Category Archives: Festival Opera

‘Butterfly’ soars at Glimmerglass

Operatoonity.com review: Madame Butterflypresented by Glimmerglass Festival
Live performance: Tuesday, July 29, 2014
The Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, NY
5.0 stars

five stars

The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of Puccini's "Madame Butterfly." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Exceedingly beautiful, tender, and elegiac, well executed in every aspect. The new production of Madame Butterfly at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown is an elegant, extraordinary show that delivers on all the weighty expectations placed on a beloved Puccini work.

It featured an evocative and versatile set and special effects including a shower of pale pink rose petals …

Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of Puccini's "Madame Butterfly." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

. . . and, later,  a billowing curtain of blood.

Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San and Dinyar Vania as Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of Puccini's "Madame Butterfly." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San and Dinyar Vania as Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

It was a consummate theatrical production under the directorial aegis of the Festival’s Artistic and General Director Francesca Zambello, offering a sweeping saga of the powerful tensions between traditional Eastern and imperialistic Western values and culture as distilled through the single act of abandonment of a sympathetic heroine by a blundering American naval officer that drove many audience members to tears as early as the first act and storming to their feet a standing ovation by curtain call.

Amidst hours of artistry, stunning music, and many spectacular voices, it takes some kind of  special performer portraying Butterfly to soar higher than all others and all the other elements, elevating a production to a transformative operatic experience. As Cio-Cio-San, Korean soprano Yunah Lee sang a Butterfly for the ages, worthy of elegy. Lee conveyed power, beauty, and grace in every note, in every gesture, in every facial expression–a living, breathing symbol of that lovely butterfly whose wings are pinned down by Westerners seeking to preserve and enjoy them by killing them.

Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San with members of the ensemble in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of Puccini's "Madame Butterfly." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San with members of the ensemble in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Everything Lee sang was perfection, from the famous Act I love duet with Pinkerton played impressively by American tenor Dinyar Vanya beginning with Bimba, Bimba, non piangere…

Dinyar Vania as Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton and Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of "Madame Butterfly." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Dinyar Vania as Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton and Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of “Madame Butterfly.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

…to the opera’s most famous aria Un bel dì, delivered flawlessly. Though the audience knows through Suzuki’s reactions that Pinkerton is not coming back to live with her, somehow Lee has made us believe through her powerful rendition that there’s a glimmer of chance of a happy reunion–even if we’ve seen the show before, numerous times.

Kristen Choi as Suzuki and Yunah Lee as Cio-CIo-San in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of "Madame Butterfly." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Kristen Choi as Suzuki and Yunah Lee as Cio-CIo-San in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of “Madame Butterfly.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

As Suzuki, American mezzo and Young Artists Kristen Choi was first-rate, turning in a nuanced and polished performance beyond her years, totally believable as Butterfly’s loyal maid, who is, if not older, considerably more worldly wise.

And the list of impressive performances continues. As Sharpless, Ukrainian tenor Aleksey Bogdanov sang the role with uncommon depth and sensitivity.  In addition to substantial artistry, Bogdanov has enormous stage presence and intelligence. Each of his warnings to Pinkerton, “Didn’t I tell you to be careful?” rings more urgent than the last because this Sharpless understands the consequences of Pinkerton’s actions even though Pinkerton himself remains clueless until the final scene of the show.

Kristen Choi as Suzuki and Aleksey Bogdanov as Sharpless in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of Puccini's "Madame Butterfly." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Kristen Choi as Suzuki and Aleksey Bogdanov as Sharpless in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Tenor Dinyar Vanya was ideally cast as Pinkerton. He has a clear, spinto quality to his voice that one expects of a leading man in a Puccini opera. His infatuation with Butterfly was so believable rendered and his love duet with her to end the first act so beautifully sung, it brought this reviewer to tears.

Dinyar Vania as Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of "Madame Butterfly." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Dinyar Vania as Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of “Madame Butterfly.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Though not a singing role, special mention must go to little Louis McKinny, as Sorrow, Butterfly and Pinkerton’s three-year-old son. Somehow, this adorable child understood how critical his role is to the success of the production. He executed his stage directions perfectly, comforting his stricken mother, even remembering to innocently play with the toy boat as he marched offstage, just as he was instructed to do.

Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San and Louis McKinny as Sorrow in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of Puccini's "Madame Butterfly." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San and Louis McKinny as Sorrow in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

The show was conducted by the Festival’s new music director Joseph Calaneri. During the smaller more intimate moments of the show, he conducted his capable musicians as if they were gloved on his hand. But in the initial numbers of the first act, it seemed like both Vania and Bogdanov had to compete with the orchestra to be heard and both have huge voices.

Those who have seen ‘Butterfly’ before might be surprised by the directorial choices in this production. Scenes that have been traditionally set in Cio-Cio San’s village are set in the American Consulate instead. Personally, I found this to be an effective choice in driving home the themes central to the piece, including the intrusion of American military power and influence abroad without an adequate respect for and understanding of foreign peoples and cultures.

Set design was by Michael Yergen and lighting by Robert Wierzel.

Set design was by Michael Yergen and lighting by Robert Wierzel.

So yes, this production offers a different artistic approach, but a winning one, and the work of all involved from the sometimes ethereal-as-butterfly-wings scrims and fly pieces designed by Michael Yeargan to the period costumes by Anna Yavich to the lighting by Robert Wierzel all combined synergistically to splendid effect.

It is an original version and yet one that lifts up the music and conventions of Madame Butterfly painstakingly inserted by the composer and the original librettists that begs to be seen.  There are six more performances of Madame Butterfly at Glimmerglass Festival through August 23. Don’t miss it.

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Every mainstage performance is preceded by a Show Talk beginning one hour before curtain. The Show Talk for Butterfly was given by Director Francesca Zambella and is a wonderful add-on that will enrich your Glimmerglass Festival experience.

 

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Filed under 20th Century Opera, Classic Opera, Favorite arias, Festival Opera, North American Opera, Opera festivals, Reviews

Glimmerglass Festival offers greenery, melody—magic

Glimmerglass Festival

The 2014 Glimmerglass Festival Season kicks off on July 11 with my favorite opera Madame Butterfly

Tucked into the rolling hills of Central New York State, edged into the western tip of Lake Otsego, lies an opera experience—the Glimmerglass Festival—pairing artistry and aspiration, elegance and enterprise, greenery and gravitas.

Nathan Gunn as Sir Lancelot

Nathan Gunn sang Sir Lancelot in last season’s “Camelot”

Like swallows to Capistrano, happy patrons return to Glimmerglass season after season to enjoy professional opera, informative talks and lectures, and a growing roster of programs both educational and entertaining in relaxed, comfortable surroundings.

The Glimmerglass Festival has the humblest of origins. It began in 1975 as the Glimmerglass Opera Theater housed in a local high school auditorium. In the intervening years, it has amassed an impressive number of supporters and abundant resources—capital and artistic. Within one generation it transformed itself into a summertime destination where opera lovers can enjoy the most sophisticated of art forms in an atmosphere of pastoral beauty. In 1988, they added a Young Artists program providing performance experience and advanced training for dozens of emerging singers. That’s in addition to gainful employment for hundreds of professionals who make their living in the performing and classical arts.

Abby speaks with Cat Hennessy, a draper forThe Music Man | Photo: William M. Brown/The Glimmerglass Festival

Glimmerglass’s Abby Rodd speaks with Cat Hennessy, a draper for ‘The Music Man’ | Photo: William M. Brown/The Glimmerglass Festival

Glimmerglass is nestled into 26 acres of farmland. The grounds are dotted with a half dozen or more outbuildings including performance spaces, a scene shop, costume barn, wardrobe trailers, and an administrative pavilion. The physical layout of the campus all around you serves as a tangible reminder that it takes a village to produce opera, something we tend to forget whenever we filter our opera experience solely through selected principals’ performances, i.e., whether the tenor hits all his top C’s.

The costume shop wall at Glimmerglass--an organizer's dream

The costume shop wall at Glimmerglass–an organizer’s dream

The centerpiece of the Glimmerglass experience is the Alice Busch Opera Theater, towering stories over the landscape’s rolling hills, with barnlike lines and neutral colors complementing rather than clashing with the natural setting. Inside, however, is housed an acoustically engineered, state-of-the-art theater designed expressly for opera performance that rivals and (in some cases) betters big city venues. The 914-seat theater, which opened in 1987, is the first built specifically for opera performance since the Metropolitan Opera Theater in Lincoln Center was completed in 1966.

