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October 17, 2011

Age-defying Tony Bennett delivers the goods at the Lyric Opera House

Yes, we all know that Tony Bennett has been around a long time and that, at 85, he's still going strong. But it's still a bit of shock any time you get to experience his age-defying artistry in person.

Bennett delivered the goods in high style Saturday night in the Lyric Opera House -- officially, the Patrica and Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric. (There was a moment of silence at the start of the evening for Patricia Breslin Modell, who died last week at 80 after a long illness.)

The near-capacity crowd had to wait a bit before encountering the vocal legend. Bennett's daughter Antonia provided opening-act duties in a set of standards (and a beguiling, relatively rare Noel Coward song, "Sail Away").

The younger Bennett had some fuzzy intonation, but it was easy to detect that she has learned the fundamentals of jazzy styling. It was harder to discern a distinct personality in her singing.

As for the senior Bennett, he took hold of the place from the first, soft phrases of "Watch What Happens" and never let go. It was instructive to observe how ...

Bennett husbanded his vocal resources for more than two dozen songs (and one duet, Sondheim's "Old Friends,"which provided another chance to put Antonia onstage). Many of the numbers were delivered once through, lasting just a couple minutes or so, but there was never an air of the perfunctory about this.

What proved especially rewarding was the way Bennett kept things vocally intimate much of the time. It had the effect of drawing the audience in and even silencing the usual coughing (not, alas, silencing a few persistent talkers).

The ballad-rich program included superbly sculpted accounts of "But Beautiful," "The Way You Look Tonight" and, especially, "Once Upon a Time." In the latter, Bennett gave a model demonstration of how to interpret a lyric, just by the way he subtly emphasized "everything" in the phrase "Everything was ours." Magical. 

Bennett was just as effective when he moved from the conversational to the full-throttle. He let go of forte high notes faster than in the past, of course, but they still contained the familiar, stirring gleam in the tone.

Bennett's jazz chops got an occasional workout, too, in some swinging selections, spurred on by his excellent quartet: pianist Lee Musiker, drummer Harold Jones, bassist Paul Langosch, guitarist Gray Sargent.

Like another inimitable singer, Barbara Cook, Bennett typically closes his performances with an unamplified song. His favored choice for this demonstration is "Fly Me to the Moon," which, subtly accompanied by Sargent, he sang Saturday night with considerable elegance and more than enough tone to reach the house. 

The audience tried to coax more from the vocal legend, but had to settle for Bennett taking a last bow, this time cradling his cute little dog. The singer raised one of the pet's paws to deliver a farewell wave and disappeared backstage.


Posted by Tim Smith at 9:08 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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