Caramoor, in case you've never been (as I hadn't until last night) is a rather grand estate in Katonah, New York, about an hour from the city. The surrounding country may not be quite as ravishing as that of Glimmerglass, if we are speaking of summer festivals, but the grounds themselves are exquisite. Don't miss the large metal pineapples! No, seriously! It's worth taking a picnic basket, and if you don't, you can benefit from the fact that someone forgot to pass the memo around Katonah way dictating that sandwiches served in the proximity of classical music must indicate by their price that they in fact contain slices of endangered species. I realize this is odd to point out in an opera review, but it made me happy, so there it is.*
Caramoor is also the summer stomping grounds of Will Crutchfield, who likes opera as much as you and I do, apparently. Primary difference being he is capable of causing it to occur. Perhaps you are, too, when you haven't lately made with the Risperdal, but I'm not, so I'm grateful to Mr. Crutchfield. Probably if I could conjure opera, the percentage of bel canto works would be smaller, but as long as we're in the tweedly realm, it's nice to have an expert guide. Something like Puritani falls into the wrong hands, and you have....well...something even worse than I Puritani in the right hands. Don't get me wrong--I love it as a few concert pieces, but Bellini apparently wrote a bunch of music to go in between those concert pieces, and that music came with a story, and that story didn't come with the giant bottle of aspirin that should've accompanied it, and that's that.
The thing you have to keep in mind at Caramoor, by the by, is that people are for whatever reason holding to rather slovenly standards of concert etiquette, and so when for instance the old man beside you actually starts HUMMING along with "Qui la Voce," there's nothing to be done about it but to think of it as a duet. The ushers wander in and out, the birds in the trees bird around noisily which you can't really blame them for...basically what I'm trying to say is you have to put up with a fair amount of distraction. I swear I heard a bunch of people dropping typewriters in the middle of the opera. Ok, they probably weren't typewriters, but what was all that crashing?
I just checked and Alex told you all you need to know about the singing. I'll just corroborate. With the exception of the F in "credeasi misera" which should probably always be left out since nobody can sing it without sounding like he's kidding, Banks was stellar from the get go. I think it's a D he has to hit and hold twice in the duet, and each iteration was lengthy and superb. High notes aside, he sang with remarkable style and energy. Truthily, he is the equal of Florez, it's just that he's kind of cuddly while JDF looks like he's waiting for an opera about a pizza boy who really needs that tip.
Um, is it making me look like a creep to start back in with shtick like that right after the LHL entry? I just don't know quite what else to do. What I write here tends to be a little silly, not to say lunatic, and not always in immaculate taste, and it's not much good trying to tinge that with a sadness still felt but filed separately. So, moving right along...
Sumi Jo sings largely as she always has, in a lot of really good and not so good ways. She still sometimes pulls the vibrato lever halfway through a note, and the very top sounds like an act of will, but did it ever not? It looks like it costs her more to tug the voice around the turns than one imagines it used to, but if you close your eyes and ignore the little dances, it's pretty remarkable what she accomplishes, easy or not. And of course the cloudless timbre of the voice itself, completely untarnished, is nothing to complain about. I do wonder if Crutchfield had anything to say about her ornaments, which were so ungepotchket as to leave you wondering if she'd find her way back to the page. They were a fun, trip, though, so no complaints.
On the bass and bass baritone, I'm basically just nodding along with Alex. Daniel Mobbs was a very happy surprise indeed, real old school stuff despite his apparent youth, and Weston Hurt was something of a cypher, first rate voice and fabulous name notwithstanding. Laura Vlasak Nolen, in the role of The Worst Plot Device Ever, sounded not quite in her element, and I'd rather appraise her promise in something else.
Next up is Tanglewood's well cast Elektra, and I guess I might also subject Gurrelieder to a bit of my typing, too.
*In the interest of full disclosure, my sandwich was also largely subsidized by Wellsung, Inc. Thanks A--I'll hit you back.