Despite the fact that the theater is one-quarter the size of the Met, you still might want to bring along opera glasses if you enjoy seeing close-ups of the performers. The audience seating is generously raked, providing great sightlines and ample legroom but ultimately more distance between the house and the stage. Also, the theater isn’t climate controlled. They use fans to cool things down and blankets to warm you up. It can get unseasonably cold and rainy in Central New York during any summer month, so you might want to bring a wrap or dress in layers.

Before performances and during intermission, festival concessions are available and include hearty salads and wraps (even vegan items), snacks, and ice cream, just outside the theater. Beverages include a range of wines and beers, including local brews and varietals worth sampling. New York State wines are often compared favorably to those grown in the German Rhine. Festival goers may enjoy picnicking on the grounds before evening shows and after matinees. And in the event you forgot your picnic basket, one local restaurant delivers. Whether you buy a meal there or bring it in, you can avail yourself of the plentiful spaces set aside for al fresco dining—from café tables to benches to picnic tables situated under a large canvas tent.

Last season's Gents Night Out at Meet Me at the Pavilion was a tremendous showcase--memorable and fun.

Last season’s Gents Night Out at Meet Me at the Pavilion was a tremendous showcase–memorable and fun.

If you are considering a trip to Glimmerglass, a name derived from James Fenimore Cooper’s description of Lake Otsego in Leatherstocking Tales, plan to spend several days in Central New York. You need at least three to four days to take in all the productions Glimmerglass offers in repertory (for exactly that purpose). Fleshing out this year’s mainstage schedule are a growing number of informative opera events and recitals including “Showtalks” on and around the festival grounds and a new “Meet Me at the Pavilion” series of special performances showcasing this year’s Artist in Residence Deborah Voigt as well as other guest artists. There’s also a world-class museum in nearby Cooperstown—the Baseball Hall of Fame (which includes the American history of cricket)—as well as boutiques, baseball-kitsch shopping, and café- and fine-dining in and around the museum.

If you favor lakeside lodging, hotels and motels line the shore of Lake Otsego, roughly nine miles long from tip to tip. Some lovely restaurants operate lakeside, too, affording scenic views of the lake while dining. Numerous B&B’s in the region are worth investigating. Many are an easy commute to the festival grounds while possessing more charm and actually costing less than more popular chain motels.

Cooperstown, New York, is a charming place to shop or even window shop

Cooperstown, New York, is a charming place to shop or even window shop

Walking shoes are a must for Cooperstown where’s there’s limited parking within city limits but good public trolley service. You may also be more comfortable wearing your Keds  to the opera, too, especially if you’ve trekked to the middle of a shady grove for your pre-performance picnic. Since there’s no dress code at Glimmerglass, people don everything from walking shorts and sandals to shifts and high-heels. However, if you get caught in a midsummer cloudburst, it’s a hike from the parking areas across the front lawn to the theater entrance, so you might want to pack a pair of boots. For those who can’t make such a trek (elderly or handicapped patrons), they offer golf cart shuttle services between the theater and the parking areas.

From the moment you pull into one of the gravel parking lots until the last note the orchestra sounds, literally hundreds of people have worked long and hard, months before you arrive, to deliver the entertainment experience at Glimmerglass. Since they’re all professionals or devoted volunteers, you’re not likely to see them sweat. Unless, of course, you take the free backstage tour. You’ll be amazed at the hours of artistry, the pluck, the pure perspiration that must be invested for every second on stage.

 

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Festival Opera, North American Opera, profiles

the best and worst of the operasphere in 2012

This year was one for the books, so to speak. My 2012 marked many new and challenging review opportunities–thirteen in all, ranging from Philadelphia to New York.

You can read all my reviews on Bachtrack at this link.

Melodic contemporary operas, classic operas done in outlandish contemporary style, never before seen operas, and even opera/musical theatre mash-ups. I saw some pretty good productions with some singularly splendid moments. I watched some not so good productions with several redeeming moments.

Rarely did a see a wonderful opera replete with splendid moments. But it happened at least twice this past year.

Herewith are my best and worst moments of the 2012 season, occurring both on and offstage.

The Best of 2012

For me, the best single production was a tie between Nico Muhly’s Dark Sisters presented by the Opera Company of Philadelphia and Glimmerglass Festival’s Lost in the Stars.

