First Glimpse – A Glimmerglass Aperitif: Ives and Copland Teasers for the 2010 Season

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A Recital of Songs by Ives and Copland performed by Jamilyn Manning-White, soprano; Adam Fry, bass; and Eric Schnobrick, piano June 8, 2010 at the Stanwich Club, Greenwich, Connecticut

The Stanwich Country Club, CT

The steady stream of drystone walls, oddly manicured and departing from their Anglo-Saxon roots, passed solemnly by to my left and right, as I drove through Greenwich, Connecticut. The walls retained velvety green settlements on which magnificent houses could be almost seen behind ramparts of giant maples, larches, and elms. Such was the splendor of approach. The Stanwich Country Club in Greenwich, Connecticut could be seen only after five minutes’ drive down a winding mile-long private road. The rain and chill added an English accent to this unlikely venue for a song recital. A far cry, as well, from Ives’s surroundings in Danbury and Copland’s childhood in Brooklyn.

Yes, a recital, but more, rather, an opening pitch (how difficult it is to avoid baseball metaphors when thinking of Cooperstown) for the 2010 Glimmerglass Opera Season.

Glimmerglass Opera, Cooperstown, NY

Greeting guests were James Barton, a Trustee of the Board of Glimmerglass, and Michael MacLeod, General and Artistic Director. MacLeod has, in five years of his term, maintained an enviably high artistic level of production, while at the same time bringing a much needed marketing facelift. For example, program books, brochures, mailings, and the Website have undergone extensive and attractive redesign. Mr. MacLeod can be proud of the great Orpheus year (2007, celebrating the four-hundredth anniversary of Monteverdi’s Orfeo); a U.S. première of Wagner’s early, rarely performed opera, Das Liebesverbot, and important productions by Jonathan Miller (a superb La Traviata and Dido and Æneas in 2009). Replacing him for the 2011 season will be Francesca Zambello, a rising directorial star and former protégé of Jean-Pierre Ponelle.

At the cocktail party that preceded the recital, in the informal cocktail chatter various characterizations were made of Glimmerglass. One had the impression that many in attendance were not yet acolytes of the upstate opera series. A few admitted to actually never having been to Cooperstown, but “promised they finally would this year.” For others, “Glimmerglass has always been the great proving ground for the New York City Opera.” Something of a minor league?

Soprano, Jamilyn Manning-White

For Metropolitan diehards, there is only one near and dear venue, and the City Opera is not it, nor would anything else in the State compare. Perhaps, I thought, it was the identification of Cooperstown with America’s pastime that turned some noses? For some, the mention of the “baseball experience” juxtaposed to “high art” was met with an immediate dismissal: “you really don’t see much baseball there – except, of course, for the Hall of Fame.” Several women admitted to being as devoted to baseball as to anything else in Cooperstown. Indeed, the idea of driving hours away in upstate New York to hear opera seems like too much effort for that centimeter of perspective Saul Steinberg would afford Glimmerglass in his famous Manhattan-centric poster: the real show is in “the city,” and anything else (short of La Scala, Covent Garden, or Bayreuth), especially in rural New York, must, by definition, be diminutive and barely worth the trip. How wrong that is, as anyone who has made the trip has found.

It is clear that with Jonathan Miller’s visionary productions in the past years, as well a growing critical reception, including scholarly encomiums regularly seen in the New York Review of Books, Glimmerglass is clearly on the ascent. The comparison to Glyndebourne has been made by many (including this author covering La Traviata in 2009).

Michael MacLeod outlined the 2010 season: Bizet’s Tosca, Handel’s Tolomeo, Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, and Copland’s The Tender Land. Astonishingly, Tolomeo, a vibrant but barely known work, will be heard in its American première.

General and Artistic Director through 2010, Michael MacLeod

To whet our musical appetites for the summer, a recital followed featuring soprano Jamilyn Manning-White, with Adam Fry, bass, and Eric Schnobrick, piano. Mr. Schnobrick, who is the Events Manager at Glimmerglass, undoubtedly conjured the program, which consisted of songs by Charles Ives and Aaron Copland. Both of these young singers will appear this season: Mr. Fry, as Bartolo in the Mozart; Ms. Manning-White, as Mrs. Jenks in the Copland. They typify what is required of the current and future generations of opera singers: attractive both in voice and appearance, an instinctive grasp of their material, and an unaffected stage presence. The program included the kind of Ives songs that are more appealing and sentimental than the ones that he actually preferred – i.e., the ear-boxing sort. But with incandescent performances of “The Children’s Hour” and “The Things Our Fathers Loved,” one could not object to having one’s Ives a bit soft peddled. Ms. Manning-White’s “At the River” was taken less with an ear to the piano’s brash crescendos, but more in line with the sense of exaltation expressed in Ives’s words, “Yes, we’ll gather by the river/The beautiful, the beautiful river/Gather with the saints by the river/That flows by the throne of God.” Ms. Manning-White’s voice, both buoyant and focused, was especially expressive in her performances of two well-known Copland songs, based on Dickinson texts, “Why Do They Shut Me Out of Heaven” and “Going to Heaven.” Mr. Fry’s warm bass-baritone voice, intelligent as well as colorful, gave an expressive power and conviction to Ives’s “The Things Our Fathers Loved” and “Songs My Mother Taught Me”qualities that the somewhat precious texts alone do not convey.

Bass, Adam Fry
Bass, Adam Fry

While a short recital of ten songs by two of America’s greatest composers might not seem an ideal way to typify a season dominated by European masters, I recalled what had been printed on the invitations – “Copland and Ives – American Originals” – and realized how fitting a description “American Originals” is for this enterprising opera company.

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