Dallas — Is there anything in the musical world more thrilling than a Verdi-Spinto-Italianate tenor singing a perfectly produced resonate high note at opera house volume? If there is, I can’t think of it. It is this kind of note produced by this kind of tenor that is the secret behind the world-wide success of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” as well as tenor arias in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “poperas.” That is what The Dallas Opera did for its gala on May 11 in the glorious acoustics of the Winspear Opera House.
In fact, it was a cornucopia of such notes sung in a variety of vehicles by three of the leading tenors on the stage today: Michael Fabiano, Bryan Hymel and Matthew Polenzani, with the superlative conductor Carlo Montanaro on the podium. The audience members, already giddy with anticipation before the concert started, went wild with every reiteration of tenor glory. In fact, they almost lost their minds when the gentlemen joined tutta forces to end the evening with a rafter-rousing “Nessun Dorma,” of course, with THE note.
It was every bit as sensational as could be expected and then some. The subtler effect of the evening was the ability to hear three very different iterations in vocal production, musicality and interpretive abilities at the same time.
The first half of the intermission-less program consisted of well-known arias while the second part took a lighter tone with famous non-operatic songs that require a similar vocal approach and have at least one of requisite high notes. It was great fun all the way.
After the concert, there was a fancy Wolfgang Puck sit-down dinner, purchased separately, and a reception in the lobby of the opera house that was open to one and all. I don’t do such dinners, but I did attend the celebratory after-party, which was terrific fun for those reentering the non-tenor world. Wine and beer were available on the house and large bowls of salted munchies were strategically placed around the venue.
Now on to the tenors.
All three have major international careers and are in high demand in the world’s great opera houses and have major awards and competition prizes to their credit.
Michael Fabiano won both the Richard Tucker Award and the Beverly Sills Artist Award in 2014. He was the first singer to win both of them in the same year. He is a more lyric tenor than those that would sing the big honking roles, but his voice is equally resonant and he has the thrilling top as well. He opened with Lenksi’s aria from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, a signature role for him. Later on, he let loose with the emotional “Vesti la Guibba” from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci followed by the more modest, and much lesser known, “Lamento di Frederico” from the opera L'arlesiana (1897) by Francesco Cilea.
Bryan Hymel burst on the scene when he was the grand finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Of the three, Hymel is the closest to the perfect tenor for all of the big Italian knock-it-out-of-the-park roles. Indeed, his list of roles includes Puccini’s operas and others as diverse as Don Jose in Bizet’s Carmen and Énée in Meyerbeer’s Les Troyens. He won the Beverly Sills Artist Award two years before Fabiano took that prize.
The remaining tenor to discuss is Matthew Polenzani. He was my favorite of the evening because of his musicality and the detail he gave to every phrase he sang. He is the most lyric of the three tenors, and sings that repertoire, but he more than stood his ground in the glorious high-note-fest that was The Dallas Opera’s 2019 Gala. Yet, he also delivered some wonderful and soft high notes as well.
It was a thrilling affair.