Teatro Nuovo, founded by conductor Will Crutchfield, specializes in performing concerts of early 19th century Italian operas in historically informed style using period instruments and scholarly editions. This past July, they were to perform two seminal bel canto works in different styles. Gioacchino Rossini’s “Maometto Secondo” is a tragic opera seria about the forbidden love between a conquering Muslim Sultan and a Christian aristocratic lady. (“Maometto Secondo” was scheduled for the 2020 season but was canceled due to the pandemic. “Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” a lighter more festive work, was substituted when live performance resumed in July 2021.)
Sadly, for the rescheduled “Maometto Secondo” in July, the dress rehearsal was a triumph but the summer COVID-19 scourge hit the company and the performance had to be postponed for the second time.
Finally after two tries, “Maometto Secondo” will arrive at Jazz at Lincoln Center on November 2.
In an earlier interview for Our Town, I asked Maestro Will Crutchfield about “Maometto Secondo” with its unique virtues and challenges.
What are your observations concerning Rossini’s opera seria works for Naples? How is “Maometto Secondo” different from Rossini’s other Naples operas?
“Maometto” is a powerhouse. I’m still in awe every time I hear even a section of it. The bravura arias are set in magnificent spans of music. The opera roars over you like a thunderstorm. We think of architecture in music as a German thing, but I don’t think any composer surpassed Rossini at building up great structures from small components. The music is some of the most concentrated and beautiful ever written. Some of that praise applies to all Rossini’s Neapolitan operas, especially the last few. My Teatro Nuovo colleague Jakob Lehmann has a particular sense of mission with those nine operas, and we hope to do all of them eventually. It’s a cycle of growth and achievement like the nine symphonies of Beethoven.
Is this the New York local premiere of Rossini’s original Naples version? “Maometto” was partially heard in New York City in a bastardized form via a mixed-up edition of “L’assedio di Corinto.” This conflation by Thomas Schippers took the Paris revision of “Maometto Secondo” (much altered as “Le Siege de Corinthe”) in Italian translation and mixed it up with materials from the original “Maometto” (including a contralto male lead that didn’t exist in the Paris revision). This pastiche was the vehicle for Beverly Sills’ Metropolitan Opera debut in 1974 alongside Shirley Verrett and Justino Diaz.
Whether it is a premiere I’m not sure. There could have been a concert performance in the past. I do remember the controversy over “L’assedio,” and it was part of the growing pains of the Bel Canto revival. Short version of a long story: Italy back in the day was friendly to revisions and adaptations, whether by the composer or a local maestro. Rossini had re-worked “Maometto” for Paris, and somebody reworked the Paris score for Italy, and that’s what got published as “L’assedio.” That’s no crime – but really, when we look at these operas critically and seriously, the composer’s original is almost always better, and that’s the case here.
You are not doing all this alone – tell us about your colleagues.
The co-director of “Maometto” (alongside Lehmann on violin) is Lucy Tucker Yates, who directs our Italian language studies and is also an amazing keyboard player and all-around musician. Jakob and I are very excited about adding new voices to the mix at Teatro Nuovo. It’s a crazy adventure, trying to rediscover what Italians were doing all those years with jointly directed performances, and not always a smooth process – but we learn so much from going through it!
“Maometto Secondo” will be performed on November 2 at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center. More information and tickets are available here: https://ticketing.jazz.org/13128/13129 and here: https://www.teatronuovo.org/tickets-fall-2022.