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Daniel Mobbs as Guillaume Tell and Talise Trevigne as  Jemmy [Photo by Gabe Palacio courtesy of Caramoor Festival 2011]
12 Jul 2011

Guillaume Tell, Caramoor Festival

For classical music fans, summer means only one thing: summer festivals. The goal of these festivals is to showcase a wide range of repertory with thought provoking creativity.

Gioachino Rossini: Guillaume Tell

Guillaume Tell: Daniel Mobbs; Mathilde: Julianna Di Giacomo; Arnold: Michael Spyres; Jemmy: Talise Trevigne; Hedwige: Vanessa Cariddi; Walter: Nicholas Masters; Rodolphe: Rolando Sanz; Fisherman: Brian Downen; Melchtal: Jeffrey Beruan; Gesler: Scott Bearden.

Above: Daniel Mobbs as Guillaume Tell and Talise Trevigne as Jemmy

All photos by Gabe Palacio courtesy of Caramoor Festival 2011


One such festival is the Caramoor Music Festival of Katonah, New York with its dedication to bel canto repertoire for its opera portion. It is true that since its resurgence after World War II, at the hands of Joan Sutherland and Maria Callas, bel canto opera is now firmly ensconced in the repertoire. But do not be fooled. As Will Crutchfield, the festival’s conductor, has previously stated, the goal of the festival is to present the lesser known bel canto operas. To that end, the festival is formatted such that one staple shares the stage with a more obscure work. Last year, Donizetti’s evergreen, drunken revelry L’elisir D’Amore was paired with Rossini’s majestic Semiramide.

This year, eyebrows were raised when Caramoor presented Rossini’s seldom heard epic Guillaume Tell alongside Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta HMS Pinafore. True, HMS Pinafore does not belong to the group of operas that we recognize as bel canto. Yet, according to an article in the New York Times by Allan Kozinn, audiences fail to realize that Arthur Sullivan held a job as a copyist in which he created reductions of bel canto opera. As a consequence, he was well acquainted with stylistic conventions, and his operettas can be seen as having evolved from that tradition. Furthermore, Patrick Dillon, a writer for Opera News argues that Guillaume Tell while a bel canto opera in the strictest sense had far reaching effects in the creation and standardization of French Grand Opera that lasted until the composition of Verdi’s Don Carlo. In this way, the theme of this Caramoor season seems to be the long lasting legacy of bel canto opera.

Regarding Guillaume Tell, I have nothing but good news to report. It was one of those performances of which opera lovers dream. Under the direction of the eminent Mr. Will Crutchfield, the orchestra of St. Luke’s demonstrated all the drama and complexities of Rossini’s vast score.

20110709Caramoor_9449.gifJulianna Di Giacomo as Mathilde

To comment on their dynamics and flare for theatricality would be obvious; I was most impressed with the dialogue between instrumental sections. If this were one of Rossini’s Italian comedies such as L’Italiana in Algeri, the opera would be full of ensembles in which the vocals lines would similarly interact with each other. Here, however, I was impressed with Rossini’s ability to transpose his skill for ensemble writing to the orchestra itself. Additionally, the strings brought a mellow burnished quality to the music; presenting a beautiful cohesive tone in a score with a plethora of strings.

The cast was in excellent form. Bass-baritone Daniel Mobbs, who sang the role of Tell, gave a thrilling dynamic portrayal. He managed to cover all facets of the character from revolutionary leader to husband and father while singing with style and spell-binding tone. Much the same can be said of Mezzo Vanessa Cariddi. Although, early on, her dramatic commitment to the role was less apparent, it came beautifully into focus with the last act. However, it is quite plausible that the reason for her character’s lack of substance lies within the opera itself. Tenor Michael Spyres, in the role of Arnold, sang with conviction and made his character a convincing case for the beloved operatic trope of tenor-as-lover. He also sang the role’s astronomically high tessitura with ease. Still two aspects of his performance should be mentioned. Vocally, he seemed to get lost in passages of either high powered orchestral work, or in ensembles. Additionally, he needs to develop a better physical and emotional connection with the other characters. Soprano Julianna Di Giacomo was incredibly compelling in the smaller but crucial role of Mathilde. Her deeply lyrical soprano was a joy to behold. Her voice brought much appreciated texture to the trio of Act IV with Mathilde, Tell’s wife Hedwige, and Tell’s son Jemmy. Soprano Talise Trevigne was delightfully boyish as Jemmy, while Scott Bearden was ferocious as Switerland’s Hapsburg governor.

20110709Caramoor_9386.gifVanessa Cariddi as Hedwige

The Caramoor festival chorus was in full vocal throttle when they joined the rest of the cast during the many ensembles. I could not help but smile at Rossini’s overt attempts to incorporate the tastes of the Paris Opera.

It remains to be said that Caramoor is a beautiful setting. When an obscure opera like Guillaume Tell is performed in such grand style and the audience is treated to fresh air, and exquisitely perfumed gardens, the question becomes, why isn’t this opera performed more often? My guess would be size and expense. It is true that massive forces are required to perform the work, and that according to Patrick Dillon of Opera News, the opera has never been performed in its complete version in the U.S. Yet despite the opera’s marathon four hours, this is an engrossing opera permitting time to pass quickly. Therefore, I have to say that I would gladly see Guillaume Tell again. And after all, isn’t that the goal of bel canto at Caramoor?

Gregory Moomjy

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