Recovery at Glimmerglass: Thinking Outside the Box
2021 Glimmerglass Festival Preview
For over a decade I’ve covered the Glimmerglass Festival and have celebrated its ascension to an internationally-lauded event under the direction of the boundlessly energetic and resourceful Francesca Zambello. Its calling-off of the 2020 season was another of many tragic cancelations of sister opera houses world-wide.
Undaunted for 2021, Ms. Zambello has transformed and augmented the idyllic Glimmerglass campus and will present opera and dance for a socially-distanced audience on a newly built structure — the Andrew J. Martin-Weber Lawn Stage — on a lawn articulated into small delimited clusters, adequate for up to four in a party. For those who seek assurance of protection from inclement weather, a small number of enclosed boxes will also be available. New York State health officials and Bassett Healthcare Network, have pitched in to ensure best health practices. Putting this plan in motion will undoubtedly be a challenge.
Of course, the Busch theatre is still there, but a well-crafted open-air strategy has been successful in drawing live art audiences in experimental spaces (such as PS21 in Chatham,NY) during the summer and fall of 2020. Glimmerglass is well underway in preparing for the lingering global Covid malaise.
While eagerly mounting this plan, the Covid transmission is an integral factor. The large increase of vaccinations and our adherence to masking will undoubtedly be critical to any “return to normal.”
However, environmental precaution is not the only measure: each performance must be considerably shorter to ensure minimal overall exposure to the human gatherings on the grounds. To this end, Ms. Zambello, dramaturge Kelley Rourke, and conductor Joseph Colaneri have made ninety-minute reductions of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Verdi’s Il Trovatore; Offenbach’s La Périchole (“Songbird”); and a Wagner medley, Gods and Mortals. A musical-theatre offering, To the World and Sandra Seaton’s world-premier The Passion of Sarah Cardwell Dawson, will round off the summer.
The Seaton play celebrates the life of the founder of the National Negro Opera Company features mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves and music composed by Carlos Simon. Songbird looks like a blast: the action is relocated to New Orleans with a 1920s style jazz band ensemble. Kudos to co-directors Francesca Zambello and Eric Sean Fogel, conductor James Lowe, and Kelley Rourke for the translation. Il Trovatore will be staged by Ms. Zambello and Mr Fogel; Latonia Moore, Gregory Kunde, Raehann Bryce-Davis, and Michael Mayes are featured leads. Gods and Mortals will mash up The Ring, Tannhäuser, and Die Feen; The premiere of the latter was a casualty of last year’s cancelation. The Magic Flute, directed by NJ Agwuna, will feature the magisterial voice of Eric Owens as Sarastro. To the World proposes to mediate our endemic claustrophobia with a “global musical tour” featuring Isabel Leonard, William Burden, Alexandria Shiner, and Michael Mayes.
Each year under Ms. Zambello’s leadership, relevant societal concerns and reflections thereon are masterly entwined in the fabric of each production. Social change, intolerance, immigration, and the way our sense of homeland binds us amid fractious upheavals have all been themes in past years. Certainly, the unprecedented traumas of 2020-2021 need the arts to heal, divert, discuss, and assist in individual and collective transcendence and enlightenment. Starting this season, the Common Ground initiative is unveiled which will yield yearly works that attempt to enlighten differing American experiences in an effort to provide insight and coalescence. For this season, a dance work On Trac |<, with music by Nicolas Lell Benavides and choreography and performance by Amanda Castro, examines the paradoxes of rurality, technology, and machinery. The Knock, an opera by Aleksandra Vrebalov and Deborah Brevoort, will also receive its premiere this season. The term “The Knock” refers to notification of a soldier’s death in battle to his spouse. What it means to resolve and bear grief and loss under the banner of patriotism and heroism is a subject rarely treated. Both of these productions seek to open minds and hearts. In fact, no season at Glimmerglass fails to inspire and entertain with contemplative, pertinent innovation.