Bel Canto at Caramoor, a Preview: William Tell by Gioachino Rossini
To read our review of the performance, click here.
Saturday, July 9 at 7:30pm ~ Venetian Theater
Friday, July 15 at 7:30pm (repeat performance) ~ Venetian Theater
William Tell – Daniel Mobbs, bass-baritone
Matilde – Julianna Di Giacomo, soprano
Arnold – Michael Spyres, tenor
Jemmy – Talise Trevigne, soprano
Hedwige – Vanessa Cariddi, mezzo-soprano
Walter – Nicolas Masters, bass
Rodolphe – Rolando Sanz, tenor
Fisherman – Brian Downen, tenor
Melchthal – Jeffrey Beruan, bass
Gesler – Scott Bearden, baritone
Leuthold – Michael Nyby, baritone
Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Will Crutchfield, conductor
Prior to the July 9 performance there will be Pre-Opera events:
3:00pm- 3:40pm: Creating and re-creating William Tell
Philip Gossett and Will Crutchfield discuss what Rossini wrote, how it changed before the premiere, how it changed again under Rossini’s hands in successive seasons, and what the work meant for the future of grand opera.
3:50pm – 4:30pm: “What? The whole of it?”
This was Rossini’s ironic question when told that the third act of William Tell had been performed as part of a gala evening at the Paris Opera. In fact, “the whole” of Tell is a difficult thing to define, because Rossini wrote more music for the opera than has ever been performed in a single evening. The Caramoor Bel Canto Young Artists present a program of alternative excerpts from other versions of the score.
4:40pm – 5:20pm: Schiller and the Yearning for Freedom
The most progressive idea in world politics around the dawn of the 19th century was that nations and ethnic groups might aspire to self-government – not yet democracy, but simply the freedom from foreign rule. Wilhelm Tell, on which Rossini’s opera is based, is one of an important series of plays exploring variations on this theme. Others – all turned into successful operas – include Mary Stuart, Don Carlos, The Robbers, and The Maid of Orleans. Meanwhile the new genre of the German Lied eagerly embraced Schiller as well. The Caramoor Bel Canto Young Artists offer a recital of works in several languages drawn from Schiller’s dramas and poetry.
5:30pm – Dinner Break
6:30pm – 7:10pm: Phillip Gossett introduces William Tell
Rossini has become a special passion of mine, largely because of one of the performances I saw in the Venetian Theatre at Caramoor, just a few years ago. In researching Semiramide for my review of the superb semi-staged performance, I came across Alessandro Sanquirico’s neoclassical set designs for the first Milan performance in 1824, these immediately helped me to put Rossini’s opera seria in a context that was familiar to me, not to mention the quality of the performance, with a top-notch cast of singers who really understand Rossini, including Vivica Genaux and Daniel Mobbs, who will have the part of William Tell in this year’s production, and the thorough preparation and vivid conducting of Will Crutchfield. I was most impressed that Rossini in his opera seria was working in a tradition that reached back to baroque opera and had by no means died out by the early nineteenth century. It was even assimilated into the conventions of grand opera, for which Rossini himself set the stage in his Guillaume Tell. Although I had followed the wealth of recordings that appeared years ago, this was the bonding moment for me. Beyond this, everything in a Caramoor performance begins and ends with the music and the drama that emerges from it—unlike the Met’s recent revival of Armida, with Richard Hudson’s precious set-designs and Mary Zimmerman’s mindless direction.
Now the time has come for an especially important revival, Guillaume Tell, Rossini’s last opera (and for some his greatest), which premiered at the Paris Opera in 1829, even today, one of the great houses for Rossini. In spite of its great length and difficulty, as well as complications regarding its text and doubts about just what should be included in a performance, William Tell became immensely popular throughout the 19th century, in various versions, including a three-act abridgement by Rossini himself, which premiered at the Paris Opera in 1831, and Italian versions in which Rossini had no hand whatsoever. During the 1830s, the Paris Opera often staged only Act II by itself. The four-act version returned only in 1856, to remain the standard until 1932. Paris celebrated its 500th performance in 1868, with Rossini present. William Tell was performed 29 times at the Met between 1884 and 1931, and then never again. The vast work remained something of a mysterious legend, until the 1973 EMI recording of the complete French version under Lamberto Gardelli appeared, coming as a powerful revelation of the genius in the opera. The 1970s was a great period for Rossinians, when many forgotten masterpieces were revived on stage and became available in commercial recordings. Until then, Rossini was largely known through corrupt versions of one opera, Il Barbiere di Siviglia. The La Scala production of Il Barbiere in the early 1970s under Claudio Abbado, the first from a corrected score and free of the broad farce which had become traditional, came as an equally surprising revelation.
Now we can look forward to Caramoor’s semi-staged production. Just what should you expect? And expansive, colorful amalgam of Rossini’s serious and comic music, as well as elements of folk music, evoking grand vision in the imagination of spectacular scenery around Lake Lucerne. The libretto was based on Schiller’s play, which Susanne K. Langer has described it as “a species of serious heroic comedy.”* She goes on to say, “Tell appears as an exemplary personage in the beginning of the play, as citizen, husband, father, friend and patriot; when an extreme political and social crisis develops, he rises to the occasion, overcomes the enemy, frees his country, and returns to the peace, dignity and harmonious joy of his home. The balance of life is restored. As a personage he is impressive; as a personality he is very simple … Such are the serious products of comic art; they are also its rarer examples. The natural vein of comedy is humorous – so much so that ‘comic’ has become synonymous with ‘funny’.” This high-spirited story of a revolt that turned out happily came to Rossini as a commission from the French Restoration government, when the composer decided to make Paris his home in 1824. The subject appealed to Rossini, both through its treatment of family relations and in its politics, which celebrated the freedom of a basically conservative society to govern itself.
It would be an understatement to say that one doesn’t get a chance to hear a live performance of this great opera very often, much less with such excellent participants. It would be a splendid thing to see it fully staged at the Bastille or the Garnier, unless, say, Robert Wilson is chosen to direct it—as might well occur—but the superb casts of young and experienced singers and the energetic playing of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s under Will Crutchfield should be enough to keep any Rossinian happy.
*as quoted by Richard Osborne. “Guillaume Tell (ii).” In The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, edited by Stanley Sadie. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/O002744 (accessed July 2, 2011.