COOPERSTOWN, NY – Glimmerglass Opera Festival has an outstanding reputation for first-rate singers, strong orchestras and glittering productions.
This year, the company also takes on a number of issues that are relevant to our time. “Blue” stands out as an innovative study of racial bias, family and loss. With music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics, as well as direction, by Tazewell Thompson, this contemporary drama is a searing study of the fragility and danger inherent in being black in America. The father, (Kenneth Kellogg) is a police officer. His wife (Briana Hunter) has given birth to a boy. Her friends fear that the boy’s future is already compromised because of ongoing interracial violence in this country. Sadly, those concerns come true when the son (Aaron Crouch) as a teenager is shot by another police officer. And we see this reflected in the news day after day.
The opera itself has stirring moments, clashes of anger and religious overtones. Gordon Hawkins is the Reverend who tries to console the family. The funeral scene is especially moving, as the mourners reflect on their own sense of loss. This world premiere has been a major hit at Glimmerglass.
Another opera that touches on contemporary themes is, surprisingly, “Ghosts of Versailles.” This lush production, recalling the period of Marie Antoinette (Yelena Dyachek) and King Louis XVI (Peter Morgan) involves an opera within an opera. Such characters as Figaro (Ben Schaefer), Susannah (Kayla Siembieda) and Rosina (Joanne Latini) populate the stage in fanciful imagery that seeks to change history. Jonathan Bryan as Beaumarchas has loved the Queen of France and imagines rescuing her and taking her to America. But of course, the queen meets her untimely death on the guillotine. Director Jay Lesenger has assembled a brilliant cast, with period costumes by Nancy Leary and luscious set design by James Noone. Music is by John Corigliano, this year’s artist in residence, with libretto by William M. Hoffman. Conductor Joseph Colaneri, in a pre-play discussion, said that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had seen the opera a week or so earlier, was asked about themes relevant to today. She said the aristocrats didn’t try to understand the common people, any more than our politicians and leaders today attempt to reconcile differences for the good of the country.
“Showboat,” the glorious Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II musical, is another appealing selection this season. With its haunting “Ol’ Man River,” sung superbly by Justin Hopkins, the musical also features Lauren Snouffer as Magnolia and Michael Adams as Gaylord Ravenal. Their lyrical duets, “Make Believe” and “Why Do I Love You?” are classics themselves. Alyson Cambridge’s Julie delivers the moving “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” as well as a broken hearted, touching “Bill.” There are lighter moments, too, with Lara Teeter as Cap'n Andy and Klea Blackhurst as his no-nonsense wife, Pathy Ann. Once again, racial differences are at the core of the novel by Edna Ferber. Julie becomes an outcast when the sheriff learns she has Negro blood and is married to a white man. Anti-miscegenation laws were prevalent in many states in the 1800s until a Supreme Court decision in 1967. Artistic Director Francesca Zambello has re-created the steamboat period and the Deep South world, enhanced by Eric Sean Fogel’s choreography, Paul Tazewell’s costumes and James Lowe as conductor.
The perennial “La Traviata” by Giuseppi Verdi was also on view this season. I couldn’t stay for the production, but it must have been a glittering scene. Based on Alexandre Dumas’s “The Lady of the Camellias,” the play explores the brief life of Violetta Valery, a courtesan, played by Amanda Woodbury. She is dying of consumption, but is loved by Alfredo Dumont (Kang Young) who visits her in Paris. The tragic story is directed by Zambello, with the orchestra conducted by Colaneri.
The four-hour drive from New Jersey to Cooperstown is well worth the time for its beautiful setting on Oswego Lake, the Fennimore Art Museum, the Farmer’s Museum and, of course, the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The 2020 season at Glimmerglass includes Richard Wagner’s first opera, “Die Feen (The Fairies),” “Rinaldo” by George Frederic Handel, “Don Giovanni,” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and “The Sound of Music” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstien II.
For more information on this season and next season, call 607-547-2255 or visit Glimmerglass.org.
Photo caption: (From left) Spencer Hamlin as Pete, Justin Hopkins as Joe, Abigail Paschke as Ellie Mae Chipley, Judith Skinner as Queenie, Lauren Snouffer as Magnolia Hawks, Lara Teeter as Cap'n Andy and Schyler Vargas as Frank Schultz in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2019 production of "Show Boat."