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Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga a perfect pair at Tanglewood

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga performing at Tanglewood on Tuesday.Michael Blanchard

LENOX — He’s the 88-year-old elder statesman of jazz singing considered the last of a breed, an understated man who once rubbed elbows with Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.

She’s the 29-year-old pop star considered an international icon in the making, an outsize woman who’s known as much for her propulsive dance-pop as her outrageous fashion sense.

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga arrived at Tanglewood on Tuesday night as the ultimate odd couple. How would they bridge not only the generations, but also their respective genres and audiences in front of a sold-out crowd of 19,000 people?

Masterfully, it turned out.


The duo are touring behind last year’s “Cheek to Cheek,” an album of jazz and pop standards more attuned to Bennett’s style than Gaga’s. But it revealed her natural affinity for that kind of music, not to mention her deep love for Bennett and the timelessness of his catalog.

That album, along with her showstopping tribute to “The Sound of Music” at the Oscars in February, triggered a reappraisal of Gaga. She’s now turning heads not just for her persona, but also for her impressive chops. It appeared she even won over the Tanglewood crowd, which skewed dramatically older and more conservative than her typical audience.

“I like singers with pipes, and she has pipes,” raved an older gentleman who said he wasn’t a fan before, to which his wife responded, “I thought some of her outfits were going to give Tony a heart attack!”

The duo are touring behind last year’s “Cheek to Cheek.”Michael Blanchard

She must have been referring to that red little number that sent waves of awe (and perhaps shock) through the aisles. A burlesque marvel of glittery fishnet, pasties, a feathered stole, and lots of bare skin, the ensemble was risqué enough that Bennett seemed to avoid staring at it directly. Eye contact, Tony, eye contact.


Bennett and Gaga did not exude an obvious chemistry or even the same approach to the material. He tended to play it straight and dignified, as he has for more than six decades, while Gaga was playful, vamping like an old Hollywood glamour-puss who lived for the spotlight.

Eventually, though, they found common ground in their love of the music. For a show built around their performances together, backed by an eight-piece band of superlative jazz musicians, the artists shone brightest on their own. Occasionally wobbly but still spirited, Bennett’s voice bore into the world-weary heartache of “Smile” and “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” He could just as nimbly swing into the sly groove of “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” and the quaking triumph of “For Once in My Life.”

And yes, the Lady could sing, too, turning out a grand, full-throated rendition of “La Vie en Rose,” sung in both French and English, and a torchy sendup of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).” In her appearance and attitude Gaga summoned Mae West’s bawdiness, but her singing was less contrived, and indebted to the jazz greats, from Anita O’Day’s nuanced phrasing to Julie London’s steamy seduction.

Gaga’s take on “Lush Life,” in particular, was a revelation, a tour de force of melodrama, supper-club intimacy, and a young artist clearly in thrall of the song. And there was no better master of that than the man who had shared the stage with her.



At: Tanglewood, Tuesday

James Reed can be reached at james.reed@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJamesReed.