Sets, sights, singing equal Glimmerglass triumph

Visually stunning ‘Ghosts,’ gripping drama ‘Blue’ draw laughter, tears — and many cheers
From left, Kenneth Kellogg, Briana Hunter and Aaron Crouch in "Blue" at Glimmerglass.
From left, Kenneth Kellogg, Briana Hunter and Aaron Crouch in "Blue" at Glimmerglass.

COOPERSTOWN — It’s not often audiences get knockout performances of two operas, one of them a world premiere, in a weekend. But such was the case at Glimmerglass Opera when on Saturday night John Corigliano’s 1991 “The Ghosts of Versailles” opened, followed by Sunday’s matinee of Jeanine Tesori’s “Blue.” It was the first time Glimmerglass had presented “Ghosts,” and “Blue” was a co-commission. Even better, both are by living American composers — and they were present.

Like many productions at Glimmerglass, the backdrop to the singing was larger than life. For “Ghosts,” that world was ethereal and marvelously inventive. The multiple scrims, the seamless changing of the many sets, the use of silhouette, the clarity of the lighting, the chandeliers, the over-the-topness tickled and amazed — all created by set designer James Noone and lighting designer Robert Wierzel. 

But the large cast — more than 30 — had to be dressed. Costume designer Nancy Leary was inspired. Most of the singers were ghosts from the 18th century. From their running up and down the theater’s aisles, their sumptuous, brilliant white attire could be espied close up — especially the very elegant costume of Marie Antoinette. But Corigliano also included Turkish harem dancers and a Wagner Valkyrie in the mix, which made for color excursions and exotic apparel. Director Jay Lesenger worked great tableaus of the multitudes. 

All this provided marvelous eye appeal to which the singing seemed almost an embellishment. Soprano Yelena Dyachek as Marie sang librettist William Hoffman’s words eloquently. The rest of the very able cast came from the company’s Young Artists Program. The audience at the end went wild for baritone Christian Sanders as the wily Patrick Honore Begearss, who made the most of his comic sly asides, and soprano Gretchen Krupp as a Turkish temptress. 

While this comic opera in two acts provided plenty of laughs, Corigliano’s score was sensational: Its color, intensity and clarity without sacrificing volume; how it slithered, thundered, or wailed for effect; or how effortlessly it moved from 18th-century style to Harry Potter mystery. Music director Joseph Colaneri conducted a superb orchestra.

Catch more performances of “The Ghosts of Versailles” July 23, 25, Aug. 3, 9, 12, 18 and 23.

“Blue” is a timely, riveting, intense, poignant and dramatic two-act opera that captures the essence of the too-often occurrence of young black men being shot by police. And in this case, the incident is further exacerbated by the young man’s father being a cop. Tazewell Thompson wrote the lyrical libretto, which is filled with winsome imagery that spoke of community, love, family, food and forgiveness. It’s quite remarkable. 

Jeanine Tesori’s score worked hand in glove with that libretto. Sometimes the music undulated with melody like a river of sound; other times it was dark and foreboding, or jazzy and hip. The orchestra under John DeMain was terrific.

Although the score is through-composed, Tesori wrote several aria-type solos that soprano Briana Hunter as the mother and bass Kenneth Kellogg as the father eloquently sang, both with rich tones and great passion. Young Artist baritone Aaron Crouch as the son sang with edge and intensity. Everyone, including the excellent members of the Young Artists Program, was committed, which made their concerns seem believable.

It helped that Donald Eastman’s spare set with few props and Robert Wierzel’s lighting were a background that allowed the story to unfold without distraction. By the end of the second act, tears were flowing from several in the capacity crowd. But an epilogue told us what had happened to the son. The show ended in silence.

The crowd spontaneously jumped to its feet, cheering and clapping loudly.

“Blue” will be performed July 26, 29, Aug. 2, 6, 10, 17 and 22.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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