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Review: Honoree Ailyn Perez headlines gala concert

The Associated Press, Monday, November 12, 2012, 8:31am (PST)

NEW YORK (AP) — An intriguing array of up-and-coming vocal talent went a long way to add some spice to a program that was overstuffed with operatic chestnuts at this year's Richard Tucker Gala.

Among the promising young singers was soprano Ailyn Perez, this year's winner of the $30,000 award given annually by the foundation that is named for the great tenor who died in 1975. The foundation supports the work of gifted American opera singers through a variety of programs and uses the gala concert and dinner to raise funds.

Perez opened the festivities at Avery Fisher Hall on Sunday evening with a slightly strained account of the "Gavotte" from Massenet's "Manon." The creamy elegance of her sound was heard to far better advantage in two later selections, the "Cherry Duet" from Mascagni's "L'amico Fritz" and the finale to Act 2 of Verdi's "La Traviata."

In both the latter she was joined by her husband, tenor Stephen Costello, who won the Tucker award himself three years ago. Costello was in brilliant voice, his bright tenor brimming with youthful vigor and passion. His ardent, effortless vocalizing frankly put the evening's two other tenors — Giuseppe Filianoti and Marcello Giordani — in the shade.

The show-stopper of the night was Liudmyla Monastyrska, a Ukrainian soprano who sounded sensational in Lady Macbeth's "Letter Scene" from Verdi's "Macbeth." Monastyrska, who is to make her Metropolitan Opera debut later this month in Verdi's "Aida," would seem to have all the ingredients for a major career — a rich, potent voice that she deploys with confidence over a wide range. She captured the dangerous abandon of Lady Macbeth's outpourings, while maintaining firm control over the tricky vocal line.

Making her U.S. debut, Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught sang Rosina's familiar "Una voce poco fa," from Rossini's "Il Barbiere di Siviglia." She possesses a pleasant voice with good coloratura dexterity, but the impression she made was rather generic, not helped by an overly coy delivery.

Not quite new to New York, Quinn Kelsey impressed with the size and warmth of his baritone in two selections — a duet from Verdi's "Attila" in which he was joined by the fine bass-baritone Ildar Abdrazakov, and in the aria "Nemico della patria?" from Giordano's "Andrea Chenier." Kelsey has sung only minor roles at the Met and sounds overdue for a promotion.

Also highly impressive among the relative newcomers was mezzo Jamie Barton, who displayed a plush, impassioned sound in the aria "O mon Fernand," from Donizetti's "La favorite" and in the septet (sung here with just six soloists) from Offenbach's "Les contes d'Hoffmann."

Best of the veterans were baritone Gerald Finley, crisp and stylish in an aria from Handel's "Rinaldo"; bass-baritone Erwin Schrott, looking devilishly handsome in black leather coat with spiked collar turned up in an imposing "Ave Maria" from Boito's "Mefistofele"; and mezzo Olga Borodina, offering a voluptuous "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix," from Saint-Saens' "Samon et Dalila."

Schrott and Borodina also contributed two of the evening's only rarities. He sang "Rojo Tango," by Pablo Ziegler, a jazzy piece accompanied by accordion. Borodina was joined by baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky in a gorgeous duet from Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Tsar's Bride."

Patrick Summers conducted members of the Met Opera orchestra and the New York Choral Society. The program — presumably somewhat trimmed from its 2-hour-plus, intermissionless length — will be televised on PBS's Live from Lincoln Center beginning Dec. 13.

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