Teatro Nuovo’s premiere season at Purchase College

Music master Will Crutchfield (WC), at the helm as General  and Artistic Director of Teatro Nuovo, realizes a dream years in the making. The program this season, titled The Dawn of Romantic Opera, opens with one of two performances of the original Venice version of Rossini’s heroic Tancredi on Saturday evening, July 28, followed on Sunday afternoon by one of two performances of Johann Simone Mayr’s Medea in Corinto, then one more of each later in the week, ending with a late afternoon performance of Tancredi rifatto, a Tancredi with the alternate scenes written later to replace some original numbers, on Sunday, August 5. See the complete listing of events below.

Will Crutchfield at the helm

Will Crutchfield at the helm

OperaMetro (OM) had the privilege of interviewing the Maestro, via email, about the new venture, as well as about the musical fare and its place in this premiere season. Also a privilege, OM spoke with bel canto tenor Santiago Ballerini, who sings the role of Argirio in Tancredi. This interview is posted on the top of the page Interviews.

OM: Hello Will! Thank you for agreeing to do this. Our annual chats are always a special part of the summer for me.

WC: My pleasure.

OM: Teatro Nuovo is an exciting venture, a dream come true for you. Through Teatro Nuovo, what advantages are there for you as an artist and mentor to young singers?

Tamara Mumford sings the title role of Tancredi

Tamara Mumford sings the title role of Tancredi

WC: It's a dream come true in multiple ways. Our training program has long needed the chance to expand, to add spaces for more intensive work, to add faculty, and to focus longer on the young singers who come to us. We had developed a curriculum over the years at Caramoor and will continue using it now at Teatro Nuovo. The curriculum is unique, unlike any other in the vocal world, because it combines three elements which are usually found separately, but can have major results when applied together. These are: a) information about performing style from the long historical paper trail; b) a strong commitment to the idea that style is inseparable from physical technique; and c) a strong focus on the way singers line up their technical and artistic details in the period before there could be any influence from "microphone singing."

OM: I know from our previous conversations that you are very much the archeologist of vocal technique, that your knowledge of great singers from the past is encyclopedic.

WC: Thank you. But though these ancient recordings can tell us really revelatory things about the "how," they come too late to tell us "what" if we're talking about early 19th-century bel canto style. The paper trail can tell us infinite amounts about what singers did, but it provides only limited info about how. So they need to be taken together. To connect the "what" with the "how," you need time and you need one-on-one sessions with the young singers. That's where we've expanded the most.

Amanda Woodbury in Rossini's  Tancredi

Amanda Woodbury in Rossini's Tancredi

OM: I see that on Wednesday, August 1 at 5:30, the Festival will present recordings of some of these voices.

WC: Yes. Also, in the Festival itself, we have a chance to do something not yet tried in the US, and barely begun in Europe - bringing period instruments and all the creativity of the Early Music movement to Romantic Italian opera.  That is going to be a revelation, I think. It's a quite different sound-world. This music is great on whatever instruments an orchestra uses, but using the ones the composers knew and played clarifies their writing fantastically.

OM: Rossini’s Tancredi is relatively well known, if not often performed with any frequency, even in concert, but Tancredi rifatto (the bits and pieces from alternate versions of Tancredi) are probably completely unknown. Why the bits and pieces?

WC: I have done Tancredi often, and every time, I've looked at the alternate pieces published in the appendix of the score, and thought "this belongs on stage!"  It's fantastic music, and Rossini wrote it to be part of the opera.  Now's the chance! 

OM: Among those bits and pieces added to or subtracted from Tancredi must be the famous “tragic” Ferrara ending, as opposed to the original Venice “happy” ending. What process did you use to arrive at a final performing version for Teatro Nuovo?

Santiago Ballerini in  Tancredi

Santiago Ballerini in Tancredi

WC: Let me break that into two questions.  Our process was simple: on the Tancredi nights we are performing the original Venice version, plain and simple. For Tancredi rifatto, we repeat the opera knocking out eight pieces (some long, some short) and replace them with the substitutes Rossini wrote for at least four later occasions.

OM: Okay, so far so good.

WC: Beyond that it gets complicated. Tancredi has made the rounds with at least one of the substitute pieces before. Operas in Rossini's day were not meant to have a "final version" - they were meant to be adjustable. The switch to Voltaire's tragic ending was not even Rossini's idea - it came from a literary-minded nobleman in Ferrara, Luigi Lechi, who wrote the Italian verses and asked Rossini to set them. But since tragic endings were not yet standard fare in that repertory, the new ending was forgotten until Lechi's descendants made the manuscript available in the 1970s. I would say the upbeat ending fits perfectly with where Italian opera was in 1813 and the tragic ending fits perfectly with where Italian opera was going. The main point is that there is an opera-and-a-half of top-quality music here in Tancredi, and Teatro Nuovo's audiences will get to hear all of it if they come to both versions.

Jennifer Rowley in Mayr's  Medea in Corinta

Jennifer Rowley in Mayr's Medea in Corinta

OM: I know Rossini had been busy composing before he tackled Tancredi, but this one is often portrayed as a qualitative leap artistically, without precedent. Briefly, in what ways was it a leap? Was it pretty much out of the blue, or did everyone who was to some degree astute see it coming? Was its newness part of its popularity or was it not so much new as so well done?

