At Caramoor, an Operatic Milestone That’s Both Farewell and Beginning


“I’ve been spending 20 years taking notes on how to do it better,” Mr. Crutchfield said, adding, “I wake up every morning thinking, Why didn’t I do this five years ago?”

Better, in Mr. Crutchfield’s telling, ends up meaning more of an educational proposition. The way he sees it, traditional operatic singing is an art in crisis.

“They’ve all heard the word ‘legato,’” he said of today’s young singers. “They’ve all heard the words ‘messa di voce.’ But they can’t do the basic things. There is no turning back the clock, but there is value in establishing a set of technical disciplines.”

Mr. Crutchfield envisions Teatro Nuovo as something of a singing institute that happens to produce opera, and as an orchestral institute that produces players who understand and love the voice. (They’d better: He plans to make his instrumentalists sing the chorus parts.)

Next summer he hopes to have around 45 young singers and 45 players (on period instruments), learning and performing alongside more seasoned artists. Two operas will be performed, Rossini’s “Tancredi” and “Medea in Corinto” by Johann Simon Mayr, Donizetti’s teacher. With Purchase offering inexpensive rehearsal spaces and classrooms, there is the possibility — as there wasn’t with Caramoor — to bring performances to New York City.

While Mr. Crutchfield will be the impresario and guiding light, he doesn’t plan to be the only leader. “I’m a pretty good conductor,” he said, “but I’m not under illusions that only my interpretations can sustain these shows.”

Answering his own question of why he didn’t make the move half a decade ago, Mr. Crutchfield said that the money issue, of course, was daunting. But he reported that fund-raising had been going more smoothly than he expected, even if the hill is steep: He’s raised around $500,000, and needs a total of $1.4 million by next spring.

“This new organization,” he added, “is designed to be exactly what I always hoped the Caramoor program could grow into. In hindsight, that growth aspiration was unrealistic in the context of a mixed festival,” with competition for limited funds.

Kathy Schuman, who came to Caramoor as executive producer in December after a long stint at Carnegie Hall, agreed. “The resources that were devoted each summer to these two operas, out of 30 concerts, was just huge,” she said in a telephone interview. “I would like to see the resources that we have spread out a little more evenly.”

Caramoor will continue to present opera, but doesn’t plan to produce it, instead inviting companies — a different one each year — to include the festival in the course of a tour. Next summer will bring the venerable Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra from San Francisco and its conductor, Nicholas McGegan, for Handel’s “Atalanta.” Baroque opera was one of Ms. Schuman’s specialties at Carnegie, though she is planning contemporary chamber works for Caramoor, too.

As for contemporary work, it might not be Mr. Crutchfield’s home base. But, striking out on his own, he ended the interview with a sentiment about the current scene that he said would be controversial in an opera world that he thinks has become too focused on star maestros, stage direction and design — even composers.

“Whatever paths 21st-century opera might take,” he said, “if it does not involve the re-empowerment of the singer, it’s going to fail.”

Correction: July 11, 2017

An article on Saturday about the opera-in-concert series Bel Canto of Caramoor’s move to Purchase College next summer and reinvention as Teatro Nuovo referred incorrectly to two works that will be performed as part of Teatro Nuovo’s first season. They are Rossini’s “Tancredi” and Johann Simon Mayr’s “Medea in Corinto”; the works are not yet to be announced.

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