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This summer, Caramoor is thrilled to present two near-contemporaneous operas that show how the two most celebrated composers in Europe approached musical theater in the age of bel canto. The centuries-overdue American premiere of Rossini’s Aureliano in Palmira (July 16) takes place under the baton of Caramoor’s Director of Opera Will Crutchfield, whose interpretation of the long-neglected opera was recognized at last year’s International Opera Awards as Best Rediscovered Work. Caramoor complements this historic revival with an account of Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio (July 31), an audience and critical favorite since it premiered in its final form during the same season as Aureliano. Mounted in the superb acoustics of the outdoor Venetian Theater on Caramoor’s idyllic Westchester estate, both semi-staged productions feature the resident Orchestra of St. Luke’s, whose Principal Conductor Pablo Heras-Casado takes the podium for Fidelio. Likewise, both operas showcase singers making Caramoor opera debuts in the title roles: the Rossini stars young American tenor Andrew Owens, whose “powerful, yet supple, tenor voice [is] capable of tossing off Rossini’s high notes with ease” (Der Neue Merker, Austria), and the Beethoven features South African soprano Elza van den Heever, a familiar face at the Metropolitan Opera and winner of the 2008 Seattle Opera International Wagner Competition. As the New York Times observed last summer, Caramoor’s “bucolic, picnic-friendly settings and a programming philosophy that balances hedonism and exploration have made this festival a must for music lovers.”
Looking ahead to the summer, Crutchfield says:
“It is a season of firsts for us: The first performance anywhere in America for Aureliano; our first guest appearance by Pablo Heras-Casado, principal conductor of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s; our first German opera (though before our ‘Bel Canto’ program was established, Caramoor did give Fidelio’s predecessor, Leonore, in 1989); and festival debuts for several notable singers.”
Thanks in no small part to his scholarship and expertise, opera has long been central to Caramoor’s success. Last year’s bel canto offering was Donizetti’s La favorite, in which, “ably led by Mr. Crutchfield, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s shone” (Wall Street Journal). The opera was sung in the original French – a Caramoor specialty – thereby “solv[ing] problems noted at the last Met Favorita revival” (Opera News). Caramoor also made its first foray into 20th-century opera with Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, in which “Crutchfield’s nuanced performance made a case for this opera as a vehicle for great voices” (Huffington Post), prompting the New York Times to admire “the spacious, detailed performance he drew from an impressive cast and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.”
Aureliano in Palmira by Gioachino Rossini (American premiere)
Aureliano in Palmira (1813) is one of only three Rossini operas for which no original manuscript survives. Dating from the composer’s prolific 21st year, the opera encountered such a litany of obstacles during its first production that he eventually abandoned it, valuing it only as a repository of material for recycling in his later work. Thus although Aureliano remained out of circulation for a full 150 years, its exuberant overture is already known and loved from its repurposed use in The Barber of Seville.
Having already premiered the critical edition of another Rossini rarity – Ciro in Babilonia, which received its first U.S. performance at Caramoor in 2012 – it was Crutchfield who, at the invitation of Pesaro’s Rossini Foundation, undertook the laborious task of reconstructing Aureliano from the web of surviving copies of Rossini’s lost original. In so doing, the Director of Opera discovered that the version performed until 1830 and then revived in 1980 was incomplete, and missing about half an hour’s music. He explains:
“At the outset, none of us knew quite what to expect; the history books depict it as an obscure flop among Rossini’s 39 operas. But the maze of manuscripts led to a startling discovery: all productions since the La Scala premiere were based, unknowingly, on a much-diminished version of the score.
“By the time Aureliano won first place for ‘Best Rediscovered Work’ at this year’s International Opera Awards in London, we were no longer surprised: this is a fully-developed work by Rossini at the height of his youthful powers, unique in the Romantic color it brings to the old opera seria style, thrilling in its broad use of orchestra and chorus. It fell by the wayside through unfortunate circumstances surrounding the premiere; today it is ready to be welcomed to the Rossini canon.”
