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-+*Lucking into one of the first few nice days of a late spring, I attended the annual Glimmerglass Festival kickoff, hosted at Midwood, the secluded Germantown home of philanthropist Joan K. Davidson. This beautiful Sunday afternoon offered the enticements of the summer opera fare in Cooperstown along with hors d’oeuvres and wine. Francesca Zambello, the transformational Artistic & General Director of the Glimmerglass Festival, invited several young artists, veteran performers, and composers to further the cause.
-+*The demise of New York’s beloved City Opera seemed sudden and bizarre—and so painful to opera lovers in the City, that many lost sight of what a long process it was. The board’s bad decisions went back around a decade. The company’s deficits climbed, and its endowment was repeatedly raided. There was time to change things, and the warning signals were unmistakable. The late Gérard Mortier’s innovative spirit and visibility may have been an asset, but he was hardly famed for his thrift. In the end they couldn’t afford even to get him started. When the NYCO couldn’t meet the budget they had agreed to offer him, he backed out. His replacement, George Steel, had similar artistic inclinations.
-+*Is there a more passionate art form than opera? In what other mode is the uninhibited expression of feeling—tragic or comic—so central? More central than reason. Given the emotional liberation of great music, what can in a mere plot description appear to be absurd (a woman tossing the wrong baby into a fire; a “fallen woman” sacrificing her entire future and the happiness of her lover for the sake of her lover’s respectable sister; a man killing his best friend in a duel because he has flirted with his girlfriend; a nobleman secretly meeting his own wife in disguise—madness, murder, and deception) can become through music profound and moving, Revelation and Catharsis.
-+*Pergolesi’s comic operas sound remarkably modern—which is to say, like Mozart. Recognizably human characters go through recognizable experiences, singing out their feelings very directly, which the music embodies in fluidly changing tempos and moods, stretching of harmony, changes of key and orchestral color. Much is accomplished through musically creative recitative—a half-spoken way of proceeding—as well as through song proper and duets (there are only two singers in each of these operas, though also some designated silent performers, to which this production added a few dancers). It is like Mozart, but sets the procedure for opera ever since, even Verdi’s with their heroic figures, Wagner’s with their gods and goddesses, Berg or Britten with their neurotics. Characters live, feel, and think—and sing—and the music moves quickly and supply and thinks, as it were, with them.
-+*No one was trembling in their seats at the Metropolitan Opera premiere of John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer on October 20. Taking no chances, the police presence outside the hall was considerable, and if you made light of it, the box office manager was quick to frown. “It’s for your own protection, sir.” But how can this Mayfly of a contretemps be seen as anything inflammatory? Every lens you view it through is skewed. A woman was introduced at the rally outside (protesters had been squeezed into the tiny strip park that separates Lincoln Center from Broadway) as a heroine for Israel. Through a bullhorn she shouted that “Peter Gelb, a Jew, has brought danger to all of us.” It would take the thinnest of skins and hottest of heads to remotely believe such a charge.
-+*SOLD OUT! The signs taped to the front doors of Jordan Hall told a rare story for Boston’s classical music scene. Odyssey Opera began its second season with a hit on its hands—the Boston premiere of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s 1920 opera Die tote Stadt (The Dead City), a romantic work now best known for a soaring soprano aria, “Marietta’s Lied,” a favorite of any diva who can sing a high C on pitch (and some who can’t).
-+*The lattest upheavals in San Diego and New York have, as you might expect, stirred up another raft of “death of opera” articles in the press. Clichéd automatic reactions to what may be symptoms of something larger or may not were common enough before the digital age, but, since all it takes is to get a reader to click on a headline to accomplish something positive (as it seems) the constant repetition of dire news has become a reality of a decidedly Pavlovian sort, since the Net is interactive, is it not?
-+*Naxos in Ms. Zambello’s staging appears to be a fictional town in upstate New York. Theodore Dreiser’s grim tale, An American Tragedy is set in the Greek-name Lycurgus (ironically, the lawgiver of Sparta) N.Y., another fabrication making one believe that upstate New York might be perceived as a birthplace of tragedy, pace Nietszche. Tobias Picker’s original operatic adaption of Dreiser’s novel was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera and premiered in 2005. Francesca Zambello directed this version which was fairly well received. Since then, both Mr. Picker and librettist Gene Scheer have been steadily revising the original, mostly by broad-stroke cutting. In celebration of Mr. Picker’s sixtieth birthday, this latest edition premieres at Glimmerglass this season, again under the aegis of Ms. Zambello and directed by Peter Kazaras. The essay in the program provided by Thomas May give strong hints as to the intentions of the current revision. Giving us these clues is sensible since many of us (myself included) never saw the longer 2005 production. Dreiser’s tale is based on a lurid real-life murder in 1906, People v. Gillette. Chester Gillette (Clyde Griffiths in Dreiser’s novel), a worker in a skirt factory in Cortland, N.Y. (about two hours west of Glimmerglass), killed another employee, Grace Brown (Roberta Alden in the novel), who he had impregnated.