Photo credit: Dario Acosta
The Richard Tucker Gala, arguably the most star-studded event of the American opera season, took place last Sunday at Carnegie Hall. The gala is a veritable barometer of the best singing in the opera world, and this year was no exception—headlining the program were prima donnas Joyce DiDonato, Anna Netrebko and Renée Fleming, in addition to the 2016 Richard Tucker Award winner Tamara Wilson.
Ms. Wilson easily proved her vocal mastery in her second selection, "Tu al cui sguardi onni possenti" from Verdi’s I due foscari. As she tossed off impossible roulades and cut through more than 100 instruments and choristers with pianissimo high notes, Wilson made Carnegie's bathtub-like acoustic cower under her vocal heft. Her other pieces were no less lovely—Wagner’s "Dich, teure Halle," a trio from Norma, and "Make Our Garden Grow" from Candide—each of which Ms. Wilson handled with finesse and command. She is a major new discovery for the opera world.
Wilson was in good company with reigning diva Netrebko, who was originally slated to sing a duet with her husband, tenor Yusif Eyvazov, until it was announced that Mr. Eyvazov would be unable to perform due to a broken foot. This turned out to be to the audience's benefit, as Ms. Netrebko added the verismo aria "Io son l’umile ancella" to the previously programmed "La mamma morta." Both pieces were riveting, conjuring images of the great Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi, combining Callas’ vocal drama with Tebaldi’s luxurious sound. Especially breathtaking were the final floated phrases, complete with pitch-perfect octaves and a final ringing morrà.
The other singers on the program offered performances of mostly well-known pieces. Ms. Fleming did her thing with an aria from Manon, "Adieu, notre petite table," and the Neopolitan song "Mattinata," reminding the opera world of her beautiful voice and absolute polish. Rising star Nadine Sierra flawlessly executed the bel canto aria Regnava nel silenzio, but was missing a "wow" factor.
Similarly, soprano Kristine Opolais has garnered a ton of acclaim for her performances at the Met Opera, but it seems all of that singing has taken its toll: the chestnuts "Un bel di" from Madama Butterfly and Rusalka’s "Song to the Moon" were thin and at times out of tune. She was consistently overpowered by the orchestra.
Mezzos Jamie Barton and Joyce di Donato offered unexpected repertoire. Ms. Barton sounded ravishing in Delilah’s aria Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix, but it was clear the few top notes were where she truly wanted to sing. It felt like a waste to keep her in the basement for her other featured selection, a sensitive duet from Giulio Cesare, but perhaps an artist this talented would otherwise steal the show. Ms. di Donato was underwhelming in her two selections, one of which was an unknown new piece by Jake Heggie from his opera Great Scott. Perhaps its relative obscurity kept it from resonating as well as the other pieces.
Tenors Javier Camarena and Lawrence Brownlee left the house in gleeful fits after a duet from Rossini’s Otello. The piece is rarely performed because it requires two virtuoso tenors with steel in their voices. Here, we had probably the two most famous Rossini tenors in the world playfully out-singing each other in a veritable vocal duel. Mr. Camarena was similarly affecting in Rossini's "Danza Tarantella" and a duet from I Puritani (sung with Ms. Sierra.) Mr. Brownlee showed his versatility in a Donizetti aria from the rarely heard Dom Sebastien, sung with silvery shimmer.
The Tucker Foundation outdid themselves again this year with their lineup of starry artists and adventurous programming. Go here to find out more about the foundation and their efforts on behalf of young singers.