The rhapsodic strains of the hymn to freedom that closes "William Tell" were still hovering in the night air, the soloists had all taken their bows, and most of the audience was on its feet.
Then conductor Will Crutchfield stepped forward and, holding up a bound score of the opera, invited one final round of cheers — for the composer, Gioachino Rossini.
It was a fitting end to an evening that offered a rare chance to hear Rossini's last opera played, if not in full, at least close enough to convey the epic scope of this remarkable work.
Friday's concert performance, the second of two at the Caramoor International Music Festival, lasted more than four hours (including two intermissions) — and that still meant trimming an hour or so of the score.
Rossini composed "Tell," an adaptation of play by Friedrich Schiller about the Swiss national hero, for the Paris Opera in 1829. Then, for reasons that have confounded musicologists ever since, he stopped writing operas, even though he lived for nearly 40 more years.
Whatever prompted his decision, it's safe to say Rossini went out on a high note. "Tell" is imbued with nobility, filled with grand choruses, virtuoso arias and exciting ensembles. It's too bad the length of the piece, along with structural weaknesses in the libretto, have kept it from being known to a wider audience — except of course for the overture, with its "Lone Ranger" theme.
Crutchfield, who led the Orchestra of St. Luke's in an enthusiastic if sometimes rough-and-ready performance, assembled a fine, all-American cast of soloists for this latest entry in his Bel Canto at Caramoor series.
The most noteworthy voice belonged to soprano Juliana Di Giacomo, who sang the role of Mathilde, the Austrian princess who defects from the enemy to join with the Swiss cause. Di Giacomo has a big, refulgent sound that can be thrilling at full volume (and occasionally squally) but even more impressive when she scales it back. Her opening aria "Sombre forets" ("Dark forest") rightly brought the house down.
As her sweetheart, Arnold, tenor Michael Spyres coped admirably with the cruel tessitura that requires repeated high Cs — and even a couple of C sharps. His voice sounded small next to Di Giacomo's, but they blended beautifully in harmony for their love duet.
As the title character, bass-baritone Daniel Mobbs brought a firm, resonant sound and dignified bearing to a role that offers few opportunities for fireworks — except in his exhortation to his son before he must shoot the apple off his head.
The role of the son, Jemmy is written for female voice, and soprano Talise Trevigne displayed a sparkling tone and vivid presence.
Mezzo-soprano Vanessa Cariddi made the most of her few opportunities as Tell's wife, Hedwige, and baritone Scott Bearden boomed out menacing tones as the villain, Gesler.