COOPERSTOWN, NY – Glimmerglass Opera came through, once again, with imaginative, provocative productions for its 2014 season.
A highlight for many was the Richard Strauss “Ariadne in Naxos.” This play-with-in-a-play features the powerful voice of Christine Goerke in the title role, also the artist-in-residence this summer. Her duet with Baccus (Corey Bix) is the climax as she transcends to another realm. The colorful contrast with a burlesque troupe and the outrageous Zerbinetta is entertaining. Rachele Gilmore is strong and amusing in the role, as she tries to convince Ariadne that she should find a new lover. Directed by Francesca Zambello (Glimmerglass artistic director), the play is light and ephemeral.
But the opera is one you need to understand before going in. Otherwise, it doesn’t make much sense. Although entertaining, I can’t say it was my favorite.
Rather, I was more deeply moved by the other three: “An American Tragedy,” based on the Theodore Dreiser novel,” Madame Butterfly” and “Carousel.”
All of these told sad stories of loss and longing. “Tragedy,” with music by Tobias Picker and libretto by Gene Scheer, tells the story of an ambitious man who falls in love with a wealthy young woman, Sondra. But he has had an affair with Roberta, who is now pregnant. A boating ‘accident’ seals his fate. Daniel T. Curran as Clyde, Vanessa Isiguen as Roberta and Cynthia Cook as Sondra are fully defined in their need for love and acceptance. Conductor George Manahan provides the sweeping, complex music, with production direction by Peter Kazaras. An especially stunning moment occurs in Act II, during a church scene, with its stoic, hymn-like motif. Although the set design by Alexander Dodge is severe, it magnifies the tragic consequences that prevent Clyde from achieving upward mobility.
Of course, for the ultimate loss, we turn to Madame Butterfly. Puccini’s brilliant opera is memorable and timeless. Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio San (Butterfly) is superb, appearing to sing to each person individually in the audience. Her story is heartbreaking, as she marries Lt. Pinkerton (Dinyar Vania) and then waits longingly for his return. She bears him a son, Sorrow (Louis McKinny – adorable). But when his ship is finally in the harbor, she learns that he is with his American wife. Her dreams are shattered. Kristen Choi is touching as Suzuki, who tries to protect Butterfly in her expectations and grief. Director Zambello has said she wanted to emphasize the American presence in Japan. Several scenes take place in the consulate’s office, with the American –Japanese division highly visible. Conductor Joseph Colaneri has said that Butterfly’s suicide is an act of courage: she would be stigmatized by allowing her son to be taken away. The set by Michael Yeargan is simplicity itself, with an allusion to Butterfly’s little house, but no visual structure.
Of course, who can’t help but fall in love with “Carousel.” The musical was also the favorite, so I’ve read, of Rodgers and Hammerstein themselves. Whenever “If I Loved You” soars in the background, there is hardly a dry eye in the house. Andrea Carroll has the feisty presence and lyrical soprano to give Julie Jordan the poignant quality of this love-struck young woman. Ryan McKinny as Billy Bigalow has the necessary edge to convince us he could be a barker in a carnival, or a jobless “bum.” The “Soliloquy” is his place to shine, when he tries to imagine having a boy or a girl. Still, there’s an undercurrent of hard, back-breaking work at the loom and with the fishing. The stark opening scene of shadowed figures returning at the end of the day conveys the harsh reality of the time.
Deborah Nansteel as Nettie rallies the troops beautifully with “June is Bustin’ Out All Over.” And Sharin Apostolou as Carrie Pipperidge is fetching when she sings “When I Marry Mr. Snow.” Joe Shadday has just the right air of practically to make a commendable Enoch Snow. And of course “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is the rousing anthem that ends the production.
Directed by Charles Newell and conducted by Doug Pick, you couldn’t ask for a musical that transports you more than “Carousel.” The set by John Culbert is, again, suggestive rather than naturalistic. Lighting changes by Mark McCulllough make the backdrop sometimes reminiscent of the circular carousel, other times like mountains in the background and still others like the waves of a sea.
All in all, this was a sparkling season at Glimmerglass Festival, perfect for the shimmering waters of Otsego Lake and the lush, bucolic setting that surrounds Cooperstown and the Adirondack mountains.
Another treat in August was the presence of Jessye Norman conducting a master class with four promising singers.
Next season brings Verdi’s “Macbeth,” Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” and Vivaldi’s “Cato in Utica.” For more information, call 607-547-2255 or visit Glimmerglass.org.