Girls of Summer
PATRICK DILLON eagerly awaits the return of EWA PODLEŚ to the Caramoor International Music Festival, in Rossini's Ciro in Babilonia.
Podleś in Cendrillon at Covent Garden, 2011
© Bill Cooper 2012
Two kinds of prodigy — a composer and a performer — will be showcased in Caramoor's Ciro in Babilonia on July 7. Gioachino Rossini had just turned twenty when his "dramma con cori" had its premiere, in Ferrara in March 1812, but it was already his fifth opera. Ewa Podleś will be three times that age when she takes the stage of the festival's Venetian Theater in the title role, twenty-eight years after New York operagoers first encountered her, as Handel's Rinaldo at the Met. Since then, she's been more familiar here in concert and recital than on the opera stage; her only subsequent Met appearances came in 2008, when, in the small but pivotal role of La Cieca, she handily stole La Gioconda from house favorites Deborah Voigt and Olga Borodina. Europe has been luckier: in the past few years Podleś has played such stylistically varied roles as Cendrillon's "wicked stepmother," Mme. de la Haltière (Paris and London); Klytämnestra in Elektra (Warsaw and Nice); Quickly in Falstaff (Bilbao); and the Countess in The Queen of Spades (Monte Carlo and Barcelona). Her schedule suggests that she sings exactly where and what she chooses.
Happily for Podleś-addicted New Yorkers, the Polish contralto has a stalwart admirer in Will Crutchfield, the guiding spirit of Bel Canto at Caramoor, who cast her as Rossini's Tancredi in the summer of 2006 and as Azucena in Il Trovatore a year later. "Ewa has what the greatest of great singers have — a unique voice and the complete confidence to let her heart and soul speak through that voice," says the maestro of this favored prima donna. "The voice and the person are inseparable. Nothing is ever ordinary or perfunctory when she sings, and the public always feels this." It's easy to predict that they'll be feeling it this summer, not just at Caramoor but at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro a month later, when Crutchfield and Co. take their fully staged show abroad for a "more fully staged" (in the conductor's words) run — Podleś's first complete opera performances in Rossini's birthplace.
Ciro — the Persian king Cyrus the Great, who overthrew Babylon's king Belshazzar in the sixth century B.C. — is one of several showy roles Rossini wrote for contralto Maria Marcolini, who by all accounts cut a fine figure in military travesty but also had the feminine charm to seduce a bey as the first Isabella in L'Italiana in Algeri. Like Marcolini, the prodigious Podleś has run the florid Rossinian gamut: her stage personae range from the alluring ladies (Isabella, Rosina) to the martial gents (Tancredi, Arsace in Semiramide). Ciro exploits two sides of Podleś's voice and technique — the deep, dark, primal beauty in andante (I'll never forget a time-stopping performance of Dido's lament at Carnegie Hall) and the blazing pyrotechnical dazzle in allegro. "The role of Ciro itself is quite modest," says Podleś. "Like Tancredi, for instance, and that's why you can expect some ornamentations and embellishments. Will Crutchfield, known as a true expert in those matters, has already provided me with some very interesting ones. Of course, I'll adapt them to my possibilities and taste. I am looking forward to working with Will.... I can say that he serves the music rather than just conducts it."