAMA BUTTERFLY, "Bimba dagli occhi piena di malia," which allowed him to show off the beauty of his voice against the odd, but not unpleasant take of Ermonela Jaho in the title role.
Jaho's voice--which I first heard quite a few years ago in a Berlin TRAVIATA--has a kind of veiled quality to it and, when it comes to acting, she's one who believes "too much is never enough." Yet I was taken with both her performances here: as Butterfly, which she made work in the duet with the more lyric Costello and in "Io son l'umile ancella" from ADRIANA LECOUVREUR, in which she was the epitome of the star playing the star.
I must admit that one singer--not yet a Tucker winner--provided two of my favorite performances of the evening. Angel Blue, who opened the Met season in the Gershwins' PORGY AND BESS, was simply sublime, whether she was singing full-voiced or more moderato. First there was the famed aria "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's LOUISE, in which she was just yummy, and then in the soprano-baritone duet from TROVATORE, "Udiste...mira d'acerbe lagrime," with Rucinski, which provided a real sing-off for the pair. (Rucinski did another TROVATORE aria, the famed "Il balen," and proved that the Met could use more of him.) At the old City Opera, Beverly Sills showed that LOUISE is stageworthy when cast correctly; I hope someone takes a chance and offers it to Blue.
There were two more Tucker honorees on the program: last year's winner, Christian Van Horn in the earthy "Te deum" from TOSCA--bringing more heft and luxuriant sound to the role with his bass-baritone than many New Yorkers have heard from baritones in recent years--and Ailyn Perez.
Perez definitely had her own ideas about Doretta's Song from Puccini's LA RONDINE, but you can forgive much when she sounded so fabulous--ditto "Tu souvaint-il du lumineux voyages," which she sang elegantly with the lusty baritone Lucas Meachem. Meachem provided one of the evening's showstoppers early on, with "Largo al factotum" from BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA, which he sang as he rushed through the orchestra, making contact with the audience as he made his way to the stage.
The evening did offer a couple of disappointments. First, there was nothing later than Puccini featured on the program, something that younger audiences hunger for. And, second, there didn't seem to be any recording of the concert for later broadcast. Granted, there were no "stars" on the roster--no Netrebko, no Fleming, et al. All that was offered was top-drawer singing. Ah, if only that were enough!?!