By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Since Francesca Zambello became general & music director at the Glimmerglass Festival in 2011, one show has been in the back of her mind.
“I’ve always wanted to do ‘Show Boat’,” she said. “It’s one that I’ve always had on our docket.”
The Oscar Hammerstein-penned musical, which deals with family and racism in post-Reconstruction Mississippi, is set to open the festival season this Saturday, July 6, in a season that includes “La Traviata,” “The Ghosts of Versailles” and the world premier of “Blue,” a new opera by Tony Award winning composer Jeanine Tesori, whose credits include “Fun Home” and “Shrek The Musical.”
“Blue,” commissioned by the Festival, tells the story of a black Harlem police officer and his wife as they deal with the loss of their teenage son in a police-involved shooting.
“It’s an interesting arc from ‘Show Boat’ to ‘Blue,’” said Zambello. “They both deal with issues of race in America, with one written in 1927 and the other in 2019. There’s a thematic connection.”
For her, bringing a musical to the festival was part of bringing in a wider audience. “The musical is America’s opera, and it’s never been fully embraced,” she said. “When we changed the name to the Glimmerglass Festival, I thought a classic musical would encourage new audiences.”
That season, the Festival presented “Annie Get Your Gun,” (1947) starring soprano Deborah Voigt. “It’s a classic American musical,” she said.
Since then, the Festival has staged “Camelot,” “Carousel,” “Oklahoma,” “The Music Man” and
“West Side Story.”
“‘West Side Story’ was the most tickets we’ve ever sold,” she said. “We added three shows. It’s in people’s DNA.”
The Festival’s production of “West Side Story” just finished in Chicago and is headed to Italy. “Our ‘Porgy and Bess’ played in Cincinnati, and after this season, ‘Ghost of Versailles’ will be performed at Versailles, and ‘Blue’ will head to Chicago and Washington D.C.” said Zambello. “These productions carry our brand and our way of thinking all over the world.”
And the Festival’s unique space lends itself well to the traditional musical. “So many of them were written without major amplification,” she said. “They were written for big voices and a big orchestra. When ‘Show Boat’ was first performed, it was likely performed by people who had opera training.”
“When you see a Broadway show,” she continued, “or a revival on tour, if you hear 22 musicians it’s a miracle. You’re basically having an acoustic experience.”
The musicals also serve as a bridge for the Festival’s Young Artists and musical theater interns. “There’s a cross-pollination there,” she said. “And four of our Young Artists are doing musical theater on Broadway right now.”
In addition to performances at the Festival, “Show Boat” will also be performed at Attica Correctional Facility as part of the Festival’s commitment to outreach and social justice.
“The Constitution says ‘We The People,’” she said. “We think about that a lot here.”
So far, Zambello said, tickets have been selling well, with several shows already sold out. “We don’t want you to be disappointed that you can’t get tickets,” she said. “And last year, we had a lot of disappointed people.”