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Concert Review

Judy Drucker is celebrated with a 50th anniversary tribute concert

Mon Nov 20, 2017 at 2:59 pm

By Lawrence Budmen

Judy Drucker with her niece Cantor Rachel Nelson at Sunday's tribute concert at Temple Israel.

Judy Drucker with her niece Cantor Rachelle Nelson at Sunday’s tribute concert at Temple Israel.

In 1967 a former singer and aspiring impresaria presented a recital with local musicians at a Miami Beach temple. From those humble beginnings, Judy Drucker went on to found the Great Artist Series and Concert Association of Florida which for decades brought many of the world’s greatest artists and ensembles to South Florida. Luciano Pavarotti, Itzhak Perlman, Vladimir Horowitz, Evgeny Kissin, the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein and Zubin Mehta and literally hundreds of others graced Miami-Dade and Broward stages. 

On Sunday afternoon a nearly full house turned out for the Judy Drucker Tribute Concert at Miami’s Temple Israel, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of that initial performance. Drucker, now 89 and wheelchair bound, was present for the event.

After introductory remarks by radio personality Stu Grant, thirteen members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida under the direction of Juan Mansilla opened the nearly two-hour festivities with a vociferous “Hello Judy” (instead of “Hello Dolly”) to native South Floridian Jerry Herman’s iconic tune. Armando Naranjo, who has sung several roles with Miami Lyric Opera, offered a virile “Toreador Song” from Bizet’s Carmen. Naranjo’s firmly placed baritone easily encompassed the aria’s low notes that many singers only approximate.

Providing pianistic flash and finely attuned accompaniment for Naranjo, Alan Mason (who is director of music at Temple Israel) proved the hardest-working performer of the afternoon. Collaborating with nearly every participating artist, Mason brought sensitivity and idiomatic affinity to a menu of divergent musical idioms and styles.

Soprano Giselle Elgarresta Rios displayed shaky pitch and a hit-and-miss upper register in a Brahms Op. 9 song and “Musetta’s Waltz” from Puccini’s La Boheme. Rios proved more comfortable in a duet version of Lecuona’s “Siempre en mi Corazón.” Naranjo’s mellow tones and flutist Nestor Torres’ shiny embellishments added both spice and vocal depth to this Latin standard.

Violinist Scott Flavin (from the Bergonzi String Quartet and concertmaster of the Florida Grand Opera Orchestra) and violist Michael Klotz (from the Amernet Quartet) teamed up for a stylish rendition of the Allegro from Mozart’s Duo in G Major. With instrumental timbres nicely blended, Flavin and Klotz combined vigor and aristocratic restraint while finely navigating Mozart’s winding musical lines. 

In a solo rendition of the theme from the film Schindler’s List by John Williams, Flavin’s singing line and straightforward reading avoided overly exaggerated sentimentality. Mason’s accompaniment was supple and flexible.

Ana Collado, winner of the newly inaugurated 2017 Judy Drucker Artist of the Year Vocal Competition, projected exquisitely turned high notes and real affinity for Puccinian lyricism in “Chi il bei sogno” from La Rondine. This promising young UM Frost School of Music graduate has previously given impressive performances in Frost Opera Theater productions.

Cantor Rachelle Nelson (from Temple Beth Am), Drucker’s niece, joined forces with Cantors Lisa Segal (from Temple Beth Sholom where Drucker’s concert series began) and Jodi Rozental (Temple Judea) for a Broadway medley. Though sung with panache, the pastiche proved overly long at more than twenty minutes. Among its best moments,  Rozental’s version of “Cabaret,” the title song from the Kander and Ebb musical, showed that she was just as comfortable as a Broadway belter as she is singing liturgical music. The trio traded vocal sparks with a conflation of “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” and “To Life” from the Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick score for Fiddler on the Roof.

Torres took the solo spotlight for a catchy Latin sway through a tune by Puerto Rican composer Pablo Hernandez. He told the audience that “the sun is always shining on the legacy and artistic standard” that Drucker brought to local audiences.

Torres’ traditional closing number–Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow” was greeted with some unexpected drama when an audience member in the front row stood up and requested the audience to stand with him because he associates the song with his participation in the Normandy invasion. Displaying professional aplomb beyond the call of duty, Torres calmly handled the incident–morphing the song into a dance tempo, Torres said “Sit down or dance,” tactfully ending the encounter. His silvery reprise of the melody restored calm.

Miami-based soprano Elizabeth Caballero concluded the program with a large touch of class. She said that when she was a student at Miami-Dade College, she participated in a vocal competition and Drucker brought Pavarotti to listen to some of the students. That encouragement, she related, led her to continue her training and, eventually, to a career singing in major American and European opera houses, including the Met. 

Caballero’s creamy timbre, emotional projection and evenness throughout registers superbly conveyed Liu’s “Signore, ascolta” from Puccini’s Turandot. By her facial expression and posture, Caballero set the mood for “Ernani, involami” from Verdi’s Ernani. There was great fervor in her full-throated singing, enhanced by nimble coloratura with the final high trills spot-on.

Caballero’s splendid singing made a great finale to a worthy celebration of a Miami icon. In no small way, Judy Drucker put Miami on the classical music map and her enormous legacy continues to impact the area’s arts offerings today.

Kudos to attorney Mark Bryn and his assistant Angela Shlyakhov for conceiving and producing this celebratory event and tribute to a seminal figure in Miami’s cultural heritage.

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