Al Fresco Opera

| 02 Mar 2015 | 04:31

    as the summer festival closest to manhattan-it's 45 minutes by car (traffic willing), train or bus-caramoor is the place to go to hear wonderful music in an idyllic outdoor setting of gorgeously landscaped gardens. for the past dozen years, musicologist turned conductor will crutchfield has been leading the acclaimed bel canto at caramoor series there, presenting revivals of 19th-century italian operas by donizetti, rossini and bellini, all sung by artists at home in this repertoire.

    "when i first started conducting, i did a rossini opera at bam in the early '90s, and caramoor asked me to develop opera productions in their music room," said crutchfield, an upper west sider. "we did that for a few years, then brought a good production to the caramoor festival in 1996: rossini's la cenerentola with mezzo-soprano viveca genaux. it got a great response and the following year we made 'bel canto at caramoor' official-we've been going strong ever since."

    that strength is especially evident in this summer's opera events: donizetti's popular comedy the elixir of love was performed july 18, and rossini's dramatic-and rarely performed-semiramide is scheduled for july 31. since opera singers' schedules are planned years in advance, operas at caramoor are performed whenever crutchfield's ideal casts are assembled.

    "one example is this year," he said. "we wanted tenor lawrence brownlee, but his schedule is very full and getting fuller. he could finally sing for us this summer, and we gave him a role he has not done before: nemorino in elixir of love. he's in such demand for other roles that he has not sung this one. so he was the starting point for that opera, and the starting point for semiramide was soprano angela meade, whom i first heard two years ago, and wanted to sing the title role, which would be a real showcase for her."

    rounding out the semiramide cast is viveca genaux, who is coming back to play arsace, and brownlee, who will return to sing idreno.

    "so we have the world's three best rossini singers in one rossini opera!" the conductor said.

    crutchfield doesn't see any disadvantages to performing operas at the festival's outdoor venetian theater.

    "the atmosphere is great, of course, and it also has good natural acoustics," he said. "we use no amplification at all, and the sound is fresh and pleasant-we can perform as if we're inside a concert hall with good acoustics. happily, we are able to avoid the frustration of many outdoor spaces."

    this october, caramoor plans to hold its first fall festival, a weekend of concerts that begins with the new york philharmonic and culminates with a solo recital by soprano sumi jo, whom crutchfield is accompanying on piano. he hopes that opera will also become a part of future fall festivals.

    "we may do some small-scale operas in the fall, perhaps even returning to the music room," he said.

    his caramoor conducting career would then come full circle.

    -- bel canto at caramoor, on july 31, is part of the caramoor international music festival in katonah, n.y., which runs through aug. 5. for information about round-trip bus service from manhattan, call 914-232-5035 or visit