This is probably the best occasion for me to come out of the closet and confess my secret vice—a mild fondness for the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. A viewing of NYGASP's The Yeomen of the Guard with an entirely unvictorian companion set me to thinking about certain genres of theatre and opera in which performance practices are prescribed by tradition or even some legal entity. NYGASP is well-known for throwing in a few uncanonical details, but basically they cleave to D'Oyly Carte's no longer legally binding restrictions, because their audience of devotees expect that—in fact they derive great pleasure from stage routines which have no meaning whatsover in contemporary theater outside of a G & S. Perhaps the tastes of loving audiences have proven more binding than the D'Oyly Carte copyrights.
Ciro in Babilonia Gioachino Rossini. music Francesco Aventi, libretto The concert (or "semi-staged," if you prefer) performances at Caramoor are a treasure, as one of the few venues in America where one can hear bel canto opera correctly sung in a context which attempts to recreate the text and performance of bel canto opera in a practical balance of scholarship and showmanship. Bel Canto at Caramoor is a delight for audiences and singers alike, because, as Vivica Genaux, who has sung there several times, said, "at Caramoor it's all about the music." It's not some eccentricity of a more than usually serious singer that the music comes first. I'd venture to say that the music tells us almost everything we need to know about opera, especially in Rossini, who first developed his technique by working with singers. What we discover through research into performance practice cannot literally enable us to recreate the exact sound of the original performance, much less its effect on its audience. However, the music of a particular, bygone period makes no sense at all, unless certain basics of the original performance practices are followed. What you hear at Caramoor today shows progress from the early efforts of Callas, Sutherland, and Sills and the musicians who worked with them. What Will Crutchfield has achieved gives us, as the audience, a viable grounding in the technique and style of Bel Canto. Above all, this music has to be sung with the whole voice.