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‘Songbird’ vivacious, spellbinding at Glimmerglass on the Grass

From left at bar: Michael Mayes as The Guide, Ariana Warren as Mastrilla and Helen Zhibing Huang as Guadalena in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2021 production of "Songbird." (Photo provided by Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

From left at bar: Michael Mayes as The Guide, Ariana Warren as Mastrilla and Helen Zhibing Huang as Guadalena in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2021 production of "Songbird." (Photo provided by Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

By Geraldine Freedman
For The Daily Gazette

COOPERSTOWN – If you’re up for a bit of an adventure, or something different in the opera realm, look no further than Glimmerglass on the Grass. All the productions are staged on the company’s new outdoor stage and they all run rain or shine. That was especially true on Friday for opening day of “Songbird.”

The 80-minute show, which is an adaption of Jacques Offenbach’s operetta “La Perichole,” began under cool summer skies with a light breeze and turned into spurts of rain, bright sunshine and then a small downpour at the end. But the large crowd, which was socially distanced, was undeterred and became a sea of umbrellas. Equally impressive was the cast of singers who soldiered on without missing a beat. It’s only rain, you know?

A bit about the new venue: it’s a huge stage with high girders to support the banks of lighting and just a few steps to ground level. It’s set downhill from where most of the audience is seated to create a kind of amphitheater. While most people brought their own chairs or blankets, there were a few cabana-like structures. It’s a beautiful setting with high pines and birch edging the area and hawks soaring overhead.

“Songbird” is love story is about two hardworking musicians facing hard times during Mardi Gras. Their friends at the local Café des Muses suggest how great it would be to celebrate with a wedding, but true love doesn’t run smoothly. Soprano Isabel Leonard is the Songbird with tenor William Burden her love interest Piquillo. The strong supporting cast was made up mostly of the company’s young artists program. Everyone acted with vivacity and focus, weather notwithstanding.

The show was fast paced, directed by Francesca Zambello and Eric Sean Fogel, and reset in New Orleans in the 1920s. The dialogue was in English and some of the songs were in French. Conductor James Lowe also adapted the score to include wonderfully funky Dixieland jazz. The terrific musicians were playing in the indoor theater with the music amplified to the outdoor venue. Their balance with the singers was perfect and everything including the dialogue was easily heard throughout the area.

Leonard was at the top of her game from the start. In an early song, “I Will Always Love You,” her lustrous voice left the audience spellbound. Burden had a large number of tunes, and seemed to enjoy himself. One of the showstoppers, however, was Michael Pandolfo as Don Andres in his tune “Incognito.” Besides donning a blue, metallic coat and a red-plumed hat, he turned in a tasty tap dance that brought loud applause and hoots from the crowd.

To bring the setting alive, a few props were used: chairs, tables and a bar. The lighting, skillfully designed by Robert Wierzel, ran from blue and white to a rainbow of colors depending on the mood and the scene. 

All in all, it was a playful production, ably presented and perfect for a summer’s day. But, bring an umbrella.

“Songbird” will also be performed Aug. 6, 10 and 13. Check www.glimmerglass.org for times.

Categories: Entertainment, News

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