Editorial: A Chorus For Us


A Chorus For Us

Last Friday evening, a new production of The Sound of Music, the beloved musical written in 1959 by Rodgers and Hammerstein, came to life at The Glimmerglass Festival, signaling the start of the 2022 season, its 47th — an astonishing accomplishment.

The Glimmerglass Festival, changing its name over the years, began with three performances of La Bohème, courageously staged after three years of planning in the sparsely designed, non-air-conditioned, orchestra-pit-less 400-seat auditorium of the Cooperstown High School. The cast consisted, first, of professional singers and orchestra, but the two large choruses were made up of local volunteers, including a lot of children and teachers and, in fact, five Bassett doctors. The backstage crew — make-up, dressers, props — was all volunteers and the dressing rooms, separated by hanging sheets, were in the over-heated boiler room.

With this auspicious beginning our tiny upstate Village was treated to a taste of the live performance, spectacular scenery, intense direction, deep drama and resounding music that was to come. Of course, there were mountains to climb and setbacks to overcome, not least of which were the deep financial burdens. Glimmerglass grew into a three-production season while still in the High School, and then, in 1987, after deep thought, the company decided to build a new, specifically designed theater. It would be the first opera-specific structure built in the U.S. since the Metropolitan Opera moved to Lincoln Center in 1966. Exceedingly high risk and extraordinarily forward-thinking for the little Upstate New York company, not to mention vastly more expensive than its then-paltry budget would allow.

As the new theater welcomed a burgeoning international audience, so did it provide the impetus for crucial new fund-raising directions, hatching the National Council for Development and the annual gala in New York City. The company was still young, and it still suffered sincere growing pains and glitches that continuously challenged its budget as it strove to bear the newfound artistic responsibility to live up to the perfection of its new building. The Young American Artists Program was developed, setting a stage for vibrant main-stage roles and covers and illuminating solo recitals; major international artists — directors, designers, singers — began to ply their trade in the rural community, bringing the adventurous productions to the attention of like critics and audiences; co-productions were organized to alleviate the mounting expenses. All good, and all part of the remarkable growth of the small company that was willing to climb, willingly helped by the hotels, inns, restaurants, museums and people of the small Village that was its home.

Glimmerglass Festival will always be among the younger art companies in the country, and through these years of exponential growth both Paul Kellogg and Francesca Zambello stand out in their abilities to see into the future of the company and guide it over the hurdles. Kellogg took the helm in 1979 — learning on the job, he said, because the company was learning on the job — and brought it kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Zambello took over in 2010, pushing Glimmerglass up to new heights and out sideways as well, introducing new and, at times, controversial productions and challenging everyone to take a long, hard look with her.

Congratulations to The Glimmerglass Festival. It’s ever-growing, but for the high quality of work it produces the company still needs all the help it can get from its old friends in the Village and beyond because, as has been said, “The only thing more expensive than opera is war.”

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