Adventure Nuovo
From Development server

Adventure Nuovo

Conductor and musicologist Will Crutchfield starts a new bel canto festival.
By Judith Malafronte 

Adventure Nuovo HDL 618
Will Crutchfield in rehearsal for Caramoor’s Aureliano in Palmira, 2016
© Gabe Palacio
“Each singer needs to be the ‘music director’ of his or her own aria.”
Adventure Nuovo Crutchfield 2 lg 618
Crutchfield speaking at Caramoor’s opening-night gala, 2017
© Gabe Palacio

DURING HIS TWENTY-YEAR TENURE AS head of Bel Canto at Caramoor, the summer festival in Westchester County, conductor/musicologist Will Crutchfield presented stylish performances of rare repertoire along with familiar pieces, in which alternate versions and new ornamentation offered fresh perspectives. 

This summer, Crutchfield, who left Caramoor after the 2017 festival, unveils Teatro Nuovo, a collaboration that will present semistaged performances of Rossini’s Tancredi and Mayr’s Medea in Corinto in a bel canto festival at SUNY Purchase. Like Caramoor, whose day-long events drew eager opera fans, Teatro Nuovo will offer public master classes, lectures, chamber music and related roundtable discussions, while a young-artist program will build on Caramoor’s legacy with a larger coaching staff, as well as the integration of an instrumental component. Two Caramoor Young Artists graduates will take part—Jennifer Rowley as Medea and Augusta Caso as Isaura in the “bonus” performance, Tancredi Rifatto, which includes additional material Rossini wrote for Tancredi revivals.

For Crutchfield, performance is the logical culmination of the training program, which is his real love. Instrumentalists and singers will work on Italian, study librettos and explore appropriate stylistic matters. “What we’re aiming for is an experience where every meeting with every faculty member is helping the singer in the same clearly defined directions,” he says. Crutchfield laments current conservatory training, in which “students typically get one hour a week with their teachers and spend a lot of the remaining hours in things that pull against their vocal study. They should be confronting these things after their technical development is reasonably advanced, not while they’re working to get it on track.”

He’s clear about what sort of singers he’s looking to train. “First,” he says, “voices of definite mainstream operatic potential. That doesn’t mean just ‘big’ voices, but it does mean voices that we believe can potentially sing in full-size opera houses. Second, enough agility that we can work on raising ‘agility’ to ‘virtuosity,’ at the highest level each voice can reach. Third, musical and expressive imagination. We’ll be teaching a lot about the creativity and liberty singers were once expected to bring to their interpretations, so we want to feel we’re teaching it to singers who are eager to say something with it. Fourth, singers who already have better-than-average physical control over their voices, because again we’re looking to raise levels from ‘good’ to ‘superlative’ in a very clear list of technical skills.”

Adventure Nuovo Crutchfield hdl 2 618 
Conducting Rossini’s Aureliano in Palmira, 2016
© Gabe Palacio

The backbone of the musical staff, as at Caramoor, is Rachelle Jonck, the sort of pianist/coach who, in her words, revels in “fascinating conversations about how long the various eighth notes can be in the accompaniment of ‘Ah! non credea mirarti.’” She is passionate about her work with singers and instrumentalists: “We train all our pianists as singers. Key concepts like attack—or onset—articulation, legato, dynamics cannot be taught from a pianistic perspective. They are achieved in different ways and sometimes even mean different things.” Jonck finds it difficult to teach pianists how to play the deceptively simple accompaniments to bel canto arias. “So often, pianists are told to ‘follow the singer,’ which is almost always a bad idea, particularly in slow music! The pianist must have a sophisticated understanding of the term ‘rubato,’ especially the kind of rubato where the singer and the orchestra are not supposed to be together. There, the pianist is supposed to maintain a ‘bed of sound,’ allowing the singer freedom, which is much easier to do with a string section than on a piano.” 

Crutchfield has been ahead of the curve in applying the same principles of historical performance to mainstream opera repertoire that are used by Baroque specialists. This summer’s performances will be the first time period instruments have been used for Romantic Italian opera in the U.S. “The orchestra will participate alongside the singers throughout the rehearsals, taking an ownership stake in the interpretation player by player, not rushing through a few rehearsals at the last moment,” he says, adding gleefully, “The most radical thing we’re doing is eliminating the stand-up conductor, which didn’t exist in Italian theaters until much later.” As in the early nineteenth century, leadership will be shared between a “violino principale” (concertmaster) and a “maestro al cembalo,” or keyboard maestro.

Crutchfield seems eager to assume that chamber-music role in Teatro Nuovo’s performances of Tancredi. “I’m fascinated by the chance to find out in practice what they knew at the time. I expect I will need to conduct sometimes for big ensembles. The interesting thing will be to learn what needs it and what doesn’t.” The teacher in him comes to the fore once again when he adds, “Basically, I think each singer needs to be the ‘music director’ of his or her own aria. I think we’ve lost a lot by reducing that sense of agency over time. Some singers feel able to lead and others not so much. Some orchestra players are more oriented to listening and some to watching. If you subtract the conductor, the singer has to lead, and the orchestra has to listen. That’s what I think will be exciting, and even though it’s historically accurate, the real reason for giving up conducting is the musical energy that might be unleashed.” spacer 

Judith Malafronte, a singer, vocal coach and continuo player, is on the faculty at Yale University. 

Follow OPERA NEWS on FacebookTwitter Button