This assessment has already been vindicated. When Crutchfield premiered his critical edition at Italy’s 2014 Rossini Opera Festival, it was hailed as a triumph. Opera News admired the “meltingly beautiful” love duets, the “stirring and patriotic music,” and the “exquisite pastoral chorus” that “presages in its beauty and dignity the great Verdi choruses to come.” The Financial Times singled out the “intelligence and delicacy” of Crutchfield’s leadership, and the UK’s Daily Express pronounced the performance “an evening to remember.” When this was subsequently released on DVD, Gramophone declared the rediscovered opera a “cargo of musical riches.” Click here to see the video trailer for Crutchfield’s Aureliano recording, as captured in Italy.
Set in the ancient Semitic city of Palmyra in present-day Syria, Aureliano mingles history with romance. Against the backdrop of war, a love triangle unfolds between invading Roman emperor Aureliano, beautiful Palmyran queen Zenobia, and her lover, Persian prince Arsace. The conflict is resolved only when Aureliano, moved by the strength of their feelings for one another, grants the lovers freedom, for which the price is their loyalty to Rome.
The opera has, then, especial resonance for us today. As the world turns its eyes to war-torn Syria, Aureliano’s sublime score has garnered new meaning: in a tribute to the distinguished 82-year-old archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad, brutally beheaded last year for refusing to reveal the location of Palmyra’s ancient artifacts to ISIS, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi opened a tribute to the fallen hero with an excerpt from Crutchfield’s Aureliano recording.
Restoring Rossini’s beloved overture to its organic setting, and offering New World audiences their first opportunity to hear a missing masterpiece by one of opera’s greatest names, Caramoor’s semi-staged production marks a major milestone in operatic history. In the title role, the upcoming U.S. premiere stars young tenor Andrew Owens, winner of the Zarzuela Prize at last year’s Francisco Viñas International Singing Competition. An alumnus of Caramoor’s celebrated Schwab Vocal Rising Stars, Owens recently graduated from the young artist program at Austria’s Theater an der Wien, where he headlined multiple productions. Opposite him as Zenobia is soprano Georgia Jarman, of whom Opera News writes: “She nailed each note with glittering precision and high-flying ease, scattering vocal diamonds. … Audiences roared their delight.” Jarman’s numerous past “Bel Canto at Caramoor” roles include Gilda in Rigoletto, at the 2014 festival. Completing the triangle in the trouser role of Arsace is mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford. Best known for her portrayal of Smeaton in the Metropolitan Opera’s premiere production of Anna Bolena, Mumford last appeared at Caramoor two years ago, when the New York Times found her “charismatic,” and praised her “aristocratic middle range, dusky depths and great confidence as an actress.”
Fidelio by Ludwig van Beethoven
A close contemporary of Rossini’s opera, Fidelio (1814) is the fruit of Beethoven’s decade-long struggle to bend operatic forms to his own personal vision. Where his first attempt, Leonore (1805), met with mixed success, Fidelio – which explores the characteristically Beethovenian themes of heroism, sacrifice, and delayed triumph – became an instant classic, and remains a cornerstone of the repertory to this day. Caramoor’s juxtaposition of the two operas reveals their similarities as well as their differences, allowing audiences to hear the strong natural and complementary relationship between the two. Each represents a different solution to a common challenge: that of synthesizing Italy’s operatic tradition with Germany’s symphonic one. Crutchfield says,
“Fidelio as a companion opera may seem surprising, but after all it dates from the same year, and many traveling opera-goers heard both works when they were new (Milan was under Austrian rule at the time). Beethoven knew some Rossini and Rossini knew some Beethoven. Today, when we know them both to be as distinct as two great composers can and must be, it is fascinating to hear them in the juxtaposition that their own audiences experienced.”
Furthermore, as Crutchfield adds,
“Fidelio seemed to me the perfect choice for welcoming Pablo Heras-Casado to the Bel Canto podium. Beethoven has been a specialty of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s throughout its life, and the rapport with its new principal conductor in his symphonies has been electrifying.”
