Arias by Mozart, Bellini, and Verdi; Songs by Staislao Gastaldon, Cole Porter, Franz Lehar, George Forrest, Harold Arlen, George Gershwin, Haydn Wood, and Irving Berlin. Luca Pisaroni, baritone; Thomas Hampson, baritone; Vlad Iftinca, piano. Koerner Hall, April 30, 2019.
Who says classical music/opera is stuffy? These musicians may have oodles of talent and sing like angels, they are also not immune to having some fun. With a concert titled “No Tenors Allowed,” you just know that you’re in for an evening of watching/hearing two guys having fun and hamming it up. If you are a fan of American TV shows from the ’50s, there was the occasional comic classical music/opera program not unlike old-style vaudeville, not meant to be taken too seriously.
That’s exactly what the audience got last evening at Koerner Hall. Two internationally famous baritones letting their collective hair down — and Mr. Hampson, who turns 64 in a month, still has plenty of hair, thank you very much. Given both are baritones and sharing essentially the same repertoire, they rarely appear in operas together. But they are connected offstage, as Pisaroni is Hampson’s son-in-law. How’s that for keeping it in the family?
Hampson’s “No Tenors Allowed” show has been heard far and wide for some years now. It originally featured him and bass Samuel Ramey, and later replaced by Pisaroni. The concept has remained the same, a mix of “serious” repertoire with lighter stuff, plus plenty of horsing around. The duo performed earlier this season in Boston, and after the Toronto date they are due to repeat it in Santa Fe, New Mexico on May 2.
An insert was included in last evening’s program detailing several changes – Macbeth and Maometto secondo replaced by I puritani and Don Carlo. In the second half, Grafin Maritza, On the Town, South Pacific and Land of Smiles gone, in their place were Cole Porter, Stanislao Gastaldon, and Kismet. No explanations given nor expected, as these changes are fairly commonplace.
The two took turns singing the opera arias basically “straight,” with a surfeit of onstage antics notwithstanding. Side by side in the Puritani duet, their timbres are quite similar. Tempo-wise the show overall was fast, with a rather rushed feel to it. The first half came in at under 45 minutes. Hampson, a fine Hadrian last season, sounded a bit dry and occasionally unsteady on this occasion, although his surefire theatricality was undiminished. Pisaroni, a good twenty years younger and in his prime, was in fresher voice.
The second half was devoted to lighter material. In the mix, we got Italian salon music, Gastaldon’s “Musica proibita,” mellifluously sung by Pisaroni. Danilo’s “O Vaterland…” in Die lustige Witwe was given the macho swagger treatment by Hampson. There were Cole Porter and Ira Gershwin as well, all dispatched with a sugary dose of charm and flair. Hampson, ever the showman, pulled out all the stops in Kiss Me Kate and got a rousing ovation.
The final scheduled piece was “Anything You Can Do” from Annie Get Your Gun by Irving Berlin. To those used to Ethel Mermen or Betty Hutton, it’s simply weird to hear two macho guys doing this number. Frankly, I prefer the mixed-sex version. One funny moment was provided by the pianist Vlad Iftinca, the terrific Met repetiteur and marvellous pianist who incidentally didn’t even need a page-turner. When Hampson and Pisaroni were fighting over who could sing higher, Iftinca cut in with a shrill top note worthy of Brunnhilde’s Battle Cry.
No, this concert wasn’t exactly heilige Kunst, but a musical bon-bon, a mix of Yankee vaudeville and high brow opera arias. If you like your musical equivalent of chocolate blackout cake/caramel sticky bun, you would have adored it. The vast majority of the audience certainly did, giving the three guys an obligatory standing ovation. If you hadn’t had your fill — hey, fly immediately to Santa Fe. They are appearing tomorrow (May 2) in the Lensic Performing Arts Centre!