Traffic – pedestrian traffic – was steady throughout the day and the new parking lot was filled as the 22-acre Brookwood Point nature refuge and non-motorized recreation hub celebrated its Grand Reopening under the auspices of the Otsego Land Trust. Entertainment (such as in top photo of John Sullivan & Friends – Hannah Kubica, right, of Little Falls, and John Phillips, left, of Cooperstown) was the order of the day, plus kayaking (see Brent Baysinger of Canoe & Kayak Rentals in top right of photo) and garden tours, led by former Brookwood caretaker Pat Thorpe, in right photo. The day marks a new beginning for Brookwood, one of the last public-access sites available on Otsego Lake, which was endangered with sale for development twice in the past seven years. The Land Trust board, which has controlled the former Cook estate for five years, voted last December that maintaining the property a mile up West Shore Road from Cooperstown was more aligned with its mission. Attending on behalf of the National Park Service was Bob Campbell, its planning and development director, and his wife, Becky Shiffer, National Park Service program manager. Campbell explained that the Park Service provided a grant for Brookwood’s new mission as the northernmost point of the Capt. John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
NIGHT AT THE OPERA
By PAT THORPE • Review for www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” has been described as “operatic” since its debut in 1979 and it didn’t take long for this musical thriller to move to the opera house.
John DeMain conducted Sweeney’s operatic debut in 1984 and has probably led more performances than anyone on Earth – very good reasons the Glimmerglass Festival orchestra sails with confidence and power through Sondheim’s complex rhythms and unexpected harmonies under his baton.
Review By PAT THORPE for www.allotsego.com
The musical “Candide,” now in a glittering production at the Glimmerglass Festival, is one of Broadway’s favorite death and resurrection stories. When it opened in 1956, it boasted a roster of bold-face talent: Tyrone Guthrie; Leonard Bernstein; Dorothy Parker; Richard Wilbur; Lillian Hellman. In spite of irresistible music and some of the wittiest lyrics ever to reach the stage, “Candide” closed after 73 performances.
In 1974, with a rewritten book by Huge Wheeler and more witty lyrics by Steven Sondheim, the flop flipped and ran for 2 years. In 1982, Hal Prince convinced New York City Opera that “Candide” was actually an operetta, so more music and witty lyrics were written. In 1989, Bernstein created a concert version with less text, more music and more philosophy, optimistically titled the Final Revised Version; far from final, it is performed by symphony orchestras around the world. Revisions continue up to the Glimmerglass “Candide.” At each stage, musical numbers are moved, lyrics reworked, libretto updated.
All the relentless tinkering points to the central problem of “Candide.”
Voltaire’s slender satire from 1759 sends its hero sailing across the globe in search of love and truth, but mostly to furnish targets for Voltaire’s outrage: Greed and corruption in politics; abuse by religious orders; the futility of war; the horrors of slavery and colonialism, all attacked with suave wit and evenhanded vitriol. The characters are insubstantial as cartoons, and like cartoons they die and return to life repeatedly. Motion is a substitute for plot and the result can be travel fatigue.
However, the Glimmerglass “Candide” is so entertaining that occasional narrative let-downs might not be noticed. Kathryn Lewek as Cunegonde is the leading gem of the cast, with a superb soprano for the considerable demands of the role; she brings surprising depth of feeling and charm to a self-infatuated Material Girl. Helping her to survive is Marietta Simpson, a delight as the outrageous Old Woman.
Andrew Stenson has a sweet tenor and guileless face for the optimistic “Candide,” but is a little too bland to keep our attention, especially next to sidekicks like the pessimistic Martin, played to furious perfection by Matthew Scollin. David Garrison thoroughly fulfills our vision of Voltaire as he narrates the action and gracefully doubles as Dr. Pangloss.
Bernstein ransacked European musical history to create a pastiche of Old World dances like the mazurka, schottische and gavotte; those familiar rhythms are draped in dazzling lyrics and tunes you can’t stop humming. It is thrilling to hear this music beautifully played by a full orchestra, conducted with verve by Joseph Colaneri. The cavernous and versatile wharf-side warehouse set by James Noone sums up the endless cycle of travel endured by our characters. Jennifer Moeller has designed luxurious 18th century-style costumes for the principle characters, while the large ensemble resembles a half-dressed commedia dell’arte troupe.
