Rossini’s Aureliano in Palmira was the highlight of the 1813-14 opera season in Milan; Beethoven’s Fidelio debuted in the same season in Vienna. The first was forgotten for over a century; the second was quickly revered as the unique masterpiece it is. We are bringing them together again at Caramoor for 21st-century operagoers to review history’s verdict.
It is a season of firsts for us: The first performance anywhere in America for Aureliano; our first guest appearance by Pablo Heras-Casado, principal conductor of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s; our first German opera (though before our Bel Canto program was established, Caramoor did give Fidelio‘s predecessor, Leonore, in 1989), and Festival debuts for several notable singers, in particular tenor Andrew Owens and soprano Elza van den Heever in the title roles of the two operas.
There is also a “first” in the background for me, since I edited Aureliano for the complete edition by the Italian publisher Ricordi. None of us knew quite what to expect; the history books depict it as an obscure flop among Rossini’s 39 operas. But the maze of manuscripts led to a startling discovery: all productions since the La Scala premiere were based, unknowingly, on a much-diminished version of the score. By the time Aureliano won first place for “Best Rediscovered Work” at this year’s International Opera Awards in London, we were no longer surprised: this is a fully-developed work by Rossini at the height of his youthful powers, unique in the Romantic color it brings to the old opera seria style, thrilling in its broad use of orchestra and chorus. It fell by the wayside through unfortunate circumstances surrounding the premiere; today it is ready to be welcomed to the Rossini canon.
Fidelio as a companion opera may seem surprising, but after all it dates from the same year, and many traveling operagoers heard both works when they were new (Milan was under Austrian rule at the time). Beethoven knew some Rossini and Rossini knew some Beethoven. Today, when we know them both to be as distinct as two great composers can and must be, it is fascinating to hear them in the juxtaposition that their own audiences experienced. And Fidelio seemed to me the perfect choice for welcoming Pablo Heras-Casado to the Bel Canto podium. Beethoven has been a specialty of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s throughout its life, and the rapport with its new principal conductor in his symphonies has been electrifying.
With wonderful new singers joining returning Caramoor artists like Georgia Jarman, Tamara Mumford and Paul Groves, and with an exciting new class of Bel Canto Young Artists ready to shine in the Thursday concerts and the pre-opera events, this promises to be as exciting a season as Bel Canto has ever presented. I expect discoveries at every performance; please join us for the journey!
– Will Crutchfield, Director of Opera at Caramoor
See Will Crutchfield conduct the award-winning Aureliano in Palmira at the 2015 Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, Italy here.