Pablo Heras-Casado, Musical America’s 2014 Conductor of the Year, already enjoys close ties to the festival; indeed, it was at Caramoor that he first led and launched his partnership with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Known for innovative Beethoven interpretations that combine a “period-practice attention to sharp-edged attacks and transparent textures” with “a Modernist’s love of exciting rhythm and dissonance” (Los Angeles Times), Heras-Casado has been dubbed “the thinking person’s idea of a hotshot young conductor” (New York Times).
At Caramoor, he and the orchestra support a strong ensemble cast headed, in her house and role debuts as Fidelio, by Elza van den Heever, who, “with her laser-bright top notes and pointed interpretive intelligence, … has quickly ascended to the front rank of singers among her generation” (Opera News). Portraying her husband, political prisoner Florestan, is Metropolitan Opera mainstay Paul Groves, winner of the prestigious Richard Tucker Award, whose “tenor has a steel-strong core that seems covered in velvet” (Voce di meche). Icelandic bass Kristinn Sigmundsson reprises the role of Florestan’s jailer, Rocco, in which he proved “robust-voiced and comically patriarchal” (New York Times) at the Met, with Aureliano co-stars Georgia Jarman and Andrew Owens in their role debuts as Rocco’s daughter Marzelline and her would-be suitor Jaquino. Rounding out Caramoor’s stellar cast is award-winning bass-baritone Alfred Walker – a veteran of villainous roles, and blessed with a “showstopping quality” (Seattle Times) – as the wicked prison governor, Don Pizarro.
Bel Canto Young Artists’ recitals and other related events
Caramoor is justly celebrated for nurturing young talent and offering sterling follow-up support, through young artist programs that include the Bel Canto Young Artists. Each year, approximately twelve Bel Canto Young Artists and a larger group of Bel Canto Apprentices receive training in vocal technique and interpretation, before showcasing their development in a pair of summer recitals. Held in the intimate outdoor space of Caramoor’s Spanish Courtyard, this season’s offerings are “The Intimate Rossini: Ensembles and Choruses,” a program pairing ensemble pieces from the composer’s post-operatic Parisian period with little-known gems from his years in Italy and Vienna (July 7), and “Beethoven in Song,” which explores the master composer’s legacy as one of the founding fathers of the German lied (July 21). The young artists also take part in the season’s two opera productions; as NPR notes, “Opera mavens flock to Caramoor, as the festival often gives plum roles to important young singers.”
On the afternoon preceding each of the two opera performances, Caramoor presents a rich selection of auxiliary events. Before Aureliano in Palmira (July 16), Rossini Foundation editorial director Daniele Carnini joins Crutchfield for “Detective Story,” a conversation about their attempt to reconstruct Rossini’s original manuscript, before giving a pre-opera Introductory Talk. In “The Road to Rossini,” the Bel Canto Apprentices perform selections from Italian opera during the years between Mozart’s last operas and the emergence of Rossini, and in “The Last Castrato” the Bel Canto Young Artists pay tribute to Giovanni Battista Velluti, the superstar singer for whom the role of Arsace was originally created. Similarly, before Fidelio (July 31), the Bel Canto Young Artists explore the path from Leonore to Fidelio in “Beethoven’s Wrestling Match with Opera”; the Bel Canto Young Artists and Apprentices offer a capsule view of “Bel Canto in Milan and Vienna, 1814”; and Crutchfield prefaces Beethoven’s masterpiece with an Introductory Talk.
For high-resolution photos, click here.
