COOPERSTOWN, NY – What an amazing musical mix meets audiences who make the trip to Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Rossini’s “The Thieving Magpie” is perhaps the most surprising of the four operas presented this summer. Not as well known as an operatic version of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” the melodic and tragic “La Boheme” by Puccini or Stephen Sondheim’s musical thriller, “Sweeney Todd,” the magpie tale is stunning in its visual charm, choreography and intricate plot.
Legend has it that magpies are drawn to silver. In this telling, the young Ninetta is accused of stealing a silver spoon and ultimately condemned to death. Meg Gillentine’s mischievous Magpie darts across the stage, observes the chaos she causes and even helps conduct the orchestra. Rachele Gilmore as Ninetta sings beautifully and conveys the despair of a young woman who knows her innocence but can’t quite prove it. Her finance, Gianetto (Michele Angelini) does his best to protect her, but to no avail. Myung Hee Cho’s scenery and costumes richly enhance the story and Mark McCullough’s lighting lends visual effect with a deadly green in the dungeon scene and glowing reds and blues in more joyous moments. Director Peter Kazaras has kept this fascinating tale moving along with conductor Joseph Coaneri (a Millburn resident) rightfully acclaimed for the fluid orchestration.
Colaneri also conducted the orchestra for Puccini’s “La Boheme,” the tragic opera set in Paris in 1896. The enduring love story tells of Mimi, sung with great sensitivity by Raquel Gonzalez and Michael Brandenburg as an ardent Rodolfo, a writer. The two are convincing lovers, but poverty takes its toll on their relationship and Mimi’s health. Marcello (Hunter Enoch) a painter and Vanessa Becerra as Musetta are also lovers with their spats and separations.  Much of the story takes place in the artists’ garret, although one lively evening in the Latin Quarter gives the plot an elegant touch.
Not far away at the Fenimore Art Museum, a brilliant collection of Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings are on display, reflecting the Can-Can and other visual delights of Montmartre. Another room is devoted to past productions of “La Bohme” at the Metropolitan Opera House, with costumes and a recording of Enrico Caruso in the original production.
“Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” takes us to London and Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop. Greer Grimsley is outstanding as the Barber, with just enough of a sinister edge to generate fear. Luretta Bybee as Mrs. Lovett hovers and schemes, hoping that Sweeney will retire with her to the seaside. Their plot for making money is on the creepy side. But Sondheim’s music, despite the bloody tale, often soars. “Pretty Women” and “Johanna” are two of the most memorable songs that have endured from this show. There’s also a touching “Not While I’m Around,” sung by Tobias Ragg, Mrs. Lovett’s adoring assistant,  in a fascinating performance by Nicholas Nestorak.
“The Crucible” also has its dark theme, set in Salem, Massachusetts in the 1600s.  Jamie Barton as Elizabeth Proctor conveys the despair of a woman who knows her husband has been unfaithful, but still loves him in her way. John Proctor is played by Brian Mulligan and you can immediately sense the distance between these two. In the stage version, Miller’s screaming girls can be overwhelmingly annoying. But in the opera, there’s a more subdued quality. Zoie Reams as Tituba and Ariana Wehr as Abigail Williams demonstrate the excitable nature of young girls and the attraction to myths and witchcraft. Jay Hunter Morris is the stern Judge Danforth. The sternness of this rigid, suspicious community comes through. Artistic Director Francesca Zambello has given this production a well modulated, sobering sense of righteousness. Nicole Paiement conducts with zest. “The Crucible” has often been seen as Miller’s response to the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s, which did its own share of ruining lives.
The Cooperstown area, of course, is no doubt better known for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Still, there are other treasures, such as the elegant Otesaga Hotel. Another find is the Horned Dorset, a restaurant and guest house about half an hour away in Leonardsville. The vegetables come from their own garden and the rack of lamb, chocolate-ricotta dessert and other dishes are superb.
Don’t miss a light lunch or coffee and dessert at the museum either. A lovely patio looking out on the lake makes a visit worthwhile,, not to mention this year’s Ansel Adams exhibition.
Next year’s season includes George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma,” Donizetti’s “The Siege of Calais” and Handel’s “Xerxes.” For more information, visit Glimmerglass.org or call 607-547-2255.