We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Sunday, July 9, 2017


Angela Meade

Santiago Ballerini
What a superb farewell for the "Bel Canto at Caramoor"' program.  After twenty years of bel canto, the opera program at this beautiful Venetian estate will revert to its original mission of presenting opera from many different traditions and to continue training and fostering the development of young singers through its Schwab Vocal Rising Stars program; Maestro Will Crutchfield will move his Bel Canto program to the nearby Performing Arts Center at SUNY Purchase. The new program will be called Teatro Nuovo and we will keep our readers informed as details become available.

The glorious farewell piece was Vincenzo Bellini's third opera Il Pirata. Inspired by Mozart and admired by Wagner, Donizetti, and Chopin, Bellini was a child prodigy trained at the conservatory in Naples. He came from a family of musicians and attended by virtue of a scholarship.

The head of the school gave him a valuable lesson that we wish the composers of today would heed.  To paraphrase, if you don't master melody, you will wind up as a church organist in some small town. This must have stung since that pretty much described Bellini's family!

Fortunately, young Vincenzo heeded the advice and became known for his melodic gifts.  It seems to us that he spun out long silken melodies like a silkworm whereas Rossini's melodies tumble out helter skelter. If his brilliant fioritura is reserved for moments of heightened passion, it permits long lyric lines to unspool at leisure.

So it was with Il Pirata, so magnificently performed by some major stars with Maestro Crutchfield conducting the Orchestra of St. Luke's. Soprano Angela Meade, about whom we have written before, needs no introduction. She is a confirmed superstar with a luxurious sound that sets the air to vibrating and a generous palette of vocal colors. Her coloratura in the final mad scene drove the audience wild with appreciation.

On the other hand, Argentinean tenor Santiago Ballerini just appeared on our event horizon but we recognize a star when we hear one. His physical stature is on the slight side but his vocal stature towers over most of the tenors we have recently heard. Not yet thirty years old, he has created a sensation in South America and is just achieving recognition in the United States.

The timbre of his voice is hugely appealing and he does not push or oversing. He possesses a stunning messa di voce and manages to float the high notes without apparent effort. We consider ourself a fan.

The opera itself does not have the most interesting libretto but Felice Romani worked exceptionally well with Bellini and the poetry of the text is outstanding, especially as married to Bellini's gorgeous melodies.

The story concerns two rivals for political supremacy and for the love of a woman. Gualtiero, the Count of Montalto (Mr. Ballerini) had been defeated by Ernesto, the Duke of Caldora (bass Harold Wilson) and lost everything except for his love for Imogene (Ms. Meade) who was obliged to wed Caldora to save her father's life. That's the backstory.

When the opera opens, Gualtiero is a pirate and he is losing his ship. This is recounted by the superb chorus, comprising the Bel Canto Young Artists who performed magnificently throughout the opera.

In the subsequent two acts he and Imogene recognize one another and realize that their love will never be consummated. The two men duel. The Duke dies. The Count turns himself in and is executed. Imogene goes mad.

Not much of a story but this was only 1827 and the beginning of the Romantic period of opera. Since the opera was semi-staged there was no ship and no shipwreck, just a lot of fantastic singing--not only arias but some impressive duets, trios, and ensembles.

We were particularly happy to hear tenor Sean Christensen, one of Caramoor's Young Artists in the substantial role of Itulbo, Gualtiero's lieutenant. We have been writing about Mr. Christensen's pleasing tenor for some time now and admired his growth as an artist.

As Goffredo, Gualtiero's former tutor, bass-baritone Joseph Beutel (well remembered from Santa Fe Opera) made a fine showing as well.  And soprano Robyn Marie Lamp excelled in the role of Adele, Imogene's companion, a more generous role than that usually given to companions.

It was a splendid evening and a genuine pleasure to hear such grand voices all onstage together. As Caramoor's operatic interest will expand to include different orchestras and conductors and Teatro Nuovo will continue to present bel canto masterpieces, there will be a strong impetus to pull this city girl upcountry! Caramoor's 2018 offering will be Handel's Atalanta.

We wish both programs well as we reflect on all the wonderful singing we have heard at Caramoor and all the special artists to whom we have been introduced.

(c) meche kroop

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