Review: An Old-Fashioned Sing-Off Celebrates ANGEL BLUE at Geffen Hall's 2022 Richard Tucker Gala

Along with the winner of the Tucker Foundation’s 2022 Award were such notables as Renee Fleming and Joyce DiDonato, Christian Van Horn and Ryan Speedo Green

By: Nov. 15, 2022
Review: An Old-Fashioned Sing-Off Celebrates ANGEL BLUE at Geffen Hall's 2022 Richard Tucker Gala
Angel Blue, 2022 Tucker Award winner.
Photo: Dario Acosta

Award-winner Angel Blue started off the proceedings at the Richard Tucker Gala (after Barry Tucker's usual introduction/ode to his father, the great tenor) with a bang: Puccini's justly famous aria "Vissi d'arte" from TOSCA.

For those of us who've only heard her as Bess in Gershwin's PORGY & BESS at the Met, it was a revelation to hear her lush, velvety voice raise the rafters on the hall, with no warm up.

This was my first visit to the renovated space--which has had a history of acoustic problems since its opening in 1962--and I wondered whether this voice was the real thing or an anomaly. After listening to the variety of other A-class singers on the program, I decided that I'd follow Blue anywhere.

The program gave us an opportunity to hear what the new acoustics offered singers in a variety of fachs (i.e., the German method of classifying opera singers, according to the range, weight, and color of their voices), all of whom I'd heard at the Met. For me, the message was mixed, some sounding grainier, some spectacular, though it's always hard to tell what a voice will sound like from one night to another, even in the same house.

I made a decision: to shut up, sit back and simply enjoy the singing (and the orchestral playing from members of the Met orchestra under the superb Speranza Scappucci with the NY Choral Society under David Hayes).

Review: An Old-Fashioned Sing-Off Celebrates ANGEL BLUE at Geffen Hall's 2022 Richard Tucker Gala
Angel Blue, Renee Fleming. Photo: Dario Acosta

As it turned out, despite the plethora of other admirable singers on the program, Blue was in a couple of my other favorites. Her Mozart duet with Fleming, "Sull'aria...Che soave zeffiretti," was superb, both of the sopranos giving warm, wonderful performances. She was also featured in a cut from PORGY, opposite bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green: the dramatic "Crown!" and, very briefly, again with Green, but joined (also very briefly) by Fleming and DiDonato, singing a single word, "L'amour," in CARMEN's "Toreador Song") (formally "Votre toast!").

She was also the AIDA in the evening's closing ensemble--the Finale from Act II--which included Christine Goerke's only appearance of the evening, as Amneris, along with Russell Thomas, Christian van Horn, Russell Thomas, Reginald Smith Jr and Ryan Speedo Green. It left me wanting more. (Seems like the last Tucker Gala before Covid also featured this ensemble piece--except the baritone forgot he was in it and left for home early! PS: They went on without him!)

AIDA's Radames, Russell Thomas, also took on an aria from a Verdi opera not heard much in New York in recent years: LA FORZA DEL DESTINO. He gave the aria, "Oh, tu che in seno d'angeli," a thoughtful, dramatic rendition.

One of the "wows" of the evening for me came from soprano Angela Meade, a Tucker winner from 2011, showing off her bel canto chops. She sang one of the arias from Donizetti's ROBERTO DEVEREUX, "Vivi, ingrate, a lei d'accanto...Quel sangue versato," which has coloratura and trills galore and ends with a high E that she tossed off like it was nothing. She's taking over the role of Elisabetta in DON CARLO at the Met and I wish I'd waited to hear her, judging from this performance.

Review: An Old-Fashioned Sing-Off Celebrates ANGEL BLUE at Geffen Hall's 2022 Richard Tucker Gala
Joyce DiDonato. Photo: Dario Acosta

Another "wow": I'll take Joyce DiDonato in Handel's baroque operas anytime, but I was happy to "settle" for her slightly earlier Gluck aria, "Misera, dove son!...Ah, non son io che parlo" from EZIO. Watching and listening to her in this music is like attending a three-act play in the course of minutes. She sings like she's scaling Mt. Everest, from top to bottom, without stopping to breathe but making it seem easy.

Although Stephen Costello and Eleanora Buratto each had an aria of their own (an excellent "Quando le sere al placido" from LUISA MILLER for him, a touching "Un bel di" from MADAMA BUTTERFLY for her), it was their BUTTERFLY duet, "Vogliatemi bene," that really moved me.

Review: An Old-Fashioned Sing-Off Celebrates ANGEL BLUE at Geffen Hall's 2022 Richard Tucker Gala
Van Horn (c) and Fabiano. Photo: Dario Acosta

There was lots of devilish fun on the program. First Tenor Michael Fabiano (who also did a wonderfully lyric "É la solita storia del pastore" from Cilea's L'ARLESIANA) and bass-baritone Christian Van Horn (a gorgeous "Infelice" from Verdi's ERNANI with the NY Choral Society) did Gounod's "A moi les plaisirs" from FAUST. Then Bryn Terfel (not heard much in these parts lately) took on "Son lo spirito che nega" from Boito's MEFISTOFELE to lesser effect. He paired it with a fun version of "If I Were a Rich Man" from "Fiddler on the Roof" (though his chicken imitations didn't hold a candle to Zero Mostel's in the original).

It was a full program and a lovely one, but I have my usual complaint about the Tucker Galas. Opera didn't stop with Puccini, so why does their programming? They didn't even get to Strauss on this one. How about at least a nod to the end of the 20th century--or even, God forbid--the 21st!?!