Linda di Chamounix, Caramoor Festival, Katonah, New York

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Last week at Caramoor, Will Crutchfield tried hard to demonstrate Verdi’s debt to old-fashioned bel canto grace. The blood-and-gutsy vehicle was Il trovatore (1853), to which the maestro applied a handsome variety of delicate performance-practices. On Saturday he turned the aesthetic table with Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix (1843), focusing the ornate semiseria indulgence as a preview of coming romantic attractions.

Call it an exhumation. The Met has mustered only eight performances of Linda, the last in 1935 with Lily Pons. Crutchfield flaunted a new critical edition, but that meant little to the non-capacity audience. After all, hardly anyone knew the old edition.

The opera exults in glorious melody, often flamboyant, sometimes lyrical, occasionally dramatic. It suffers from a preposterous libretto, musters both a mad scene and an unmad scene, and, despite longueurs, stops short of a genuinely climactic finale. Still, it offers revelations.

The central attraction in this quasi-concert performance was Sarah Coburn, an incipient diva who sounds as pretty as she looks. As Linda she explored the stratosphere with astonishing nonchalance, respected dynamic distinctions and decorated the line with reasonable point. She ventured “O luce di quest’anima” in the original key (D-flat), and even granted an encore. A glamourpuss in excelsis, she earned unintended mirth when she slunk about the stage in a lavish, super-spangly, low-décolletage gown while lamenting her lot as a poor street singer. Disbelief had to be suspended.

Barry Banks, that most elegant of top-altitude tenors, demonstrated virtuosic refinement as her lover, Carlo. Ricardo Herrera excelled in the buffo manners and mannerisms of the Marchese. Marco Nisticò brought baritonal warmth to the paternal plaints of Antonio. Laura Vlasak Nolen’s macho mezzo enriched the descending platitudes of Pierotto. Eric Jordan’s rolling bass suffered pitch problems as the Rector. Crutchfield sustained sympathy, propulsion and reasonable cohesion on the podium.

Incidental intelligence: after Trovatore, I speculated that Caramoor may have succumbed to electronic amplification. The sound was boomy, microphones hung from the stage ceiling and speakers adorned the poles supporting the tent. The management denies any sonic boost.
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