Opera soared under Francesca Zambello’s ‘rocket ship phase’
By TARA BARNWELL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Glimmerglass Festival loses its leader at the end of its 2022 festival season when the visionary Francesca Zambello steps down after a transformative 12-year run at the helm.
“I first came to the festival in 1997 and directed Iphigene en Tauride, she said. “I fell in love with the region and the festival. Since becoming the general and artistic director, every season has been enjoyable, I can’t pick just one as my favorite. Every year has its highlights.”
“We just keep growing richer and stronger,” she said.
Ms. Zambello always loved music and her mother was an actress, so she decided at a young age to pursue a career in theater.
“I worked backstage on productions when I was in high school,” she said. “It’s when I got to New York City that I was transported by opera. I started directing and it all seemed to come together for me. Part of my upbringing was in Europe, so I learned many different languages, and that has definitely helped with my opera career.”
Although Ms. Zambello has one more festival season to complete, she is reflective on the things she will miss the most.
“The camaraderie of this festival is unique,” she said. “The combination of our audience, artists, staff and patrons is amazing and not found elsewhere. We all work together to bring the most incredible shows to the stage”.
Ms. Zambello expanded the variety of those shows over her tenure, introducing musicals and more Broadway-style shows to the Glimmerglass stage.
“Our musicals and youth operas bring in a whole new audience now,” she said. “We’ve brought in thousands of kids and introduced them to music of all kinds. It’s very rewarding to see young people inspired by music.”
“Our focus has been to not only build our local audience but to build it regionally as well as nationally,” she said.
Thirty-year employee Abby Rodd, director of production, enthusiastically called her 12 years with Ms. Zambello the company’s ‘rocket ship’ phase.
“Glimmerglass has been through many phases since I joined the company” Ms. Rodd said. “I think of the last 11 years as our rocket ship. I’m excited to see what the new phase will be but I’m sad to see this one come to an end.”
Glimmerglass’s Drama-turg since 1994, Kelley Rourke, echoed those thoughts.
“There are so many new initiatives that have been launched under Francesca’s leadership, but to me, what is really extraordinary is that, despite all the changes in the company and in the world at large, she has been able to foster the same core mission and spirit that drew me to Glimmerglass all those years ago,” Ms. Rourke said. “I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone with as much energy as Francesca.”
With COVID-19 closing the 2020 season, Glimmerglass creatively moved its 2021 festival from inside the Alice Busch Opera Theater to a venue on the theater grounds.
“With the COVID protocol issues, there was never a question of performing the shows in the house,” Ms. Zambello said. “It had to be moved outdoors if we were to have a season. We were most concerned with protecting the audience, staff, orchestra and patrons. It all worked out beautifully. Our region is a perfect setting for music outdoors.”
Glimmerglass built an outdoor stage and had “huts” for patrons to rent. Ms. Zambello said the huts will be available in 2022 for private picnic areas sprinkled around the campus.
“If anyone is interested in purchasing a hut for their private use on their property, we would certainly be willing to sell them for a nice donation!” Ms. Zambello added.
“I’m looking forward to the 2022 season It’s a a great classic festival season with something for everyone. The quality we produce is at such a high level” Zambello said.
Ms. Zambello said she and her family love Otsego County and won’t stray far from its beauty.
“We aren’t leaving the area,” she said. “We love this amazing place!”
I’m so honored to have had this position with Glimmerglass Festival; it’s given my family a true home,” she said. “We love this amazing place, we call It the ‘Berlin of Otsego County.’ I am blessed to have my amazing staff; we have come to work together as an ensemble. Everyone contributes and everyone is involved in the evolution of how we do things and how things come together.”
“When I retire next year, this company will remain healthy and in a very healthy financial state, better than it’s ever been,” she said.
For the complete 2022 Glimmerglass Festival schedule, visit www.glimmerglass.org.