Four operas, heartening and heartbreaking at Glimmerglass

A week at Glimmerglass Opera might seem an exhausting endeavor, but the four operas presented last w
Glimmerglass Opera's 'Ariadne in Naxos." (courtesy of Glimmerglass Opera)
Glimmerglass Opera's 'Ariadne in Naxos." (courtesy of Glimmerglass Opera)

A week at Glimmerglass Opera might seem an exhausting endeavor, but the four operas presented last week showed how versatile and endlessly ingenious this company is. All four have performances through August.

Sunday, July 20, was the opening for the revised version of Tobias Picker’s “An American Tragedy” (2005) with Gene Scheer’s brilliantly clear libretto, which managed to encapsulate Theodore Dreiser’s tome. The singers, most of them from the company’s young artist program, were uniformly strong with baritone Christian Bowers as Clyde, soprano Vanessa Isiguen as Roberta and mezzo-soprano Cynthia Cook as an effervescent Sondra. Soprano Patricia Schuman, not a young artist, did a terrific job in the small role as Clyde’s mother.

Alexander Dodge’s cleverly adaptable, geometric, multi-layered set and Robert Wierzel’s startling and gorgeous lighting brought everything alive. Picker’s music was lushly beautiful and dramatic in instrumental sections but arias had abstract lines that reflected speaking patterns. The orchestra, under George Manahan, was adept, intense and on cue.

Funky ‘Ariadne’

Strauss’ “Ariadne in Naxos” seen last Tuesday could be the hit of the season. It was marvelous from top to bottom: Troy Hourie’s cleverly nimble sets; Erik Teague’s fabulously funky East Village-type costumes; an English translation from Kelley Rourke that pulled the capacity crowd right in; and Francesca Zambello’s brilliant direction for the upbeat mood, the action, the pacing and the use of the theater’s aisles.

Glimmerglass Opera

Puccini “Madame Butterfly”: Aug. 3, 9, 15, 18, 23

Rodgers & Hammerstein “Carousel”: Aug. 1, 4, 10, 12, 14, 16, 19,22

Strauss “Ariadne in Naxos”: Aug. 2, 8, 17, 21, 23

Picker “An American Tragedy”: Thursday, and Aug. 5, 7, 9, 11, 16, 24

HOW MUCH: $144-$10

WHERE: Alice Busch Opera Theater, 7300 State Highway 80, Cooperstown

MORE INFO: 607-547-2255;

Conductor Kathleen Kelly was superb and gave Strauss’ difficult score breath and arch even as she was in total syncronicity with the large cast. Balances were never an issue for the very capable orchestra.

The frosting on the cake was the cast led by acclaimed soprano Christine Goerke, who reigned supreme in the second act as Ariadne. Strauss’ lush, rapturous music needs a voice with heft and Goerke easily commanded the stage with her opulent, dramatically intense, wonderfully inflected and darkly-hued voice. Her acting was equally effective and in the first act she showed a comic flair as the Prima Donna.

As the god Bacchus, Corey Bix’s heroic tenor provided a good match. Soprano Rachele Gilmore’s light, agile coloratura made for a lively Zerbinetta.

Bring your hankie

Be prepared to shed some tears for the other two offerings: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Carousel” and Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.” Both are tragedies, with soaring music and unforgettable melodies.

That’s especially true for “Carousel.” After years of singing hits like “If I Loved You,” “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” and “When You Walk Through a Storm,” the capacity crowd could finally put them in context.

The cast was strong. Most were young artists, except for Ryan McKinny, an appealing baritone who played Billy Bigelow. He stopped the show with his “My Boy Bill.” Rebecca Finnegan, who played Mrs. Mullin, was first rate.

John Culbert’s raked stage with its slopes and stairs made for interesting blocking especially for the adept and prettily done ballet pas de deux with Carolina Villlaraos and Andrew Harper. The cast also tried its hand in dance skits, mostly in the opening overture, during which the orchestra under conductor Doug Peck overcame pitch issues.

Energy levels and pacing were excellent under Charles Newell’s directions and the final few heavenly scenes had charm.

Touching ‘Butterfly’

The Puccini opera was so skillfully presented that occasional muffled sobs could be heard. The capacity crowd was instantly drawn in Saturday night by Michael Yeargan’s spare but effective sets, Robert Wierzel’s evocative lighting and the lustrous singing from the four leads.

Conductor Joseph Colaneri led an almost rhapsodically-enthused, tight orchestra. Leading the cast was soprano Yunah Lee, whose multi-layered acting and deeply passionate singing as Butterfly was a marvelously focused tour-de-force. She made us all want to believe in her faith and dreams. Mezzo-soprano Kristen Choi as Suzuki and baritone Aleksey Bogdanov as Sharpless gave wonderful support. Tenor Dinyar Vania as Pinkerton was initially disclaiming and hard-edged and suitably caddish before his voice opened and softened in his love duets with Lee to ringing effects.

Francesca Zambello gave inventive direction for excellent pacing, although the big love scene had Lee wandering around a bit much over the raked stage. Anita Yavich’s costumes contrasted the English in whites or beige and the Japanese in color. Some choices were compelling but they worked: the office set, the angry Buddha, the scarlet death curtain.

Categories: Life and Arts

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