Sunday, June 26, 2011

Never Mind the Why and Wherefore

Those people at Caramoor are at it again! Your intrepid reporter happily ventured once again to the wilds of northern Westchester for a lovely afternoon and evening of singing. I've written before about Caramoor performances I enjoyed tremendously. I love Caramoor's focus on bel canto and on presenting young singers.

Photo courtesy
For Caramoor to present HMS Pinafore might appear a bit odd, a contradiction. But things are seldom as they seem, as Caramoor Director of Opera Will Crutchfield states in his program notes. (See how I cleverly worked in a line from the Buttercup-Captain Corcoran duet? I'm smart like that.) Sir Arthur Sullivan, the composer half of the famed Gilbert & Sullivan pair, was steeped in the bel canto tradition, having studied on the continent and worked as editor and arranger of selections of the operas of the day--Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi--for sheet music publication. The compositional structure and melodic style of the great Italian operas of the mid-19th century is evident on careful analysis and listening. W.S. Gilbert's story lines contained many of the same elements of the opera of the day--stratification of the social and economic classes, falling in love across class lines, sudden revelation that makes the proposed marriage possible, throwing the wrong baby on the fire, etc. (OK, maybe not that last thing, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn even that was part of some obscure G & S operetta I don't know.) As dear Anna Russell says here and here, "So long as you follow this formula, you can put your opera where you like!"

Having been convinced that Gilbert and Sullivan do indeed have a place in bel canto opera, or at least alongside it, I was ready for the eager young singers and energetic production team at Caramoor to give us a highly enjoyable day of music. First were the pre-opera events presented by the Bel Canto Young Artists--a concert of English opera from its earliest days up to the time of G & S, and then "a selection of humorous and sentimental songs" from the era leading up to Gilbert and Sullivan. Although there was some fine singing on these concerts, my overall impression is this: The freshmen get younger every year, don't they? Time and space don't allow me to discuss all the singers, but I had some favorites. Michelle Trovato, about whom I've written in glowing terms before, gave us an affecting performance of "O ravishing delight" from The Judgment of Paris by John Eccles, an aria similar in nature to Dido's lament. Carl Maria von Weber's Oberon had an English libretto originally, and the aria "From boyhood trained in tented field" is a tiresome tirade of pyrotechnics that I hope to forget soon. Anthony Webb, the young tenor who sang it, reminded me of a young, young William Matteuzzi. Did I mention he's young? Baritone Michael Nyby, basses Jeffrey Beruan and Nicholas Masters, and tenor Rolando Sanz also were among my favorites, showing a great amount of both accomplishment and promise. Although most of the musical selections were deservedly obscure, I think several songs and arias, including "Tom Bowling" by Charles Didbin, "The Mighty Deep" by William Herbert Jude, an "Push about the brisk bowl" from The Chaplet by William Boyce, deserve more air time. I can not overlook the beautiful piano accompanying of Julius Abrahams.  To do so would be a sin.

Photo (c) Gabe Palacio for Caramoor
Onward to the main event! At Caramoor, of course, the operas are semi-staged concert versions. Semi-staged means as much stage business, costuming, scenery as they have the space, time, inclination and budget to produce, but the orchestra takes up most of the space on stage. In this production the entire cast, as well as Mr. Crutchfield on the podium, were charmingly costumed by Production Designer Paul Carey as if they were in a 1930s cruise ship comedy. The stage direction by Steven Tharp nearly always hit the mark for charm and effect, especially when appropriately overplaying particularly melodramatic parts of the story. However, I'm not of one mind about Americans affecting a British accent, as Mr. Tharp had the cast do. There are invariably times when it isn't maintained consistently or otherwise doesn't work, and we saw such times in this performance.  The Orchestra of St. Luke's of course played beautifully under Mr. Crutchfield's skillful baton, with none of the minor lapses in togetherness I've heard on rare occasions previously. They played with just as much enthusiasm as the young singers gave in their performances.

Photo (c) Gabe Palacio for Caramoor
The cast was a mix of Bel Canto Young Artists and young professionals imported for this show. Georgia Jarman, who sang Josephine, one half of the obligatory pair of star-crossed lovers, is a very fine singer and actress, and looked beautiful in her 30s glamour girl getup. I do wish I could have understood what she was singing better. Robert McPherson was an able Ralph Rackstraw, the other half of the pair. Buttercup was sung and acted with great relish by mezzo Vanessa Cariddi. Bel Canto Young Artist Jason Plourde gave us Sir Joseph Porter and Bel Canto Young Artist Jorell Williams sang Captain Corcoran, Josephine's father. I enjoyed the performances of these gentlemen, but at times thought they both lacked projection and crisp diction. Young Mr. Plourde's patter song "When I was a lad" was almost there, but even crisper diction would have made it sparkle. All things considered, however, this was quite an enjoyable performance.

I should mention the delightful lunch I had in Katonah at Willy Nick's, directly across the street from the Katonah train station on Katonah Avenue. Next time I shall fill my picnic hamper with foods from the associated gourmet market William Nichols, just around the corner on Edgemont Road. These establishments are run by friends of mine. No, they're not paying me for this plug. What's that about?


Lucy said...

"Skim milk masquerades as cream!" Pinafore was the first G&S I saw (at a very young age) and I've been fond of it ever since. Personally I tend to think of G&S alongside 19th-century opera, rather than fully integrated with it; it's so gleefully parodic! Thanks for the detailed report on fun times at Caramoor.

Susan Morton said...

As always I enjoyed your reflections on what you saw and heard. Thanks, David!

Taminophile said...

Lucy, take a look at this alternate performance of "Things are Seldom What They Seem"--the second song on this clip:

Lucy said...

I did, and breathless giggling ensued!