Glimmerglass 2013: A Retrospective

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Glimmerglass Festival 2013 Retrospective: The Irrational and the Season of Romance 

Der fliegende Holländer

Music and Libretto by Richard Wagner
Daland, bass – Peter Volpe
Senta, soprano – Melody Moore
Erik, tenor – Jay Hunter Morris
Mary, mezzo-soprano – Deborah Nansteel*
Steersman, tenor – Adam Bielamowicz*
Dutchman, bass-baritone – Ryan McKinny
Conductor, John Keenan
Director, Francesca Zambello
Choreographer, Eric Sean Fogel
Sets, James Noone
Costumes, Erik Teague
Lighting, Mark McCullough
Projected Titles,  Kelley Rourke
Hair & Makeup, Anne Ford-Coates



Lyrics, Alan Jay Lerner, Music, Frederick Loewe
Sir Dinadan, Clay Hilley*
Sir Lionel.  Noel Bouley*
Arthur,   David Pittsinger
Guenevere,  Andriana Chuchman
Lancelot,  Nathan Gunn
Merlyn/Pellinore,  Wynn Harmon
Sir Sagramore,  Wayne Hu*
Mordred,  Jack Noseworthy
Tom of Warwick,  Richard Pittsinger
Conductor, James Lowe
Director, Robert Longbottom
Sets, Kevin Depinet
Costumes, Paul Tazewell
Lighting, Robert Wierzel
Choreographer, Alex Sanchez
Projected Titles, Steven Jude Tietjen
Hair & Makeup, Anne Ford-Coates

*Young Artist

King for a Day (Un giorno di regno)
Music, Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto, Felice Romani (English adaptation, Kelley Rourke)
Baron Kelbar, bass – Jason Hardy
La Rocca, baritone – Andrew Wilkowske
Delmonte, tenor – Andrew Penning*
Belfiore, baritone –  Alex Lawrence*
Edoardo di Sanval, tenor –  Patrick O’Halloran*
Marchesa, mezzo-soprano – Ginger Costa-Jackson
Giulietta di Kelbar. soprano –  Jacqueline Echols*
Count Ivrea, tenor – Joe Shadday*

Stabat Mater

Music, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
Countertenor, Anthony Roth Costanzo
Soprano, Nadine Sierra
Dancer 1, Andrea Beasom*
Dancer 2, Sarah Parnicky*
Dancer 3, Anne O’Donnell*
Dancer 4, Lily Smith*
Dancer 5, Maurio Hines*
Dancer 6, Jason Fowler*
Dancer 7, Danny Lindgren*
Dancer 8, Elliot Peterson*
Conductor, Speranza Scappucci
Director/Choreographer, Jessica Lang
Sets,  Marjorie Bradley Kellogg
Costumes,  Beth Goldenberg
Lighting, Mark McCullough
Projected Titles, Kelley Rourke
Hair & Makeup, Anne Ford-Coates

The Little Match Girl Passion/When we Were Children

Music, David Lang
Text, H.C. Anderson, et. al.
Lisa Williamson, soprano*
Julia Mintzer, mezzo-soprano*
Michael Porter, tenor*
Christian Zaremba, bass*
Conductor, David Moody
Director, Francesca Zambello
Sets, Marjorie Bradley Kellogg
Costumes, Beth Goldenberg
Lighting, Mark McCullough
Choreographer, Andrea Beasom
Projected Titles, Kelley Rourke
Hair & Makeup Anne Ford-Coates

*Young Artist

Ryan McKinny as the Dutchman in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2013 production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

When I interviewed Francesca Zambello in 2011 she had just been named General and Artistic Director of the Glimmerglass Festival. Under her predecessor’s tenure, each opera season had a unifying “theme.”  Ms. Zambello quickly swore off such yearly festival themes as trite convention.  Yet, in 2012, as reported in this journal, one clearly felt the bristling fervency of social activism in every aspect of production.  That season was topped off with a provocative interview with Ruth Bader Ginsberg to a packed audience in her thrall at the Otesaga Hotel.  There were probably more law professors there that day than music lovers.  Her special appearance and the ethical themes woven into each opera production, made for a startling and refreshing season.  Aida, Music Man, Armide and most memorably, Lost in the Stars, were narratives, each quite unique, on the ethics of outworn societal patterns in the face of political, moral or economic change.

