Monday, July 11, 2011

What? All of It?

Your intrepid reporter ventured up to Caramoor again on Saturday for a day of Rossini. Saturday's Bel Canto at Caramoor presentation was Mr. Rossini's 1829 masterpiece Guillaume Tell. The title of this post refers not to Rossini's retort upon being told one day in the 1830s that the Paris Opéra would present Act II of Tell, from an oft-told (I lost count on Saturday) anecdote. Oh no! It refers to the question this reporter fielded more than once the next day upon mentioning he'd seen the opera--"Did you stay to the end?"

It was a long, long day, starting at 3:00 with a lecture/discussion by Caramoor Opera Director Will Crutchfield and Amazing Musicologist Philip Gossett about the many versions of Guillaume Tell and how the opera influenced the Grand Opera tradition. Actually quite an interesting discussion. It included background about how cultural and political differences between France and Italy made Italian translations of the work in Rossini's time, and practically all Italian translations since, much weaker than the original. Most of the story revolves around the Swiss fight for national independence, and such sentiments were banned by Italian censors of the time. Mr. Gossett gave examples for particularly weak and in some cases amusingly bad Italian versions of some of the most important lines referring to la liberté.

Next was a program of music not included in most modern performances of the opera, presented by the Caramoor Young Artists. This was followed by another Young Artist program, presenting songs to texts of Friedrich Schiller, most of which shared the theme of the fight for liberty. (Guillaume Tell is based on Schiller's play Wilhelm Tell.) Some of the texts shared the thematic motive of a passage across a body of water leading to liberty. Once again I was struck by youth of the young singers presenting this music. Vocal standouts included tenor Rolando Sanz and basses Jeffrey Beruan and Nicholas Masters. All three later also stood out with supporting roles in the opera.

One of my favorite pieces on these programs was the aria by Tell's son Jemmy, which occurs as part of the famed apple scene, when the tyrant Gesler forces Tell to shoot an apple from atop his son's head with his bow. Jemmy first exhorts his father to have courage, and then berates Gesler for his cruelty. A very moving scene indeed.  We were told that Rossini removed the scene because it stopped the forward motion of the story too much.

Finally came the dinner break, when my opera-going companion and I enjoyed a picnic on the lovely grounds of Caramoor, with delicious comestibles we'd procured from William Nicholas in Katonah, which establishment is owned by friends. (These friends are still not comping me or anything for these plugs--what's that about?) Although there was another pre-opera lecture, we were far too relaxed to go hear it.

At last, the main event! The real star of the evening was the Orchestra of St. Lukes, under Mr. Crutchfield's baton, and they never let us forget it! From the opening bars of the overture--a remarkable piece of music that deserves a blog post itself, one that mentions neither the Lone Ranger nor Looney Tunes cartoons--through the many twists and turns of all the finales, the orchestra played always with gusto, and usually with subtlety and good taste. My only complaints had to do with the occasional Oops! moments with some brass entrances and my desire to actually hear the singers. (One of my spies reported that the orchestra did play louder in performance than in rehearsal.)

Ah, the singers! Dear Daniel Mobbs, whom I've featured in these pages before, sang the role of Guillaume Tell, and one heard the beauty of tone and good taste one is accustomed to hearing from him. His aria "Sois immobile!" stands out as a beautiful moment. One of the reasons we wish to see Guillaume Tell produced more often is to see artists of Mr. Mobb's caliber grow over the years with a role so complex as this. He has a great start with this, his first Guillaume Tell.

Juliana Di Giacomo sang Mathilde with great beauty of tone and passion. Hers is a large voice--her credits include many performances of Leonora in Il Trovatore--but she handled all of Mathilde's vocal lines with great skill. Vanessa Cariddi, who gave us a surprisingly flirty Buttercup in HMS Pinafore at Caramoor two weeks ago, gave us a dignified and beautifully sung Hedwige, Tell's wife. (She also wins the Taminophile prize for the best gown on stage.) Talise Trevigne gave us a beautifully sung Jemmy, a pants soprano role. Her singing was free and high and light.

Michael Spyres
I am a big fan of tenor Michael Spyres. His YouTube videos show him to be an intelligent singer with a beautiful, free sound, and I was happy to read that I'd be able hear him in person in Guillaume Tell. I was surprised to learn he would be singing Arnold, because I would have cast his light, mellifluous voice as the Fisherman. It pains me to write this, but I think the role of Arnold is a bit on the dramatic side for Mr. Spyres, although for the most part he coped very well. I'd like to hear him after having done five more productions of Guillaume Tell, but I might not live long enough for that to occur. I'd still rather have heard him as the Fisherman.

Frankly, there are lots of young tenors I'd rather have heard as the Fisherman.  I debated whether to write about Brian Downen, because I normally would simply not mention a young singer I found wanting.  If he had been a Caramoor Young Artist I would have done that, but he is an imported soloist with some impressive credits in his bio-blurb.  He has an obligation to sound like that bio-blurb was written about him.  I simply didn't hear it.

I've now heard Scott Bearden three times at Caramoor, and I'm almost convinced I've heard three different men. He sang Dick Deadeye in Caramoor's recent HMS Pinafore with a much brighter, almost tenorial, sound than that he used on Saturday in Guillaume Tell. One thing I do know--that man can sing villains! His Gesler in Guillaume Tell was just as sadistic as his Chevreuse in Maria di Rohan last summer. I wrote then that I wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley, and it still holds true!

We did indeed stay to the end. Curtain was at 7:30, and the opera ended at about 11:30. There were two intermissions. Let us say the seats at Caramoor don't lend themselves to sitting for such a long time. But it was mostly worth the discomfort. I'm certainly glad I went, for who knows when I might have another opportunity to hear Guillaume Tell live?


Susan Morton said...

Thanks for your well-rounded report.... "too relaxed" to hear the last lecture!! Hahahahaha...

Bryce Smith said...
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