Glimmerglass Festival re-imagined: Opera outdoors on an impressive new stage

The finished outdoor stage at Glimmerglass Festival on Otsego Lake, 8 miles north of Cooperstown. (Karli Cadel/Glimmerglass)

The finished outdoor stage at Glimmerglass Festival on Otsego Lake, 8 miles north of Cooperstown. (Karli Cadel/Glimmerglass)

Transformative is the byword at this summer’s Glimmerglass Festival, which opens today. Not only did the company build a new outdoor stage but a full season now known as “Glimmerglass on the Grass” will be offered with all productions having no intermission and lasting only up to 90 minutes with performances scheduled at either 11 a.m. or 6 p.m.

“We have re-imagined the Glimmerglass experience for the 2021 season,” said Francesca Zambello, the company’s artistic and general manager. While this move outdoors is primarily for our company, audience and community, it is in harmony with what people love about Glimmerglass — innovative art and performances in a beautiful location.”

Arts philanthropist Andrew J. Martin-Weber provided the funding for the stage, which will be named the Andrew J. Martin-Weber Lawn Stage. Designed by much awarded British set designer Peter J. Davison, it was built on the lawn just south of the company’s 915-seat theater. While most audience members will have to bring their own chairs and blankets, a small number of booths for up to a six-member party were constructed for those desiring shelter. Pods or squares of up to four people will be required to maintain social distancing. Some picnic tables will also be on site.

Although weather could be an issue for this all-outdoor festival, music director Joseph Colaneri said he was excited about the season, the new venue and to be back in action on the podium.

“I’d done some Zoom and a Juilliard School film project, but no live performances last year,” he said. “So it’s great to get back. It was moving to be in rehearsal here — we were using the front porch of the theater. It’s what it’s all about. . .being in community.”

As for the new venue, “It’s a wonderful, interesting set-up,” Colaneri said. “The stage has trusses for lighting that create an arbor effect and fit into the landscape for a natural backdrop. The 35-piece orchestra will also be on stage — there’s no pit, so I’ll also be on stage conducting. But the sound will be amplified.”

The stage is quite large — the orchestra alone takes up 3,300 square feet. And although there will be no actual sets, there will be some props and the singers will be in costume. Video monitors will help the singers stay in touch with the conductor.

Colaneri and Zambello had mapped out this season’s choices two years ago, but once the pandemic hit and that Glimmerglass had to be outside, they had to decide what would work best. It also helped that Colaneri had often conducted the Metropolitan Opera outside when the company presented operas in New York City’s Central Park during the 2000s, he said.

Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” opens the season in a new English storybook adaptation by Kelley Rourke. It will star Metropolitan Opera bass Eric Owens in the expanded role of Sarastro with Colaneri conducting in eight performances.

“It’s a shorter version, but the story will be told,” Colaneri said. “Eric is quite wonderful.”

Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” opens Aug. 1 and will be in the original Italian text with five performances.

“The story has been adapted and will be focused on the woman’s perspective,” Colaneri said. “In the original version, Verdi had thought to name the opera ‘Azucena’ so it is quite in line. It was also Verdi’s first foray into writing for the mezzo-soprano.”

Mezzo Raehann Bryce-Davis will sing the role with Colaneri calling Bryce-Davis “a big talent with a splendid voice. She’s at the beginning of her career.”

“Songbird” is a new adaptation of Offenbach’s “La Perichole” opening July 30 in four performances. Set in New Orleans in the 1920s, it will be sung in French and English with soprano Isabel Leonard. James Lowe, who also helped with the adaptation, will conduct a score that will be heavily jazz oriented.

Colaneri will be back conducting “Gods and Mortals” opening Aug. 3 which celebrates the work of Richard Wagner. Bass Eric Owens will star and reprise many of the arias he’s sung at the Met. There will be four performances.

Also scheduled are: “To the World” a musical theater journey with James Lowe conducting opening July 15 in four performances; “The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson,” a new play with music by Sandra Seaton opening Aug. 5 in three performances. Dawson was the founder of the National Negro Opera Company. Acclaimed mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves will star.

Glimmerglass Festival

Mozart “The Magic Flute”: July 15, 17, 29, Aug. 2, 7, 12, 15, 17
Verdi “Il Trovatore”: Aug. 1, 7, 10, 12, 14
Offenbach “Songbird”: July 30, Aug. 6, 10, 13
Wagner “Gods and Mortals”: Aug. 3, 8, 14, 16
“To the World”: July 16, 17, 31, Aug. 8
“The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson”: Aug. 5, 9, 13
WHEN: 11 a.m. or 6 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $80 – $350 per square; no single tickets available
MORE INFO:; 607- 547-2255

Categories: Entertainment

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