WC: What people could see coming was a potent new musical voice. But I don't think anybody could have anticipated the craze for Rossini's music that started with Tancredi. He took all the threads of Italian opera as it existed at the turn of the century (including Mayr) and re-wove them according to his personal sense of rhythm and proportion, and the result was electrifying. There is a simple directness and a sheer excitement that propelled Italian opera to become the truly popular artform that it was through the so-called "golden century" from Rossini to Puccini.

Jakob Lehmann co-directs both operas with Will Crutchfield

Jakob Lehmann co-directs both operas with Will Crutchfield

OM: Since you bring him up, you’re doing Mayr’s Medea in Corinto. I could be wrong, but Medea in Corinto is not a title bandied about in even the most operatic of households, let alone a title one finds packed away in a stack of programs in the attic. Tancredi, sure. In what ways is Medea in Corinto the missing link between Mozart and Rossini?

WC: As for Medea and Mayr - it's one of those accidents of history.  In the 18th century, all operas were forgotten as audiences moved on from one sensational season to the next. But in the 19th century, we started to accumulate "classics." Later still, early 20th century, we started to look back in history and pick up "revivals," such as Handel, Vivaldi, and Gluck. Well, when the repertory was first being sorted out, Rossini was the big name in Italy.  Just a decade earlier, it would have been Mayr - he was everywhere, from Venice to Milan to Rome to Naples.  And he was a genius.  We're doing this score not because it is an interesting curiosity but because it is a fantastic opera.  And there is more where this one came from.

OM: I shall obtain a copy for sure. It’s what I do. I see too that Mayr’s Medea in Corinto, with a libretto by Felice Romani, premiered in Teatro San Carlo in Naples in November, 1813, the same year that Rossini’s Tancredi premiered at La Fenice in Venice on February 6. In with the new and out with the old. I recall that a young Donizetti was one of Mayr’s prized pupils in Bergamo. And I believe the story goes that the theater holding the only score of Mayr’s La Rosa bianca e la rosa rossa, in Genoa, the city of the premiere, refused to return them to the composer. Young Donizetti went to the theater on three separate performances and copied out the entire score from his scribbled notes and exceptional memory.*

One last observation: apart from the operas, assumed in concert, possibly semi-staged, and the various young artist and historical features, there is a Masterclass Are these efforts to educate an audience as well as the young artists? I see Jennifer Larmore, who, as I recall, sang for you at Caramoor. Elaborate?

WC:  Masterclasses are part work and part show. Whether it's for the general public or just the other singers in the group, the teacher who teaches in front of a room of observers is "performing" as well as "teaching."  And when that teacher has a big personality, as Larmore does, then it can be a lot of fun for the public to follow.

OM: Wait, just kidding, positively the last thing. For the record, I think the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College is a very user friendly venue, indoors, comfortable seating, air conditioned, and also really centrally located for your numerous supporters and audience members, especially my team from the East.

WC: Those are pretty great advantages right there!

OM: Thank you for your intelligent words.

WC: Thank you. See you there.

* My memory confirmation and elaborative details for this, like which Mayr opera was held hostage, come from Herbert Weinstock’s Donizetti, New York: Pantheon Books, 1963, pp. 13-14.

Photos: Will Crutchfield by Gabe Palaccio; Jakob Lehmann by Patrick Vogel; Santiago Ballerini by Gabriel Machary. Others provided by Beth Holub.

The performance schedule @ Teatro Nuovo, the Bel Canto Festival at Purchase College, entitled The Dawn of Romantic Opera is as follows:

Saturday, July 28 at 7 p.m. Rossini’s Tancredi, the original Venice version, starring Tamara Mumford, Amanda Woodbury, and Santiago Ballerini.**

Sunday, July 29 at 4 p.m. Mayr’s Medea in Corinto, starring Jennifer Rowley, Teresa Costillo, Derrek Stark, and Mingjie Lei.

Monday, July 30 at 7:30 p.m. Jennifer Larmore gives a public Masterclass.

Tuesday, July 31 at 7:30 p.m. Parlami d’amore (Speak to me of Love!). Bel Canto in popular Italian song.

Wednesday, August 1 at 5:30 p.m. Oldest Voices; Newest Voices: rare recordings of great singers of the past as well as Role Preparation by today’s soon to be great singers. Free to the public.

Thursday, August 2 at 7:30 p.m. Bel Canto Da Camera: Chamber music gems

Friday, August 3 at 7 p.m. Rossini’s Tancredi, the original Venice version, starring Tamara Mumford, Amanda Woodbury, and Santiago Ballerini.

Saturday, August 4 at 7 p.m. Mayr’s Medea in Corinto, starring Jennifer Rowley, Teresa Costillo, Derrek Stark, and Mingjie Lei.

Sunday, August 5 at 6 p.m. Rossini: Tancredi rifatto, starring Aleks Romano, Christine Lyons, and David Margulis.

Tickets range in price from $30 to $120. Purchase online at teatronuovo.org or phone the Performing Arts Center Box Office at 914.251.6200, Wednesday through Friday, noon to 6 p.m.

**The running time of my complete recording of Tancredi (BMG 3 CDs with Kasarova, Mei, Vargas, Cangemi, and Paulsen, conducted by Roberto Abbado) is a little over 2 hours, 46 minutes; not having a copy of Medea in Corinto is a lapse of taste I shall hasten to correct.

Hey look, it's summer! But the Performing Arts Center is really cool!! As is the Teatro Nuovo program! See you there!