Dark Sisters: The wives of The Prophet, left to right sung by Margaret Lattimore, Eve Gigliotti, Jennifer Zetlan, Caitlin Lynch, and Jennifer Check, appear on a news show to appeal for the return of their children. TV personality “King” is sung by Kevin Burdette.| c. of Opera Company of Philadelphia | Kelly and Massa Photography

I was enthralled by Dark Sisters, a contemporary opera about the plight of women trapped in plural marriage—one husband with multiple wives. You can read the full review here, but suffice it to say that it was a moving, beautifully sung, and technologically stunning production.

Met star Eric Owens (center) in “Lost in the Stars”

Likewise, the Glimmerglass Festival’s Lost in the Stars, an opera/musical mash-up written by Kurt Weill adapted from the novel Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton was a first-rate show.  It was a co-production with Cape Town Opera where it first played with performers who themselves experienced apartheid. Interestingly, Weill wrote this show  as a way to “deepen the American musical theater experience.” Lost in the Stars actually deepened and broadened my opera-going experience.  The full review is available here.

The Worst of 2012

I don’t really want to denigrate any single production or performer–that’s not what Operatoonity is about.  I prefer civility first.

However, I will say that having no #Operaplot Contest this year was a huge personal disappointment.

I can scarcely begin to describe how much I enjoyed participating and reading other entries. I’m sure it is a bear to organize and judge, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that mounting no annual contest was one (of  precious few ) Twitter campaigns sorely missed.

The other disappointment I grappled with was being emailed by a young performer after I didn’t include his name in a review. Yes, he was a lead performer, and he was understandably disappointed not to have been mentioned. However, since he was a young artist, I took the high road and excluded him rather than write an unfavorable review. I asked him if I could interview him on this blog about the challenges of preparing for a professional career singing opera, kind of as a makey-up, and he  declined to participate, another major disappointment.

To all stage performers out there, I need to remind you that reviewer is more than likely a working person who does opera reviewing in his or her spare time. She is overworked, tired, traveled a distance to get there, and endeavors to write an honest review. Therefore, if you don’t intend to bring everything you have to your performance, your overworked, overstimulated, and simultaneously exhausted reviewer (who has seen more than 35 full-length operas and recitals in venues from D.C. to the Met in the last 28 months) is likely to notice.

That’s it for Operatoonity’s birds-eye view of the best and worst of 2012.

Here’s to happy opera viewing and greener musical pastures in 2013.

 

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Filed under Best of Operatoonity, favorites, Festival Opera, Performers, Rant, Regional opera, Reviews

gearing up for Glimmerglass Festival opening

Glimmerglass Festival Technical Director Jake Josef and Director of Production Abby Rodd | Photo: William M. Brown/The Glimmerglass Festival.

The 2012 season at Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York, an internationally renowned summer opera festival featuring four innovative new productions annually, kicks off Saturday with Verdi’s Aida.

With preparations building to a fever pitch, I thought it would interest readers to learn how they prepare for their season. Here to talk with Operatoonity.com readers is Abby Rodd, Glimmerglass’s Director of Production, who has been with the festival for 21 years in various roles but always behind the scenes.

Welcome to Operatoonity.com, Abby. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. What departments or functions are under your supervision?
Scenery, Costumes, Props, Lighting, A/V, Stage Management, Wardrobe, Rigging, Stage Operations, Hair & Makeup, Wardrobe

What’s your typical day like in June, the month before the Festival opens?
We are in technical rehearsals by mid-June.  So, in the morning (9a.m.-1 p.m.) we are working on the notes we received the evening before from the artistic team on stage and in all of the various shops. We have a tech rehearsal from 2-5 p.m. and another tech rehearsal from 7-10 p.m. During the break we receive more notes, which we work on onstage, and we catch a dinner break when we can. After the rehearsal comes down at 10 p.m. we have a production meeting and go through the events of the day to work out any issues that came up – perhaps a door isn’t shutting properly or a hem needs to be raised. I find that during this time in the season, I am spending most of my time sharing information with as many people as possible and getting everyone on the same page.

Abby and Jake in the scene shop | Photo: William M. Brown/The Glimmerglass Festival

What is the most taxing part of your job?
Winter is too long.  It is difficult to be in a creative job but only be actively creating something for a few months out of the year.

