Netrebko steals fundraising opera gala

New York: Memo to aspiring opera stars: If you`re taking part in one of those galas that feature a parade of singers, try to make sure you don`t go on right after Anna Netrebko.

The Russian diva is one tough act to follow. Brandon Jovanovich, a talented young American tenor, found that out — not once but twice — on Sunday night at the annual Richard Tucker Gala at Avery Fisher Hall.

Netrebko was in prime form, sashaying out in a blue dress that emphasized her many curves and launching into a hip-swaying rendition of an aria from Kalman`s "The Gypsy Princess," complete with chorus and formidable high notes to top it off. Jovanovich followed, singing an aria from Lehar`s last operetta, "Giuditta," with ardor and impressive volume. But it inevitably seemed a bit anticlimactic.

Netrebko was even more dazzling in her second appearance near the end of the two-hour program, joining tenor Marcello Giordani in the steamy Saint-Sulpice scene from Massenet`s "Manon." This is the scene in which the heroine seduces her former lover right in the church where he is about to take holy vows. Netrebko sounded sensational, and her feminine wiles left little to the imagination, including a long and passionate embrace between the two as the music welled to a climax.

Again, Jovanovich followed, this time joined by mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca in what should have been a scene of wrenching drama — the finale to Bizet`s "Carmen," in which the gypsy`s rejected lover, Don Jose, quarrels with her and then stabs her to death. Despite strong singing from both, the confrontation failed to set off any sparks. Maybe they felt confined by being deprived of the scenery in which they are currently performing the opera next door at the Metropolitan Opera. Or, maybe, it was again the Netrebko effect.

The gala and a dinner that followed raises money for the Richard Tucker Music Foundation, which is dedicated to keeping alive the memory of the great tenor and supporting young American singers.

Jovanovich himself is a former winner of the foundation`s major annual award, and this year`s winner, tenor James Valenti, opened the concert with the aria "E la storia solita del pastore" from Cilea`s "L`arlesiana." It`s a haunting melody in a minor key, but it needs a rounder tone and more spontaneity than Valenti is able to bring to it at this early stage of his career.

Some other young singers showed both promise and limitations. Lisette Oropesa has a lovely light lyric soprano voice, but her rendition of "Caro Nome" from "Rigoletto" was marred by some rough passage work. And the gifted soprano Angela Meade ran into some thorny moments in the daunting coloratura leaps in an aria from Donizetti`s "Lucrezia Borgia"

There were plenty of veterans on hand as well. Bass Ferruccio Furlanetto brought dignity and impressive power to a selection from Massenet`s "Don Quichotte," but he overdid the sentiment in "This Nearly Was Mine" from Rodgers and Hammerstein`s "South Pacific." Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham made a brief surprise appearance for an elegant account of "Ombra mai fu" from Handel`s "Xerxes."

Marco Armiliato conducted members of the Met orchestra, moonlighting on their night off, along with the New York Choral Society.

Bureau Report