In Elisabeth Schwarz’s interview with Thomas Hampson, the baritone describes a song recital as “a landscape of mirrors”. Mozart, Bellini and Verdi framed the mirrors in the first half of the Celebrity Series of Boston’s presentation of “No Tenors Allowed” while those in the second half were straight out of the funhouse of Broadway and operetta, with a chestnut or two thrown in to further vary the reflections. Bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni joined his father-in-law for an evening of high spirits, high drama and low comedy, both springing a surprise which brought the house down. High drama was not restricted to the stage, however: a woman lost consciousness during intermission, which ballooned to over thirty minutes. Fortunately she was revived and able to walk out under her own power, flanked by EMTs.

Thomas Hampson and Luca Pisaroni © Robert Torres
Thomas Hampson and Luca Pisaroni
© Robert Torres
The kinetic energy and panache which colored the entire evening asserted themselves as soon as the doors to the wings swung open and Pisaroni shot out stage left, rattling off recitative, while Kevin Murphy and his page-turner scurried on from the right to take their places just as Pisaroni began to sing a suave and snarky “Non più andrai”. Hampson entered as Pisaroni exited right, applauding with faux condescension and establishing a dynamic of playful one-upmanship which would culminate in the deliberate one-upmanship of Irving Berlin’s “Anything you can do” from Annie Get Your Gun. As soon as he launched into a roiling “Hai già vinta la causa”, Hampson’s body language changed completely. He stiffened, rose to his full height and was every inch the haughty, volatile, sonorous and, at times, snarling Count.

Pisaroni had made his role debut as Don Giovanni at the Met barely 48 hours earlier but tonight he mirrored his exasperated servant, Leporello, first in a mischievous, conspiratorial Catalogue Aria, with a Celebrity Series brochure serving as the catalogue. He took the audience and his accompanist into his confidence, interacting with both and directing the Don’s individual stats to women with similar hair color, even flirtatiously flashing the “phone me” hand gesture to one who caught his eye. He then went nose-to-nose with Hampson’s Don in an aggressive and intense exchange of recriminations in “Eh via buffone” which comically played off their contrasting physiques. Hampson closed the Mozart portion of the program with a seductive and silken “Deh vieni alla finestra”.

Thomas Hampson and Luca Pisaroni © Robert Torres
Thomas Hampson and Luca Pisaroni
© Robert Torres

The first half finished with two substantial scenes from I puritani and Don Carlo sandwiching Kevin Murphy’s solo, a rapt and colorful Intermezzo from Pagliacci. For Pisaroni, the Verdi allowed him to sing a role not usually associated with the lighter quality of his voice. The Puritani scene displayed the complementary blend and power of the two voices ending with a rendition of “Suoni la tromba” rousing enough to send even the most recalcitrant out into the sub-zero night to man the barricades. The scene from Don Carlo benefited from Hampson’s stage experience as Rodrigo, but that, plus his height, and broad shoulders, unbalanced vocally and dramatically the power relationship between king and liege. An occasional dry, grainy pall and some straining for notes suggested that Hampson might have been battling the inevitable effects of the dry winter air.

Intermission’s medical emergency seemed to put Pisaroni off his stride as the second half began with an unfocused Musica proibita. He soon rebounded for “I’ve got you under my skin,” a percolating “Just another rhumba,” and his two beguiling duets with his father-in-law: “And this is my beloved” from Kismet and “Night and Day”. Hampson had his chance to mug and flirt with “O Vaterland” from The Merry Widow and revelled in it, even indulging in some fancy footwork. Though his GPS momentarily malfunctioned propelling Alice’s “itty bitty pretty Pitti Palace” over the Appenines clear to Venice, that lapse didn’t detract from a bawdy, energized “Where is the life that late I led” which he further enlivened with sly phrasing and crisp diction.

Luca Pisaroni and Thomas Hampson © Robert Torres
Luca Pisaroni and Thomas Hampson
© Robert Torres

In the interview, Hampson noted how song has the power to create “a magical moment where time almost stands still”. That moment came unexpectedly with the World War I standard Roses of Picardy which Hampson built quietly and hypnotically into a full throated cry of loss and despair, and with Murphy’s wistful, solo rendition of “Somewhere over the rainbow”.

Hampson and Pisaroni’s unforced comic rapport shone most in “Anything you can do” which included the clarion intervention from the audience of tenor, Brian Jagde, prompting a finger-wagging reproach from Hampson and Pisaroni. The hijinks continued with a generous encore from Don Pasquale, “Cheti, cheti, immantinente”, with the two singers using the whole stage then ending the evening “in one”.

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