YOUNG AND GIFTED
Three Mo’ Tenors takes off from the Three Tenors and the Three Irish Tenors, with three African-American tenors — two gifted, one sublime — mixing opera (from Rigoletto to Porgy and Bess), Broadway, sizzling jazz, blues, soul, gospel, and spirituals. Catch this act on PBS’s Great Performances or the BMG CD (both due in August) but regret that you weren’t part of the small but enthusiastic audience singing and clapping along at the Majestic a week ago Friday.
Thomas Young has been performing for decades. He was chilling as Stravinky’s Oedipus Rex with the Cantata Singers in 1996, and memorably sinister both as Black Muslim leader Elijah Mohamed in Anthony Davis’s Malcolm X opera, X, and as a terrorist in John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer — parts written for him. He has a voice of piercing focus, a face of haunting and touching complexity, and a knowing sense that “style” means choosing from numerous possibilities.
Three Mo’ Tenors is primarily (and rightly) a showcase for Young’s phenomenal versatility. He sang “Nessun dorma” (with inward seriousness of purpose) and “Send In the Clowns” (with wry poignance and freshly imagined phrasing), “America the Beautiful” and astonishing scat, and, in the evening’s most devastating number, his own arrangement of the deranged Annie Ross/Wardell Gray “Twisted.” In “Midnight Train to Georgia” he was even Gladys Knight to the Pips of his two younger colleagues.
Big guy Rodrick Dixon sang the aria with the nine high C’s (abridged to five) from The Daughter of the Regiment more effectively than the Boston Lyric Opera’s tenor did earlier this season, and he was even sweeter in Ellington’s “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart.” Victor Trent Cook, a Tony nominee for Smokey Joe’s Café, sang countertenor in Scarlatti but seemed more at home in a jazzier falsetto. His zoot-suited, hip-swiveling Cab Calloway in “Minnie the Moocher” was more authentic than his show-bizzy “Were You There” — one of the few miscalculations. Joseph Joubert led a terrific band once the initial coordination problem with the singers was settled.
Marion J. Caffey, whose idea this was, directed with efficient simplicity. Shticks were so minimal and so feeble (Cook “arriving late” for “a recording session”), they didn’t compromise the evening. Caffey starred as Jelly Roll Morton on Broadway; now, says his bio, he is “completely dedicated to conception, writing and directing.” If his future “conceptions” include Thomas Young, may he conceive away.