Review: With Fresh Subtlety, Opera Returns to New York City
Opera is back in New York.
On Tuesday evening, two months before the Metropolitan Opera’s scheduled reopening, a full-scale live performance took place, for the first time since before the pandemic. And it was in the shadow of the Met, in Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park, that the Teatro Nuovo presented a semi-staged concert dress version of Rossini’s “Barber of Seville”. (There is a second performance on Wednesday evening.)
Like almost all outdoor performances, this one required amplification. Usually it is a burden. Yet on Tuesday it turned out to be an ointment for the audience of around 750, as the music had to compete with the growling noises of generators and creaking machines on a nearby street.
From the Bel Canto at Caramoor series that Will Crutchfield, conductor and specialist in early 19th century Italian opera, conducted for 20 years, the Teatro Nuovo is a performance and training program focused on the bel canto repertoire. Generally known for his dedication to the full performances of these works, Crutchfield had to make adjustments to Rossini’s score to end the performance at 10 p.m. park curfew.
No matter. It was still nearly three hours of opera. And what came out of it was a fresh and lively performance, full of ideas and rich in subtleties.
Artists who work with Crutchfield study performance practices from a golden age of opera. Its purpose is not to make today’s performers feel indebted to the past for ornamentation and rhythmic performance; after all, the style in Rossini’s day encouraged freedom and flair. Crutchfield tries to encourage his colleagues to start from scratch and think for themselves.
That this cast, supported by 31 orchestral musicians, made its own interpretation choices emerged consistently. At the start of Act I, tenor Nicholas Simpson – in the role of Count Almaviva, who has fallen in love with the charming Rosina – brought brilliant sound and expansive lyricism to the serenade he sings from the bottom of his balcony. Simpson certainly embellished the melodic lines with ornate ornamentation; It’s not for nothing that Crutchfield called an offer of his program an “ornamentation training camp.” But its embellishments emanated from the melody and ambiance, and never seemed too elaborate.
Like Figaro, dynamic bass Hans Tashjian, whose voice has a nice and slight ping in the treble, embellished the famous character aria “Largo al factotum” with fresh and inventive ornaments. Many singers abuse the bluster of Figaro who boasts of being Seville’s essential jack-of-all-trades. But Tashjian sang the aria almost like a personal revelation to the audience – underrated, with wonderfully sweet phrases. We felt that this Figaro believed he was really special, beyond arrogance.
Mezzo-soprano Hannah Ludwig, as Rosina, may have gone a little too far in adorning her defining aria, “Una voce poco fa”. Still, with a rich, dark voice, she fashioned supple phrases and conveyed the character’s mixture of reluctance and sass.
Baritone Scott Purcell excelled as official Dr. Bartolo; like her housekeeper, Berta, soprano Alina Tamborini was exceptionally strong and fiery. Young double bass Daniel Fridley, as the crafty Don Basilio, was downright relaxing in the tune “La calunnia”, in which he explains to Bartolo that the way to deal with Almaviva is to start a rumor and help it spread until an explosive scandal erupts. . (Rossini anticipated social media by two centuries.)
Rather than relying on a single conductor, this performance – a nod to customary practice in Rossini’s day – was guided by both Crutchfield, who also played the accompanying pianoforte, and by violinist Jakob Lehmann, the first violin, who led the orchestral musicians seated on a stool. If this looser approach sometimes resulted in minor slippages, the gain in spontaneity and freshness was worth it.
The Barber of Seville
Performed Tuesday at Damrosch Park, Manhattan.
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