However, 2012 was a love it or hate it year: a risky sort of move for an opera festival with significant economic constraints and challenges.  Many reviews, for better or worse, concentrated on the lurid images of the water-boarding in Aida, the subtext of homoeroticism of Armide, the moldy stale white-bread Americana of Music Man, and the unsettling outcry for mitigation in Lost in the Stars.

Returning in 2013, the change in mood in the programming at first seemed reactionary.  Although many would deny recourse to idée fixe, the concept of “The Romantic” was clearly a unifying thread.  A term rich in meaning and legacy, Romanticism can be seen as a philosophic, artistic and intellectual tendency stemming from, at first, ideals in Age of Courtly Love and becoming something quite different in murky, anti-rationalist Sturm und Drang of early nineteenth-century Europe.   Nothing wayward or controversial permeated the productions this year. Apart from the dance setting of Stabat Mater and the chamber opera, The Little Match Girl Passion, nothing was daunting or ground-breaking in approach or in meaning.  By keeping within certain bounds, Ms. Zambello banked on sheer artistic quality and excellence rather than what might have been preached from a moralistic bully pulpit.

Justice Ginsberg returned, as well, not with scintillating opinion, but as raconteur and host to an operatic appreciation featuring performers from the current productions.  Using many examples from the classic and modern repertory, concepts of crime and punishment were illuminated in the plots of Aida, Andrea Chénier, Norma, Peter Grimes, The Crucible, Lost in the Stars, Theodore Morrison’s Oscar, Carmen and Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking. We learned of a new comic one-hour opera by Derrick Wang, Scalia/Ginsberg.  Inspired by Mozart’s Magic Flute , characters of Scalia and Ginsberg, real-life friends and opera aficionados, must somehow cooperate in mounting assorted “trials.”

Der fliegende Holländer, Ms. Zambello’s own production, was so stunning and effectively staged, one could forgive the rather heavy handed attempts in the program booklets to lock-sync it thematically with the summer’s Fennimore Museum’s exhibit of Hudson River School paintings. Rather more convincing for this Wagner work, perhaps, would have been an exhibit of Caspar David Friedrich or Johann Heinrich Füssli.  If no other opera was presented, this one alone would justify a season and demand a pilgrimage to Cooperstown.  Only one other Wagner opera has ever been performed previously, Das Liebesverbot, in 2008. Will there be another Wagner in this small theater?  It might surely have to be Lohengrin to fit within the scheduling constraints of the festival.  Ms. Zambello seems to be working her magic here expanding both breadth and depth of offerings. so without doubt, surprises await.

Ms. Zambello’s Der fliegende Holländer was an ingenious blend of nuanced direction, superb singing, and lighting director Mark McCulloch’s brilliance in evoking the supernatural with minimal yet devastatingly effective means. Black silhouetting and infusions of stark red beams were all that was needed to spin Wagner’s ghostly thriller.  There is always the challenge of tall ships and rigging to stage. These were deftly suggested by dangling braids, at time erotically fondled during the Spinning Song, or held taut by the sailors. Musically, this Holländer was as lustrous as one might encounter.  Peter Volpe’s rich Daland was barely the evil and avaricious parent, but was more a gullible and risible merchant.   Senta, one of the Wagner’s most challenging heroines, was never more convincingly and artfully sung. Melody Moore’s performance was spellbinding and a vocal triumph.  Fresh from his stint as Siegfried at the Metropolitan Opera in the 2012 season, Jay Hunter Morris brought his formidable charm and vocal clarity to bear on Senta’s boyfriend, Erik, a character for which good looks and charm must counter his whingey role. The magisterial bass-baritone, Ryan McKinny, the Dutchman, was the standout star of the production. Appearances count as well as musicianship: Mr. McKinney’s dark good looks as well as his physical and vocal virility brought conviction to the spell he casts over Senta.  While the orchestra started out sounding a bit thin, the ensemble improved as the evening progressed. Conductor John Keenan kept his musicians propelled and restless, just like the Dutchman’s curse.