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For more than 70 years, Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts has been a leading destination for music lovers. Comprising a Mediterranean revival villa on 90 acres of gardens and serene woodlands in Westchester County, NY, the estate is just 40 miles north of Manhattan. Summer concerts take place in two outdoor theaters – the 1,546-seat, acoustically superb Venetian Theater, and the more intimate, romantic 500-seat Spanish Courtyard – as well as in the picturesque gardens, which include a Sense Circle for the visually impaired, Sunken Garden, Butterfly Garden, Tapestry Hedge, and Iris and Peony Garden. Audiences are invited to come early to explore the grounds, tour the historic Rosen House, enjoy a relaxing Sunday afternoon tea, or unwind with a pre-concert picnic. In addition to the summer season, Caramoor presents concerts all year round in the magnificent Rosen House Music Room. Through an impressive range of education programs, Caramoor serves more than 6,000 students in the New York metropolitan area, besides boasting an array of highly successful mentorship programs designed for young professionals who have completed their conservatory training. Over the past 20 years, alumni from these programs have become leaders of the next classical generation, whose accomplishments include winning a MacArthur Fellowship, becoming first violinist of the Juilliard String Quartet, and appointment as the Concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic.
Getting to Caramoor
Getting to Caramoor is simple by car, train or public transportation. All parking is free and close to the performance areas. Handicapped parking is also free and readily available.
By car from New York City, take the Henry Hudson Parkway north to the Saw Mill River Parkway north to I-684 north to Exit 6. Go east on Route 35 to the traffic light (0.3 mile). Turn right onto Route 22 south, and travel 1.9 miles to the junction of Girdle Ridge Road where there is a green Caramoor sign. At the junction, veer left and make a quick right onto Girdle Ridge Road. Continue on Girdle Ridge Road 0.5 miles to the Caramoor gates on the right. Approximate drive time is one hour.
By train from Grand Central Station, take the Harlem Division Line of the Metro North Railroad heading to Southeast, and exit at Katonah. Caramoor is a 3.5-mile drive from the Katonah station, where taxi service is always available and free shuttle service is available for every event Thursdays through Sundays. For current information, check the Metro North schedule.
For the opera performances, Caramoor offers ticketed, round-trip transportation from NYC on the Caramoor Coach, a luxury air-conditioned coach traveling from Grand Central/Lexington Ave to Caramoor’s front door and back. To learn more, contact the Box Office.
Bel Canto at Caramoor, summer 2016
Thurs, July 7 at 7pm
“The Intimate Rossini: Ensembles and Choruses”
Tickets are $15, $24, $32, $40 Spanish Courtyard
Bel Canto Young Artists / Derrick Goff
Sat, July 16
Aureliano in Palmira: pre-opera events
3pm: Talk: “Detective Story” (Daniele Carnini & Will Crutchfield)
4pm: Recital: “The Road to Rossini” (Bel Canto Apprentices / Lucy Yates)
5pm: Recital: “The Last Castrato” (Bel Canto Young Artists / Will Crutchfield)
7pm: Talk: Introduction to Aureliano in Palmira (Daniele Carnini
Sat, July 16 at 8pm
Rossini: Aureliano in Palmira (U.S. premiere)
Tickets are $20, $50, $70, $95, $110
Aureliano: Andrew Owens, tenor
Zenobia: Georgia Jarman, soprano
Arsace: Tamara Mumford, mezzo-soprano
Orchestra of St. Luke’s / Will Crutchfield
Thurs, July 21 at 7pm
“Beethoven in Song”
Tickets are $15, $24, $32, $40
Bel Canto Young Artists / Rachelle Jonck
Sun, July 31
Fidelio: pre-opera events
1pm: Recital: “Beethoven’s Wrestling Match with Opera” (Bel Canto Young Artists & Timothy Cheung)
2pm: Recital: “Bel Canto in Milan and Vienna, 1814” (Bel Canto Young Artists & Apprentices)
3pm: Talk: Introduction to Fidelio (Will Crutchfield)
Sun, July 31 at 4pm
Tickets are $20, $50, $70, $95, $110
Leonore: Elza van den Heever, soprano
Florestan: Paul Groves, tenor
Marzelline: Georgia Jarman, soprano
Rocco: Kristinn Sigmundsson, bass
Jaquino: Andrew Owens, tenor
Don Pizarro: Alfred Walker, bass-baritone
Orchestra of St. Luke’s / Pablo Heras-Casado
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All concerts made possible, in part, by ArtsWestchester with funds from the Westchester County Government.
All concerts made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
The 2016 Bel Canto Young Artists program is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
© 21C Media Group, April 2016