An announcement rang through the crowded halls of the Lincoln Center. “Diva coming through!” called an enthusiastic attendant as soprano Angela Meade was escorted to her dinner table after Sunday evening’s concert, her faced flushed with excitement. “It’s all been such a rush” she told The Observer, referring to a performance which had the roomful of donors still chattering excitedly as they took to their seats for the fall-themed meal.
Named after the legendary tenor who performed an impressive 724 times at the Met, the Richard Tucker Music Foundation has long been providing grants to support young opera singers well on their way to fame. Each year’s winner is featured at the gala, an event which annually impresses with lineups of opera’s greatest, such as Welsh bass-baritone Brynn Terfel, Bavarian tenor Jonas Kaufmann and past Richard Tucker Award-recipient mezzo Stephanie Blythe. Sunday’s concert was a veritable hit parade of arias and scenes, which skipped over the lighter repertoire – no Mozart or Handel here, folks – while still providing an opportunity for the stars to let loose in front of a receptive audience. “I think this year was the best year yet,” confided Tucker Foundation President and son of the late tenor, Barry Tucker.
Opening the 14-piece program was Camille Saint-Saens’ opulent “Bacchanale” from Samson and Delila, played with devilish delight by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra led by the competent baton of Maestro Emmanual Villaume. Kicking off the vocal program was Angela Meade, an immensely talented lyric soprano who, after having received the prestigious award, will certainly be mentioned in the same breath of her fellow gala performers. Meade’s interpretation of “Santo di patria” from Verdi’s Atilla brandished her seemingly effortless coloratura and vocal stamina, both of which were received well by an audience that had likely seen Ms. Meade in last month’s Anna Bolena just across campus.
World-renowned bass-baritone Bryn Terfel enjoyed taking a break from his recent Wagner repertoire by setting the light-hearted mood for the evening as the inebriated quack Dr. Dulcamara in “Udite, utdite, o rustici” (Listen, country folk!) from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. Mr. Terfel attempted to sell his miracle elixir, which was bottled as Brooklyn lager, procured surprisingly from his loose slacks and period coat, before being presented to the “country folk” looking on in Avery Fischer hall. Mr. Terfel played a true buffo by pretending to forget his lines, handing a bierra to an audience member, and even holding maestro Villaume’s orchestra on a fermata while triumphantly chugging an entire lager during the last chord, winning over young and old as the audience erupted in applause.
Playing a less-laughable, yet highly applaudable drunk was tenor-of-today Jonas Kaufmann, excelling in a powerful rendition of “Mamma, quel vino e generoso” from Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, a piece which flashed his signature ringing high notes and delicate piano. The audience was also generoso to Mr. Kaufmann as he performed in another of the evening’s highlights, “Dio, che nell’alma infondere” from Verdi’s Don Carlo, a vow of friendship in 3rds and 6ths, perfectly suited to Mr. Terfel and Mr. Kaufman’s complimentary timbres.
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.”