Glimmerglass summer has Shakespearean feel

For Glimmerglass Opera general director Michael MacLeod, it all started with Wagner. “Long ago, I go
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For Glimmerglass Opera general director Michael MacLeod, it all started with Wagner.

“Long ago, I got the chance to study the early operas of Mozart, Handel and Wagner,” MacLeod said. “That’s when I stumbled across Wagner’s ‘Das Liebesverbot.’ ”

The opera is a comic look at the civic and moral implications of unbridled love, and Wagner used Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” as his guide. It was the second opera by Wagner, who was 22.

Glimmerglass Opera

WHERE: Route 80, Cooperstown

WHEN: Performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays; matinees 1:30 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays to Tuesdays, except where noted.

– “Kiss Me, Kate”: July 5, 7m, 13m, 24, 27m, 31, Aug. 2m, 4m, 8, 11, 16, 19m, 23.

– “Giulio Cesare in Egitto”: July 6m, 12, 14m, 20m, Aug. 1, 5m, 9, 17m at 3 p.m., 21, 23m.

– “Das Liebesverbot”: July 19, 22m, 28m, Aug. 2, 10m, 14, 16m, 22.

– “I Capuleti e i Montecchi”: July 26, 29m, Aug. 3m at 3 p.m., 7, 9m, 12, 15, 18m, 24m.

HOW MUCH: $126 to $51. Subscriptions available.

MORE INFO: (607) 547-2255 or www.glimmerglass.org

“But it was badly rehearsed and the cast was fighting on stage. Three people were in the audience,” MacLeod said. “Wagner decided to move on and never returned to this type of opera.”

Elements of the Globe

MacLeod was entranced with the idea of doing the opera and wanted to base the 2008 Glimmerglass Opera season, which opens July 5, on operas linked to Shakespeare. But he didn’t want to repeat the concept of a themed season. Last summer, which was his first season as general director, he used operas based on the myth of Orpheus.

“Then I thought, why not set them in a Shakespearean theater? It would give them a context,” he said.

MacLeod went to associate artistic director John Conklin, who, since 1991 when he became the company’s set designer, has created sets for more than 30 operas. They decided to build one unit based on the concept of the Shakespearean stage at the Globe Theatre and set the four operas into it.

“Each opera would have some changes,” Conklin said. “Some would be to the structure, such as where the staircases are and the set’s two huge columns. Props and furniture would dress it up and there’d be flying scenery. That’s scenery that drops from above, which wouldn’t have happened at the real Globe because it was open to the sky.”

Selecting the shows

MacLeod next consulted a huge list of possible operas that would work with the Wagner and would be new to the company and fit in with the company’s mission of featuring a baroque, a modern, a mainstream and a rarely performed opera. The results: Handel’s “Giulio Cesare in Egitto”; Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate”; Bellini’s “I Capuleti e i Montecchi” and the Wagner.

The Handel has no direct link to Shakespeare but Shakespeare wrote about Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, and this opera has the most glorious arias, MacLeod said.

The opera opens July 6 and will be sung in Italian with English supertitles.

Although there’ve been operettas at Glimmerglass, there never has been a musical. But “Kiss Me, Kate” is based on Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” MacLeod said. The production will use the 1948 symphonic orchestration rather than the smaller Broadway pit orchestra arrangement and there will be no amplification. There will be some dancing, but, overall, the production will not look like a Broadway show anyone has seen, Conklin said. “Kiss Me, Kate” opens July 5 and will be sung in English.

Bellini’s opera calls for two mezzo-sopranos in lead roles, and MacLeod has two singers that he wanted to feature: Sarah Coburn and Sandra Piques Eddy. The opera is based on “Romeo and Juliet” and Eddy plays the pants-role of Romeo. In the 1960s, the opera was often performed because mezzo-sopranos were in vogue, but in recent years there have been few productions. “I Capuleti e i Montecchi” opens July 26 and will be sung in Italian with English supertitles.

The Wagner opera usually gets concert versions if any. So this will be its first fully staged American premiere, MacLeod said. It will be sung in German with English supertitles. “Das Liebesverbot” will open July 19.

There will be a different conductor for each opera, one of whom will also conduct the special 11:30 a.m. performances of Mendelssohn’s complete incidental music from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on Aug. 3 and 17. A few actors will read pertinent Shakespearean texts.

“It will be magical,” MacLeod said.

Exact replication not possible

While MacLeod was busy determining what to schedule this season, Conklin said he didn’t know how much more complicated his job was until he realized the Glimmerglass stage would not allow for an exact re-creation of the Globe’s stage. The result is the idea of an Elizabethan stage.

Problems arose because the company’s workshop had no heat. So he and a large number of carpenters couldn’t build the set during the winter and had to wait until spring. And the set is huge with a double level 12 feet high with 15 pieces of staircase and beams that look like wood but are really made of metal covered with wood.

“It’s the biggest set I’ve ever built at Glimmerglass,” Conklin said.

The size of the choruses, how much dancing would be done in the Porter opera and whether singers would project were also issues.

And because each opera has a different director: “All of them had to share the same space. Juggling that was challenging,” he said.

Role of costumes and lighting

His hardest task, though, is to create strong visualizations of each show’s underlying structure and meaning, Conklin said.

“But with only one set, it will be the costumes and the lighting that will provide audiences with the needed perceptions,” he said.

Other events this summer include Festival Weekend (July 31–Aug. 3) and Summer Seminar Weekend (Aug. 14-17) both with related films, talks and dinners.

Categories: Life and Arts

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