I Love a Gala

I Love a Gala

Jenna Simeonov

On Friday night, PBS aired Richard Tucker at 100: An Opera Celebration. The performance was recorded on November 17, 2013, in time to honour the centennial of late American tenor Richard Tucker. As of Sunday, the event has been etched into Internet stone, and even a Canadian can watch it.

And what a joy to watch. Riccardo Frizza conducts a night of seriously top-notch opera from the who’s-who of today’s stars. Audra McDonald hosts, the singers wear the good dresses, and Susan Graham dances with soldiers. It’s the kind of event that makes me itch for backstage access. And PBS gives it to you!

Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard is featured as the 2013 winner of the Richard Tucker Award, and shows us all exactly why with some of the most polished, visceral and exciting singing of the evening.

Tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez (both past winners of the Richard Tucker Award) loosen up the audience as Nemorino and Adina; they both sing effortlessly and the performance is nothing charm. They’re an operatic power couple. Her dress is great, so are his shoes. Life is good.

Costello return to sing us an aria from Faust, ”Salut! Demeure chaste et pure”. His singing is bright and thoughtful, a hard combination to pull off for a still-young tenor.

Tenor Matthew Polenzani makes me love “Kleinzach” from Les contes d’Hoffmann. His singing grabbed me right in the feels; his steely voice was malleable, and when he skirts around the limits (an easy thing to do with this aria), I love it. Polenzani wins the unexpected-thrill-of-the-night.

Soprano Angela Meade raises my heart rate with some Power Verdi with “Tu al cui sguardo onnipossente” from I due foscari. Stamina and soul, this lady has. And an awesome high-C face.

And of course there’s the utterly superhuman Joyce DiDonato. She sang the bejeezus out of “Tanti affetti” from Rossini’s La donna del lago; she made me realize that Rossini’s endless and redundant V-I cadences at the ends of his arias actually work when they’re half blended in with raging applause. Also, my favourite dress of the night. Way to go, Joyce.

And there’s just stuff you can’t see anywhere else, like Greer Grimsley and Stephanie Blythe singing Samson and Delilah, or Renée Fleming’s fascinating shawl.

So, yeah, I liked the whole Richard Tucker Centennial shabang, and I think you should watch it if you haven’t yet. It’s truly excellent singing from the gamut of today’s opera giants, and a smorgasbord of inspiration for young singers. If you ever needed motivation to practice, jump straight to 1:37:41.

Watch the whole thing here. I give it five thingies out of five. If you’ve seen it, give us your best critique in the comments.

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