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

img 20079 1 When Opera Stars Come Out to Play: The 36th Annual Richard Tucker Gala

Opera idols take a bow

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.