A week from Saturday Will Crutchfield’s “Bel Canto at Caramoor” ends a 20-year run with Il Pirata. “Trove Thursday” salutes the finale of this important series with a live performance of the Bellini starring the inevitable Montserrat Caballè and her husband Yusi…oops I mean Bernabé Martí from another outdoor summer venue—the Cincinnati Zoo!

The cessation of Crutchfield’s bel canto performances in Katonah comes just weeks after the passing of Philip Gossett who occasionally participated in Caramoor’s pre-concert talks and who was of course a towering figure in music scholarship. His sparkling, fascinating book Divas and Scholars from 2006 remains essential reading for anyone interested in 19th century Italian opera.

Although I didn’t attend all that many Caramoor operas, some were especially striking, such as the wonderful and rare opportunity to hear two of Verdi’s French operas sung in their original language.

Although I recall a pale Linda di Chamounix and a bland Aureliano in Palmira that I fled at intermission, I prefer to savor memories of an involving Semiramide, a fierce Lucrezia Borgia, an engagingly elegant Il Trovatore (which featured a rare Azucena from Ewa Podle?, an occasional Caramoor visitor) and that surprising oddity–Poulenc’s Les Dialogues des Carmélites–done with incisive power and special for showcasing Deborah Polaski’s riveting operatic farewell as Mme de Croissy.

Happily it was recently been announced that Crutchfield is inaugurating a new summer project grandly christened “Teatro Nuovo” and moving with it to another corner of Westchester–the expansive performing arts complex at SUNY Purchase. The first season promises Rossini’s Tancredi and Mayr’s Medea in Corinto.

Although I didn’t live that far away, I never had the chance to attend an opera accompanied by—as legend has it—trumpeting elephants and shrieking peacocks before the Cincinnati Opera abandoned the Zoo for Music Hall. Sometime after that move my family visited the Zoo and I connived to walk out onto the now-dilapidated stage: there a star-struck kid looked around imagining the many famous singers who had performed on that spot for more than 50 years.

As a budding opera-tot I had only just begun to listen to the Met Saturday broadcasts when Caballè sang her only two opera performances in Cincinnati. Today’s rare “in-zoo” recording isn’t in the best sound but it captures a resplendent Caballè in one of her early signature roles. Back then I pored over my local newspaper for details about her upcoming appearance and later discovered she had had a mishap during rehearsals and sang Imogene leaning on velvet crutches. “What commitment and dedication!” I enthused at the time. Today one might also remember Gossett’s merciless appraisal of the Catalan diva in his brutally forthright book.

I look forward to Crutchfield’s Caramoor farewell on July 8th, my first live Pirata. I wasn’t yet in New York for Aprile Millo’s sole Imogene with the (presumably now-defunct) Opera Orchestra of New York in 1989—it seems to have been quite an event.

I had planned to attend the Met’s 2002 production but as luck would have it my ticket was for of one of Renée Fleming’s rare cancelations and knowing I didn’t want to hear her cover, I just skipped the whole thing.

Bellini: Il Pirata
Cincinnati Zoo Opera
5 July 1969
In-zoo recording

Imogene: Montserrat Caballé
Gualtiero: Bernabé Martí
Ernesto: Julian Patrick
Goffredo: Dimitri Nabokov

Conductor: Anton Guadagno

To download Pirata, just click on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

In addition, more than 80 “Trove Thursday” podcasts are available from iTunes–for free, or via any RSS reader.