L to R: David Pittsinger as King Arthur, Andriana Chuchman as Guenevere, Wynn Harmon as
Pellinore, Clay Hilley as Sir Dinaden, Wayne Hu as Sir Sagramore, Nathan Gunn as Sir Lancelot
and Noel Bouley as Sir Lionel. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot is in some unexpected way a suitable companion piece for the Wagner: it acts as the sort of a reversal of mood, color and historical poise. The darkly Romantic psyche of Wagner’s work is here upside down in the light and tuneful take on the Arthur and his crew.  To be sure there are corresponding triangles:  Senta-Erik-Dutchman mirrors, as in a carnival, Guenivere-Arthur-Lancelot. There is nothing here beyond light entertainment and the sinful pleasure of relaxed listening.  Musically, The Music Man from 2012 is more sophisticated, and even Annie Get Your Gun from 2011 has more memorable numbers. The three lead singers were all polished, good looking, and strong musically, especially this season’s featured star, Nathan Gunn.  Actor Wynn Harmon reappears this year in the dual role of Merlyn and Pellinore. In 2012 Harmon was memorable as the tragic James Jarvis in Weill/Anderson’s Lost in the Stars – but here his avuncular and comic presence was a delight.


The Glimmerglass Festival production of
Verdi’s King for a Day.
Photo: Jamie Kraus/The Glimmerglass Festival.

While the Wagner was the centerpiece this year, Giuesppe Verdi’s early comedy, the rarely performed Un giorno di regno, “King for a Day ,” was  brilliant fun and a masterful coup for director Christian Räth.  Programming this obscure work as part of the double bill with Der fliegende Holländer  in the bicentennial year celebrating these masters was really not an injustice to Verdi. Last season’s disquieting Aida  called for something this year that would be lighter. With a hilarious updated English translation by Kelley Rourke, King for a Day transcended the somewhat derivative Rossini-Donizetti score and Felice Romani’s dated libretto.  Everything was a delight for the eyes including the skewed stage perspective which ran into the orchestra pit.  Smartly self-conscious, the elaborate buffa plot was played out with wit and lightness.  The large vocal ensembles, with delicious thirds and sixths, while wearing thin at times, provided opportunities for much on-stage antics.  Guiletta’s Non san quant’io nel petto with Young Artist Jacqueline Echols was memorable, but, perhaps no one will forget mezzo Ginger Costa-Jackson as the beehive-coifed glitterati wanabee Marchesa singing her heart out with her pet miniature poodle in tow.  Ms. Costa-Jackson, apparently a natural comedienne, nonetheless was brilliantly sultry last year as Carmen in Glimmerglass’s exceptional 2011 production.

The Glimmerglass Festival production of Pergolesi'sStabat Mater. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.
The Glimmerglass Festival production of Pergolesi’sStabat Mater. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

David Lang’s chamber opera, The Little Match Girl Passion was paired with an unusual choreographed interpretation of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater.  Eight dancers joined the two treble soloists – counter-tenor Anthony Roth Costanza and soprano Nadine Sierra – in a visually symbolic exegesis of the Crucifixion and of Mary’s “station at the cross.”  Great counter tenors are hard to find and Mr. Costanza is certainly one of the versatile.  Jessica Lang’s subtly suggestive choreography gave us a passion play with unforgettable dance impressions and striking visuals that gave the Pergolesi’s score a more melodramatic alter ego.

Lang’s magical and evocative Passion, which employs the simplest of forces with intense and

Victoria Munro (center) with the children's chorus in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2013 production of David Lang's the little match girl passion. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.
Victoria Munro (center) with the children’s chorus in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2013 production of David Lang’s the little match girl passion. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

extraordinary vocal stylizations, audaciously dared comparison to Bach.  The Hans Christian Andersen tale (in H.P. Paull’s translation) of a beggar girl selling matches in the freezing cold on New Year’s Eve, her mystical transcendence through death is combined with fragments of Picander’s libretto for Bach’s Matthäus-Passion and interspersed with solemn utterances of percussion (celesta and bass drum).  Lang’s style, easily typecast as “minimalist” is both dramatic and ineffably touching.  Even the oddly obsessive vocal sputtering on consonants, sounding at times like vocalized stuttering, was an eerie and moving incantation of sorts.  This was another triumph for director Francesca Zambello: with its tiny scale of forces, judicious simplicity and poignant narrative, The Little Match Girl Passion avoided tragic pretention and theatricality. Sometimes suffering and death are the simplest of tales to tell.

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