In the finale, Bernstein abandons Voltaire entirely. Setting Richard Wilbur’s translation of the famous last line, he creates a soaring anthem of hope in everything we love and live for.
“We’ll build our house,
“And chop our wood,
“And make our garden grow.”
Review by PAT THORPE for www.allotsego.com
For more than 20 years, Glimmerglass Opera has brought baroque opera to life, convincing audiences that opera from the 17th and 18th centuries overflows with compelling drama and beautiful music. But even baroque enthusiasts were puzzled at the choice of “Cato in Utica,” by Antonio Vivaldi, for the 40th Anniversary season.
Vivaldi is a fount of melody in his familiar orchestral writing, but as an opera composer – he composed over 40 operas, mostly lost today – he strictly followed the opera seria formula. “Cato,” dating from 1737, was one of his big hits, in spite of having long stretches of recitative, no duets and no ensembles. Vivaldi’s music for Act I disappeared centuries ago, and the opera’s endings – there have been several – are an ambiguous muddle. Add a plot by Metastasio that defies reason and history and you might wonder if anyone could make this opera a success.
As the curtain rises, all doubts disappear. Set designer John Conklin has brought a soaring Piranesi ruin to the stage, glowing red and copper as if lit by the dying embers of the Roman Republic. Tazewell Thompson, bringing fresh vision in his debut as a baroque director, disposes of the opera’s first act by using an eloquent scrim to introduce the six characters during the opening orchestral sinfonia.
Cato is the Republic’s preeminent statesman, general, orator and Stoic philosopher; “I am Rome,” he declares. Revered for his incorruptibility, he is also arrogant, stubborn and an angry and abusive father. Thomas Michael Allen thoroughly embodies Cato, his imposing height and classical profile creating an indelible figure along with his impeccable baroque technique.
Julius Caesar has been Cato’s enemy for decades. Now that Pompey is dead, he alone of the triumvirate remains and he is on the verge of absolute power. Only Cato stands in his way. John Holiday has already seized power in the baroque world as the best young countertenor, and he easily conquers the audience with Caesar’s show-stopping battle aria, “Se in campo armato.”
Metastasio was more interested in love than war, so he manufactured romance in the midst of armed confrontation. Pompey’s widow, Emilia (Sarah Mesko, with a strong and wide-ranging mezzo), has vowed to take revenge on Caesar for her husband’s death; she seduces the Roman legate, Fulvio (Allegra De Vita, excellent in this pants role) to assist her plot. Marzia, Cato’s daughter (Megan Samarin, strong-willed but vulnerable), is secretly in love with Caesar but has been promised by Cato to Arbace (Eric Jurenas, an outstanding new countertenor), the ruler of Numidia.
Ryan Brown, founder of Opera Lafayette in Washington, D.C., conducts the expert small orchestra, including a talented continuo trio of harpsichord, baroque cello and theorbo. The music is glorious, filled with memorable melody and dazzling ornamentation; the performances are superb all around. And the finale is a stroke of dramatic genius, cutting through centuries of confusion with single deeply moving tableau. Glimmerglass has brought yet another forgotten treasure back to triumphant life.
Big Choruses Bolster Leads In ‘Macbeth’
Review by PAT THORPE for www.allotsego.com
I prefer Shakespeare to all dramatists,” wrote Guiseppe Verdi. Verdi knew the plays intimately, and that knowledge suffuses three of his greatest operas.
“Macbeth,” Verdi’s 10th opera, was his first attempt to translate Shakespeare and a success from its earliest days. The opera is remarkably true to the original, but one of the most dramatic changes is evident even before the curtain goes up on this new production by the Glimmerglass Festival: Verdi departed from the Bard by expanding the three witches into a large chorus.
Director Anne Bogart goes further: instead of bearded crones, these are simply women, dowdy, prim housekeepers, maids, chars, who escape a downtrodden existence with gossip, suggestion and malicious mischief. They sedately epitomize the banality of evil. Their suggestion to Macbeth that he could become King of Scotland sets the slaughter in motion.
This new production takes place in the 1930s, the default setting for the rise of bloody despots but effective here, with a clever stage device that swings from elite elegance to a multipurpose fascist façade.
Eric Owens is making his role debut as Macbeth and he is superb, physically and vocally imposing as the heroic general with an uncertain moral compass. Melody Moore, a spectacular Lady Macbeth, more than matches her spouse, overcoming his qualms with nerves of steel and a voice of furious power throughout a remarkable range. Bass Soloman Howard is short-lived as Banquo, but has a dramatic aria heavy with foreboding.
