Age-defying Tony Bennett delivers the goods at the Lyric Opera House
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.
PHOTO BY KELSEY BENNETT