Oprah’s fanbase is often built around a preoccupation—enthusiastic, provincial, outspoken—with distinctive voices. Maria Callas, Rene Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli, Luciano Pavarotti – all of them are instantly recognizable by the bell alone. It is no coincidence that all of these singers have been outstanding recording artists.
Teatro Nouveau, the brainchild of bel canto specialist Will Crutchfield, upended this value system. He asks: what would happen if all the singers on stage shared a certain school of singing and even a certain vocal quality?
in semi-organised parties “Poliuto” by Donizetti and Federico and Luigi Ricci “Crispino e la Comare” At the Rose Theater at Lincoln Center on Wednesdays and Thursdays, Teatro Novo has found a diverse beauty in a brand of homogenization that aims to reconstruct the bel canto style from the historical sources that preceded the mid-20th century revival and its recording stars.
The singers in the cast very much shared a vocal profile and style—an elegant yet colorful voice with a fast, light vibrato and an emphasis on legato, portamento, and unvarnished coloratura. They avoided sudden pivots in color and dynamics. Unconstrained by the need to stage a modern orchestra in a spacious auditorium, they have rarely pushed their voices for volume, volume, or drama, opting instead for a vocal version that is not forced and even.
Teatro Nuovo’s innovative use of projections made historical set designs—the Metropolitan Opera’s 1919 production of “Crispino” and the 1840 premiere of the French version of “Poliuto”—as backdrops for each concert. It was a quick and cost effective way to add theatrical context.
Donizetti completed “Poliuto” in 1838, having already composed the operas that would make him immortal: “L’Elisir d’Amore”, “Lucia di Lammermoor” and the so-called Tudor trilogy. You can hear his well-earned confidence in her broad recitatives, unhurried melodic detail and dramatic silences. After “Poliotto” angered the Neapolitan censors for its depiction of a Christian martyr, Donizetti paraphrased it in French. But the original Italian version was acquired after his death.
Like Beaulieuto, Santiago Ballerini embodied the virtues of the Teatro Nuovo house style with a beautiful, gently produced appearance capable of reaching dramatic heights. Baritone Ricardo José Rivera was, like his rival Severo, the evening’s richest instrument—strong yet capable of softness. As Popolito’s wife, soprano Chelsea Linea dug into Paolina’s conflicted emotions with a highly responsive, mercurial-colored instrument that glides seamlessly through her registers, even if she feels some of her choices are overblown. Hans Tashjian (Calestine) was hard to hear, with a rather hollow bass.
If “Poliuto” was a prestige drama by the talent of a generation, someone who was kind of stretching the genre and challenging conventions, then “Crispino e la Comare” is a network comedy by a pair of brothers with a nose for diverting entertainment. Everyday character types—the blue-collar cobbler and the snooty doctors he outsmarts—are harmlessly but emphatically mocked. The score delivers a streak of melodies over spare and effective accompaniments; No one would mistake it for the sparkling sophistication of a Rossini or Donizetti, but it has its charm.
In Riccis’ fictional satire, the fairy godmother gives cobbler Crispino the ability to predict whether patients will live or die, turning him into the best doctor in Venice, much to the chagrin of the medical professionals. As Crispino’s self-pity—even the chorus already tells him to shut up—turns into self-esteem, he alienates everyone, including his wife, until the fairy teaches him a lesson with a quick trip to the underworld.
Mattia Fini was sexy Crispino – his handsome baritone and ability for self-parody allowed him to evolve from the melodramatic sobs of an almost suicidal scene to the crackling of success. As Crispino’s wife, soprano Teresa Castillo sang her soulful and energetic artwork. All low bosom notes and wry amusement, mezzo-soprano Liz Culpepper’s fairy godmother felt like a ancestor to the speedy lady in Verdi’s “Falstaff.” Dorian McCall, with his rich bottoms and cheeky understated pride, and Vincent Grana, with his rubber comedy style, are chipped as Crispino’s rivals.
The period-style orchestra of the Teatro Nouveau amazed time and time again. The machines do not have the indomitable brilliance of their modern counterparts. But something more personal, even intimate, is seen in the wooden bassoons, earthy cellos, translucent violins and enchanting clarinets. Period instruments could be moody, but the players didn’t sacrifice tuning or polish.
The orchestra’s almost musky timbre made her a versatile collaborator. In the concertato at the end of the second act of “Poliuto”, he complemented rather than competed with the singers, with a transparent texture that allowed the somewhat luminous voices to reach. On “Crispino”, his raspy energy gives him a sincere and playful quality.
At Donizetti, Jakob Lehmann, playing the violins and conducting them with his bow, enjoyed quickening the tempo of closing the legros and directed the music with such precision that he shaped even the staccatos. Cembalo maestro Jonathan Brandani performed “Crispino” instrumentally from the keyboard and allowed the Bass and cello lead in the recitations.
In a few brief seasons, Teatro Nuovo has carved a unique niche for itself by combining the excitement of discovery with a shared sense of purpose.