I skated through the icy streets to Alice Tully Hall last night to hear the luminous tenor Matthew Polenanzi and his eminently able pianist Julius Drake in recital, and before I could purchase a ticket at the box office, found a lovely lady pressing one into my hand! This gift proved to be only the first of many of the evening, the collaboration between Polenzani and Drake offering listeners one jewel after another: Beethoven's Adelaide, five songs by Liszt, Satie's Troi mélodies, Ravel's Cinq mélodies populiares grecques, and Barber's Hermit Songs.
Polenzani's singing is pure bel canto. Youthful, elegant and effortless, whether he is pulling out all the stops or singing a beautiful mezza voce, his voice carries into the hall, shimmering and caressing the ear with bell-like tone. He can act too, his long experience on the operatic stage enabling him to bring out the character of each song in a convincing, forthright manner without compromising an ounce of vocalism. In fact, his instrument is so well-tuned that the emotions and thoughts conveyed seem larger than life—archetypal even.
The pleasure of hearing Polenzani's clear diction and pure Italianate tone cannot by underestimated, if only because it is so unrepresented by his fellow artists today. He avoids the mouthed, muddled or mechanically-made sounds too often heard. As such, the man is an object lesson in the principles of the Old School, his voice gaining width and becoming even more lustrous since first heard by this writer at New York City Opera about 15 years ago.
Polenzani studied with the legendary Margaret Harshaw, and after her death in 1997, has continued study with Laura Brooks Rice—a fellow student of the doyenne of voice teachers.