Any particular challenges this year in view of the season? (Oh, I don’t know–corralling elephants? Obtaining archaic horns?)
The reason that I do this job is for the challenges.  There is something new every day.  I have a department of 97 artisans and technicians that are ready to take on any challenge we can throw at them.

Anything you are particularly excited about regarding the upcoming season?
The beginning of every summer season is an exciting time for us.  To go from 20 or so people in the off-season to 300+ in the summer is a pretty staggering difference.

One of the most interesting things to witness, in my opinion, is the interns and how much they grow over the course of the summer.  Many of them have never worked on an opera before – much less four of them in repertory. I get a lot of satisfaction out of knowing that they have had an amazing experience here and they can go back to their university and show off their stuff.

How do you keep your cool (on long, hot days)? What do you do to blow off steam?
Well, there’s not much time for extra-curricular activities when we are in season.  But, if I need to escape, I have a kayak behind the office and we are right on the water so I can just paddle into the middle of the lake.  That can usually get me back on track.

Abby speaks with Cat Hennessy, a draper for The Music Man | Photo: William M. Brown/The Glimmerglass Festival

Pretend this interview is a bullhorn. What is something you wish you could tell every member of the Glimmerglass Festival audience?
BRING ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS

You’ve been with Glimmerglass a long time. What surprises you most when you consider all the changes you’ve experienced in the intervening years?
I guess what surprises me most is that I’m still here.  It started out as a summer job after high school.  I had no idea that you could actually get a degree in technical theater or that you could turn it into a career.

I have seen  a lot of changes here over the years and I hope that we will continue to change or evolve.  That is what keeps it fresh.

Were you an opera fan when you started? Are you one now?
I wasn’t a fan specifically of opera – unless Bugs Bunny counts, and I think it should.  But, I did grow up with a lot of classical music and theater.  These days, when we are rehearsing a show in the theater I will sometimes allow myself (if the rehearsal is going really well) to shut my eyes and just listen.  It can be very relaxing and I am grateful for those brief moments.

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You can fan Glimmerglass on Facebook, follow them on Twitter at @GOpera, and read their blog. For more about the upcoming Glimmerglass season, click here. Here’s a great little video on what it takes to put the Glimmerglass Festival together:

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Festival Opera, Interviews, North American Opera, Regional opera

happy, happy anniversary, Don G., you splendiferous thing!

How about that Mozart, stepping out with Don G., two days before Halloween! How fitting.

Yes, Don Giovanni premiered in Prague 224 years ago today, which means it’s a day to celebrate.

I love everything about Don Giovanni–the music, the gothic elements, the comedy, the drama–so much so, that I wrote a novel, DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA, inspired by the it. It’s amazing, everything you have to learn to write a book with an opera backdrop. Even more amazing is that you don’t have to know opera to enjoy my book (but you will get all the inside jokes if you do.)

When an opera endures for more than two centuries (while so many others have faded from the repertoire), every company’s done the show in every conceivable way. Here then are a handful of scenes in a variety of treatments–from traditional to very modern interpretations:

Here’s a real “old school” version with superb singing even though the staging is a bit uninspired:

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Here’s the same scene from the wonderful movie Amadeus, with some of Salieri’s interpretation of what we are actually seeing. I love the way the Commendatore bursts through the wall in this version:

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Another clip, circa 1994, from the Holland Festival, done as chamber opera (opera in the round?), which might have been engaging for the audience to have the Commendatore storming through them:

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Here is a version many YouTube watchers criticized. Generally I don’t write off an opera because it’s been contemporized. I look at production values first. Does the whole thing work? Is the vision for the show consistent? You be the judge:

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This version, I’m sure, is like nothing you’ve ever seen and may never want to see again. Poor Leporello is missing a hand:

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I saw Christopher Alden’s Don G. at New York City opera in 2009, and loved it. No, it was hardly traditional, but it was vital and interesting. I’m sure I would love a traditional production, too, as long as it had a lot of vitality. This was an ironic, erotic, and darkly funny version. Here’s the preview produced by NYC Opera:

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So, celebrate with me today, opera fans. Where did you see your favorite Don G. and who sang it?



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Filed under anniversary, Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Don Giovanni, Festival Opera, Mozart, opera milestones, opera news