Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The New York Summer Winds Down with a Special Happy Memory

Caramoor's Italian Pavilion,
overlooking the Butterfly Garden
Yes, the Metropolitan Opera and the unions seem to have settled the labor dispute, and we've been told that we'll have opera in New York again this autumn. And there's the usual array (the only word for it) of up-coming non-operatic events: the New York City Ballet, fantastic theatre offerings - or so the advance publicity tells us - and lots more. I personally am looking forward so some of the great choral works to be presented, the programs of the Chamber Music Society and, of course, the New York Philharmonic. But there's so much more. It's really tough being a music-loving New Yorker.

Summer was easy. Plenty of offerings but, well, it seems to be easier to choose in the summer. So our gang focused on one event, and from my point of view, it outdid just about anything I've experienced in a long time.

I'm talking about the Caramoor Summer Music Festival, this year celebrating its 69th Season with all kinds of good stuff, and we were able to go with friends to the first (of what we hope will be many) Caramoor Opera "Week-Ends." It was the week-end of July 18-20, and it was special. Opera is often on the schedule at Caramoor, but this was the first time a "package" was offered, and it was a delightful experience.

Caramoor is a beautiful estate located near Bedford NY, about forty miles north of Manhattan (actually the town is Katonah NY, but I think of it as Bedford - don't know why - probably because friends live there).

Will Crutchfield, Caramoor's
Director of Opera
It was a full week-end, highlighted needless to say by the opera performances. The choices couldn't have been better, or better "teaching" operas for those of us who love the medium. Will Crutchfield (pictured left), who directs the opera program at Caramoor, had chosen two operas with Victor Hugo "connections," you might say. Donizetti's "Lucrezia Borgia" was performed on Friday and Verdi's "Rigoletto" on Saturday. They are both champion bel canto vehicles and Crutchfield brought together the champions to bring it off.

Led by the Met's Angela Meade, already at her young age an accomplished bel canto specialist (and favorite), the entire ensemble brought Donizetti's dangerously challenging music to great success. Indeed, Meade and the company even provided an special encore, following the opera with a re-insertion of the aria and chorus “Era desso il figlio mio,” an incredibly "explosion of vocal fireworks" (as New York Times critic Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim described the encore in her review). Donizetti had cut the piece from the "Lucrezia Borgia" when he revised the opera seven years after the its premiere, which I have to guess had something to do with the demands on the performers. That did not stop the Caramoor folks, and - truth to tell - the piece was performed so spectacularly we were all left in a state of shock, disbelief, and, of course, sheer delight. This is what music is all about, isn't it?

And, yes, the next night was equally accomplished. We've all come to know and love "Rigoletto" so much that - for some opera goers - it is difficult to get excited about another performance of this grand old war horse (as some people describe "Rigoletto" - uninformed people, in my opinion). Yet with the combination of the right cast, the highest performance standards, and the right "mood" (to say nothing of the grand surroundings of a place like Caramoor), a performance like the one we heard can make it all come together with great success.

That's exactly what happened on Saturday night, and by using the complementary elements of both Victor Hugo's Lucrèce Borgia and his Le roi s'amuse, Crutchfield and crew were able to ring down the curtain on an amazing week-end of what can only be referred to as "high-end" bel canto music.

Spanish Courtyard of the Rosen House,
site of the lectures and recitals
And there was more. Saturday was chock full of pre-opera events, including a swell informative conversation between Crutchfield and his daughter Victoria (herself a recognized stage director of opera, theater, and - as she puts it - "everything in between"). The topic was "What Verdi Learned from Donizetti," and it was full of more of those "connections" I referred to earlier. Then there was a recital by Caramoor's Bel Canto Young Artists of various composers' setting of Hugo's poetry, followed by a staged reading of scenes from Hugo's Le roi s'amuse, and another recital, this one of trios for female voices by Caramoor's Bel Canto Artists and Apprentice Artists. Finally, before the "Rigoletto" performance, there was an "introduction" to the opera from Ken Benson, an artists manager with 25 years as Vice-President of Columbia Artists Management, following which we all trooped off to the splendid singing I described above.

What a week-end for us opera lovers! Good friends, good food, good music. What more could we ask?

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