The New York Times, November 7, 2011
Richard Tucker Gala, Avery Fisher Hall, New York, 6. November 2011
A Starry Roster Singing Arias Fiery and Hilarious
Last-minute changes to the program have become part of the tradition at the annual Richard Tucker Music Foundation’s gala concert. So it was on Sunday night, when a starry roster of singers — joined by members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, conducted by Emmanuel Villaume, and the New York Choral Society — performed diverse arias and ensembles for a packed house at Avery Fisher Hall.

Cancellations by performers for this popular concert are understandable, and audiences have typically been tolerant. Since 1975 the Richard Tucker Music Foundation, named for the great American tenor, has fostered the careers of emerging singers. Over the years major artists have found time in busy schedules to contribute their services to the gala. But things come up. This year only two artists withdrew. Sadly, the tenor Marcello Giordani had to go to Italy to attend to his “gravely ill” mother, said Barry Tucker, the foundation’s president. The soprano Marina Poplavskaya, who was ill, also canceled.

But Anita Rachvelishvili, the Georgian-born mezzo-soprano, stepped in. Ms. Rachvelishvili made news in 2009 singing the title role of Bizet’s “Carmen” at La Scala to acclaim, and it just so happened that her Don José from that production, the tenor Jonas Kaufmann, was participating in the gala. So the final scene from “Carmen,” in which the distraught José confronts and then kills Carmen, was added to the program (in place of dropped selections) and won a huge ovation.

Ms. Rachvelishvili sang in a penetrating, plush and expressive voice. Mr. Kaufmann, who recently gave a recital at the Met, was in great form, singing with dusky colorings, powerful top notes and, in moments of despair, aching vulnerability. He was also outstanding in an aria from Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana.”

The evening’s main business was to honor this year’s Tucker Award winner, the young soprano Angela Meade, who receives a $30,000 prize, the foundation’s largest grant. Ms. Meade recently sang three performances of the title role in Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena” in the Met’s new production, and she returns to the company in February for Verdi’s seldom-heard “Ernani.”

Her first offering here was a fiery aria from Verdi’s “Attila.” Her sound was enormous, rich and unforced; her coloratura runs and passagework were dispatched with aplomb and precision. Vocally, Ms. Meade was even better in the Act I finale of Bellini’s “Norma,” for which she was joined by the mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick as Adalgisa and the sturdy tenor Frank Porretta (substituting for Mr. Giordani) as Pollione.

Though a strong Adalgisa, Ms. Zajick came into her own in an aria from Tchaikovsky’s “Maid of Orleans” and as Santuzza in a steamy scene from “Cavalleria Rusticana,” with the bright-voiced tenor Yonghoon Lee as Turiddu.

The bass-baritone Bryn Terfel took the gala mood to heart and stopped the show with a vocally lusty and hilarious performance of the aria from Donizetti’s “Elisir d’Amore” in which Dulcamara, a quack doctor, peddles his cure-all elixir to a crowd of peasants. Jabbing his finger, Mr. Terfel directed Dulcamara’s first words, “Udite” and “Attenti” (“Listen” and “Pay attention”), to stragglers in the audience who were late in taking their seats.

The powerful mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe offered a finespun and sumptuous account of the lovely aria “Connais-tu le pays” from Thomas’s “Mignon.” Also performing were Maria Guleghina in “Visse d’arte” from Puccini’s “Tosca,” Zeljko Lucic in “Eri tu” from Verdi’s “Ballo in Maschera” and more. An exuberant if not always tidy account of the closing fugue from Verdi’s “Falstaff” brought the generous program of nearly two hours, performed without intermission, to a festive close.


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