It was with great pleasure, a week after Caramoor's stunning second Norma, that I re-boarded the wonderful "Caravan" at Grand Central Station again attended by the welcoming Alison with her colleague Alexis. I found the consideration and kindness shown on my first trip not to be the exception but rather the norm with these wonderful young people and a true remedy for the oppressive heat and humidity of the day.
Again, one bus was held to wait for delayed guests. No person gets left behind if it can be at all helped. Not only does Caramoor provide the transportation, they wait for you to get there! I settled in for a deliciously comfy ride in the cool and quiet, ipod attached, and promptly napped until our arrival a little more than an hour later in the midst of familiar, soothing green.
I was anxiously anticipating this Maria di Rohan which, for me, was a "Do not miss" occasion. The opera is very rarely done, any opportunity to hear it, fortunate. It is one of the last works Donizetti composed before showing obvious symptoms of his debilitating and ultimately fatal illness. How truly well or ill was he when he composed the work? How did his physical state affect the ultimate output? There are things we will never know but about which I had wondered. Having heard four different recordings with major singers, I knew though that the music is incredibly beautiful and the product of a master.
As the work had undergone various revisions by the composer to meet the requirements of different theaters, singers and his own creativity I was most interested in hearing in performance the results of what I knew would be intense study on the part of Maestro Crutchfield. Add in the fact that the day before the performance, it was announced that the scheduled soprano, Tekesha Meshe Kizart, about whom I had heard so much, had taken ill and would not sing and that her cover, Jennifer Rowley would go on instead. That kind of situation always generates curiosity and excitement.
As part of its mission that "enriches the lives of its audiences through diverse musical performances of the highest quality, mentors young professional musicians, and engages young children through interactive, educational experiences that deepens their relationship to and understanding of music", Caramoor offers the operagoer more than just a rare, interesting performance.
For this event, activity began at 3PM in the Spanish Courtyard with four additional presentations. First, scholar Philip Gossett and Maestro Will Crutchfield discussed the life of Maria di Rohan in "The Genesis of a Masterpiece". I did not know, for example, that a previously unknown version of one of the lead roles had been found just last year in Russia.
At 4:15, "Maria Plus", a concert of alternative music that would not be heard in the evening's main-stage production, was given by the Caramoor Bel Canto Young Artists. At 5:00 "Donizetti, Stage, Salon and Chapel", presented again by the Young Artists, gave us a better idea of breadth of this prolific composer's late period work through songs, chamber music, operatic scenes and chapel choral pieces. "Hauntingly beautiful" doesn't begin to describe experiencing this music in the unique atmosphere of the Spanish Courtyard.
At 7:00 Philip Gossett gave an introduction to the opera itself, including, for the benefit of those who could not be present earlier, some of the information from the 3 o'clock discussion. There was a dinner hour before the last presentation with many taking advantage of the marvelous available picnic opportunities. My dinnertime exploration of the grounds with its nooks and crannies, gardens of differing styles and peaceful wooded walks was worth the effort. At 8:00 I arrived at the Venetian theater primed.
Maria di Rohan premiered in 1843, is based on the 1832 play "A Duel Under Cardinal Richelieu" by Lockroy and Baldon with the 1837 libretto by Salvatore Cammarano, known for his many libretti, among them Lucia di Lammermoor and Il Trovatore.
At the core if this drama is romantic love tragically foiled by slavery to duty, a misplaced sense of honor and the convention of resolving insult by duel, that also being deemed a capital offense by the Cardinal Richelieu. The subject matter and interweaving of circumstances engaged Donizetti and the opera was composed and orchestrated very quickly in late 1842 and early 1843.
Maria (Soprano) is loved by two men, one whom she loved and who still pines for her and the other to whom she is secretly and reluctantly, but obediently, married. The lover, Riccardo the Count of Chalais (Tenor) saves the husband, Enrico Count of Chevreuse (Baritone) from execution, not knowing of the marriage. The husband in gratitude acts as the lover's second in a duel with court dandy Armando di Gondi (Mezzosoprano), unaware that he is betrayed.
Poor Maria is in the end reviled by her husband and her lover, dead by suicide. Though the power and presence of the Cardinal Richelieu permeate and move the work he is always an offstage character as are the King and Queen of France and the ill mother of Chalais.
Caramoor was not immune to the excessive heat and humidity of the day yet Maestro Crutchfield and his forces gave a total performance truly bringing Donizetti's characters and their story to life. Jennifer Rowley, a member of the Bel Canto Young Artist's Program, and the cover, sang with only one rehearsal and deserved every bit of applause received and more for her exceptional and very moving work. Her voice is large and luscious, a truly important instrument wedded to wonderful interpretive powers. She is on the road to a great career with major debuts coming up.
Brazilian Luciano de Botelho is a "tenore di grazia" singing in important theaters with major debuts coming as well. He gave the role of Riccardo, Count of Chalais a grace and elegant expression of an honest lover's ardor and despair. Baritone Scott Bearden vocally and with acting skill created a wonderful, piercing Chevreuse, a loving man betrayed, then vengeful. Mezzo Vanessa Cariddi, who has already debuted at the Met and City Opera was a luxury in the role of the dandy Gondi. These are all artists I look forward to seeing and hearing again.
With Will Crutchfield and the enthusiastic Orchestra of St. Luke's they worked as a team maintaining the tension throughout, never skimping on the considerable requirements of the score's abundant and demanding vocal fireworks, throwing themselves into the drama with moving generosity for the benefit of the public, despite the stifling weather. Though an opera in concert form, I did not miss sets and costumes the semi-staging being performed with skill, precision and elegant economy giving the story the necessary shape.
It was a privilege to be present. Bravi tutti!
I sincerely hope this work will be more frequently performed in future. In the meantime, I recommend an internet browse as there are available recordings that merit the attention of even casual opera listeners. If you have yet to get to Bel Canto at Caramoor treat yourself next summer. You will be glad you did.
Having started with the opera I intend to sample the other musical events offered throughout the year at this treasure of a venue. Thanks again, Caramoor!