When Opera Stars Come Out to Play: The 36th Annual Richard Tucker Gala

Mr. Kaufmann’s third appearance was the evening’s wild card – the final duet of Bizet’s Carmen, reenacted seductively with 27-year-old Georgian Mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili, reminiscent of the pair’s performance on the Met’s stage back in 2009. Although the duet was a nearly perfect rendition of this final dramatic scene, “It was entirely last minute,” Mr. Kaufmann told The Observer with a laugh, referring to a void in the program left by two absentees, Marina Poplavskaya and Marcello Giordani, the latter called back to Sicilia to attend to his ailing mother.

A tempestuous quarrel between two former lovers, “Tu, qui Santuzza?” from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana featured famed Verdian Mezzo Dolora Zajick as the dishonored Santuzza, and up-and-coming tenor Yonghoon Lee stepping in as the vain Turrido in the stead of Mr. Giordani. The pair brought drama and tension to Avery Fisher, until Ms. Zajick cursed “A te la mala Pasqua!” (“An evil Easter to you!”) while flicking her chin in a sign of Sicilian disgust, a moment which drew a hearty guffaw out of the audience despite Mascagni’s dramatic intentions.

After the performance, the audience headed towards the the second floor to partake in their own Bacchanale while other opera divas in attendance, such as Renee Fleming, yet another esteemed Richard Tucker Award winner, graciously greeted friends and admirers. Nearby, Mr. Kaufmann patiently entertained an elderly enthusiast while the rest of the evening’s performers tucked into their appetizers and vino.

While breaking character and chugging beer onstage is typically frowned upon in the opera scene, tonight’s performance was an evening for the stars to let loose, giving us a sample of unbridled opera entertainment at it’s best. Between handshakes and salutations, a beaming Mr. Tucker turned to The Observer and said, “These singers gave more than 100% tonight, and that’s exactly what my father would have appreciated.”