Verdi made abundant use of the chorus, particularly in his early operas, and “Macbeth” is replete with choral opportunities, beautifully sung by the Glimmerglass Young Artists. Besides the witches, there are several soldiers’ choruses and an assassins’ chorus – “Tremble, Banquo!” – that might almost be a parody if it were not genuinely sinister. The chorus of refugees, “Oppressed Country,” near the end is heartbreaking as Scots try to flee the violence, a scene that might have been ripped from today’s headlines. These choruses illuminate one of Shakespeare’s darkest dramas, bringing color to a tragedy that can be all too monochromatic.
Conductor Joseph Colaneri has a special rapport with Verdi and manages the sizeable musical forces to perfection; when he is on the podium, the orchestra is at its best. The musicians perform with utter confidence, making possible vigorous tempi that will make you impatient with other interpretations and keep the opera hurtling to its tragic finale.
Late in the second act, our hopes are raised by Malcolm (Marco D. Cammarota), the true heir to the throne, and Macduff (Michael Brandenburg), whose family has been killed by Macbeth. These fine tenors rally the troops and overcome the tyrant, who has one final aria before his death. The opera, like the play, ends with a somber Hymn of Victory.
Verdi wrote, “This tragedy is one of the greatest creations of man…if we can’t make something great out of it, let us at least try to do something out of the ordinary.” In that, Verdi and Glimmerglass have succeeded.
Review by PAT THORPE for www.allotsego.com
“The Marriage of Figaro,” “Don Giovanni,” “Cosi fan Tutti” – in five years, Mozart and collaborator Lorenzo Da Ponte produced one hit show after another and changed the shape of opera forever.
But by 1791, Da Ponte was gone and Mozart began working with friend and fellow Freemason Emmanuel Schikaneder on a comic fairy tale for the general public, not just the Viennese elite, a return to the singspiel form of some of Mozart’s early works, using German with spoken dialogue and broad slapstick comedy.
The music ranges from rustic folk songs to tinkling glockenspiel, melting romantic melodies to spectacular coloratura that still challenges singers today.
The Glimmerglass Festival’s new “Magic Flute” is a thorough updating and reworking of Mozart’s classic. Kelley Rourke, Glimmerglass’ adept dramaturge, has produced a swiftly moving English translation that is both witty and poetic.
Gone are the unintelligible references to Freemason myth and ritual, replaced here by the religion of scientific exploration. Gone are the sexist and racist attitudes of the original, replaced by welcome themes of diversity and the redemptive power of natural beauty.
The time is the present, although the setting is timeless. As director Madeline Sayet explains, “Our ‘Magic Flute’ is not a journey to a fantastical other world, but a way of looking more deeply into the real place we live in, the woods around Glimmerglass, if only you open your eyes wide enough.”
The trees on stage will definitely open your eyes; created by set designer Troy Hourie, they are a dominant feature of the production, resourceful and very active.
The “Magic Flute” plot is the classic hero’s journey from confusion to enlightenment, with challenges from monsters (human and otherwise), aid from sidekicks, failures of faith, and a beautiful girl in need of rescue.
The opera’s hero, Tamino, ably brought to life by tenor Sean Panikkar, is a handsome, square-jawed master of the urban universe lost in the woods. His reluctant sidekick Papageno, a hunter hilariously outfitted in camouflage and blaze orange, is played by Ben Edquist with such irresistibly funny physical comedy that you hardly notice what a fine voice he has.
Pamina, our heroine, is trapped in a particularly modern situation, the focus of a bitter custody battle between her mother, the villainous Queen of the Night, and the enigmatic Sarastro, an impressive Soloman Howard.
Jacqueline Echols, a feisty but also poignant Pamina, is back for her third season at Glimmerglass, this time as a star, bringing grace and spirit and a rich soprano to her role. So Young Park, a diabolical beauty as the Queen, hurls her high Fs like lightning bolts.
This is a thoroughly family friendly production, an inviting opportunity for newcomers to enter the world of opera, as well as the world of the forest. The supporting cast and the (mostly offstage) chorus are uniformly excellent, energetic and appealing. As always, Mozart’s music is sublime. Add to that a stage full of lively trees and vibrant young performers and Glimmerglass has a completely magical new “Flute.”