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Rossini Resplendent

New York
Caramoor Venetian Theater
07/09/2011 -  and July 15, 2011
Gioachino Rossini: Guillaume Tell
Daniel Mobbs (Guillaume Tell), Vanessa Cariddi (Hedwige), Talise Trevigne (Jemmy), Julianna Di Giacomo (Mathilde), Michael Spyres (Arnold Melchtal), Jeffrey Beruan (Melchtal), Scott Bearden (Gesler), Nicholas Masters (Walter Furst), Brian Downen (Ruodi), Michael Nyby (Leuthold), Rolando Sanz (Rodolphe), Joseph Eletto (A hunter)
Caramoor Festival Chorus, Rachelle Jonck (Chorus Master), Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Will Crutchfield (Conductor)
Jill Zakrzewski (Stage Manager)

W. Crutchfield and Caramoor Festival Orchestra
(© Gabe Palacio)

In the early 19th century, Rossini was venerated to a degree that is hard to comprehend today. In Paris, Stendhal compared him to Napoleon. In London, he charged a hefty amount of money merely to turn up at social occasions. And on one such occasion, he actually sang a duet with King George IV – at the King’s request. But, surely, the ultimate accolade came in reference to Rossini’s last opera, Guillaume Tell; the second movement of which, said Gaetano Donizetti, could only have been written by God. The work has had other musical admirers and a profound influence on composers as diverse as Verdi and Meyerbeer. Given all of that, and the fact that Rossini composed this his last opera at the ripe old age of 37 and lived another 40 years, there is also an aura of mystery. Why did he stop writing operas? Did he see Guillaume Tell as Donizetti did, as a kind of musical pinnacle he could not surpass or even equal? Did music move on stylistically in a manner that was just not creatively comfortable? One can only speculate. But the biggest mystery of all is how it can be that most modern audiences have never seen a staged performance or even heard a concert version. It’s been 80 years since a production has been mounted at the Met. Have we all been denied a musical treasure? Emphatically yes!

It’s an extraordinary work – replete with beautiful melodies, inventive and unexpected harmonies, choruses running the gamut from patriotic to prayerful, serene pastorals, and, throughout, marvelous instrumental writing. The music is often delicately scored, as in the cello section at the beginning of the overture – a piece that is a staple of concert halls around the world. Its last section (the gallop) was memorialized (or perhaps trivialized) as a signature tune for the early television series, The Lone Ranger. Under Maestro Crutchfield’s expert baton, the Saint Luke’s Orchestra made even this familiar music sound absolutely fresh. The first act, albeit unusually long, was replete with the most beautiful choral writing alternating with almost chamber like textures. Throughout the evening, the singers and orchestra combined to produce gorgeous ensembles, such as the stunningly beautiful trio in act four, featuring three of the stand-out performers of the evening – Julianna Di Giacomo as Mathilde, Talise Trevigne as Jemmy, and Vanessa Cariddi as Hedwige. The highest compliment I can give is that the vocal writing, almost ethereal blending of the female voices, and the wind instrumentation reminded me of Mozart.

So, given the fame of Rossini, the influence of this work and its intrinsic qualities, why the neglect? The opera is extremely long; indeed, even in Rossini’s time, it was performed with substantial cuts, some by the composer himself. And the tenor role of Arnold is a terribly difficult one. (The novelist James Joyce actually went through the score and tallied up the following vocal hurdles: 456 G’s, 93 A flats, 54 B flats, 15 B’s, 19 C’s and 2 C sharps.) The central character is not a tenor or soprano but the chorus, representing the people of Switzerland. But whatever the reasons for the undeserved obscurity of Guillaume Tell that obscurity is coming to an end in splendid transatlantic fashion. At Caramoor on Saturday evening – thanks to the collaboration of Will Crutchfield and Philip Gossett – the enthusiastic audience was able to hear more of Guillaume Tell than had ever been heard in the United States. There is an encore presentation at Caramoor on Friday July 15th. One day later, Antonio Pappano will lead his Chorus and Orchestra of Santa Cecilia in a concert performance of the opening night version of the opera at the Proms in London. That performance will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. A CD set, drawn from live performances in Rome last year, is about to be released by EMI. Rumor has it that the Royal Opera will stage the work in several years.

At Caramoor, Daniel Mobbs made a fine William Tell, a man with the fire and inspiration of a patriot but also the tenderness of a father (who had the unenviable albeit famous task of shooting an arrow at an apple balanced on the head of his son, Jemmy). Mobbs sang with a dark, resonant voice and good stage presence. In the trouser rose of Tell’s son, Talise Trevigne was a splendid Jemmy. Julianna Di Giacomo as Mathilde was stunning, particularly in her act two aria and the duet and trio in act four. Throughout, her coloratura and intonation were spot on. Mezzo soprano Vanessa Cariddi as Tell’s wife, Hedwige, was superb. Her dark, richly colored voice was particularly fine at the lower end of her range. She was also dramatically convincing in portraying Hedwige’s anguish over the fate of her husband and her son. Cariddi’s duet with Julianna Di Giacomo was simply exquisite – and Mozartean. As Gesler, Scott Bearden convinced as a malevolent and implacable villain. Bass Jeffrey Beruan, as Arnold’s father, Melchtal, sang with a beautiful, rich and steady tone and power to spare. As Arnold, tenor Michael Spyres was splendid in act two. He sang the exquisite melodic line Rossini gave him with melting lyricism, fine legato and elegant phrasing. However, he seemed to tire visibly as the very long evening wore on.

Smaller roles were filled with fine singing and great verve. I particularly enjoyed the swaggering sneer (and tenor voice) of Rolando Sanz. The chorus and orchestra under Maestro Crutchfield met the multifarious musical demands with full commitment and marvelous musicianship. The evening was truly a triumph for Caramoor and for its indispensable Bel Canto Program, founded in 1997 and going from strength to strength.

Arlene Judith Klotzko



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