The Seventh Annual Excellence in Opera (aka the Freddie) Awards



As 2019 comes to a close, it is time for the seventh annual Excellence in Opera Awards, also known as the Freddies. I have seen and heard a lot of excellent performances and, though the art form always faces challenges, I am sanguine about its future — especially if audience members support it by attending live performances and are open to experimentation.

Sustained Excellence in Performance, Male: It is fair to say that tenor MATTHEW POLENZANI can now be considered a veteran artist. Unlike many, he gets better all the time. This year he sang six roles at the Met. He was a superb Tito (La Clemenza di Tito), Vaudémont (Iolanta), Duke of Mantua (Rigoletto), Macduff (Macbeth), Rodolfo (La Bohème), and Italian tenor (Der Rosenkavalier), and gave an outstanding recital at Zankel Hall.

Recital / Concert: MATTHEW POLENZANI with JULIUS DRAKE and JENNIFER JOHNSON CANO, February 24 at Zankel Hall. A program of Schubert and Beethoven sung by Polenzani with Johnson Cano concluding the first half with Gypsy songs by Brahms. The highlight was Janáček’s rarely-performed cycle, The Diary of One Who Disappeared, which took up the whole second half of the program. Polenzani sang the role (which one could almost call it) of a young man who encounters a beautiful and sensual gypsy (Johnson Cano), impregnates her, and then faces the consequences of leaving his family to be with her and their new child. I cannot vouch for his pronunciation of the Czech language, but it did sound beautiful and I felt all the moments of drama and pathos in this cycle. The one encore, “Danny Boy,” was as beautiful as any art song, but also emotionally wrenching in its simplicity.

RevivalLA BOHÈME at the Met. Although Franco Zeffirelli’s 1981 staging is the most-performed production in Met history, the cast (Ailyn Pérez, Matthew Polenzani, Olga Kulchynskaya, David Bizic, Andrey Zhilikovsky, Jongmin Park, and Arthur Woodley) was well-nigh perfect in singing and acting. They, under the expert conducting of Marco Armiliato and the outstanding stage direction of Gregory Keller, made me feel as I was seeing this opera and production for the first time when, in fact, I have seen it more than 100 times!