The hills of Cooperstown will be alive this July and August when the Glimmerglass Festival returns with opera and musical theater productions all in the Alice Busch Opera Theater after having had last season all outdoors.
The season begins July 8 with the first of 13 performances of “The Sound of Music.” Conducted by James Lowe with direction by Glimmerglass artistic and general manager Francesca Zambello, the show will be sung in English.
While this production will thrill musical theater fans, the big opera that gets the artistic team revved up is Bizet’s “Carmen,” which opens July 16.
“It’s an extraordinary work,” said conductor and Glimmerglass music director Joseph Colaneri. “It’s very human and connected to the story. Bizet got it right. It’s his masterpiece.”
Although Colaneri has conducted the opera more than 100 times, it’s been at least 10 years since he last did. In the interim, he bought a new score and in remarking it — as conductors do to alert them to specific points in the music, he discovered some new things.
“I’ve rethought the tempo to the ‘Habanera.’ It will be quicker,” he said.
Because once he gives the first downbeat of the opera’s overture, he’s the boss.
“My priority is to bring that contour and emotional energy to the piece — and it has a lot of that — and to instill a sense of freshness or newness as if hearing it for the first time. I tell the orchestra to play as if the piece is still wet.”
Colaneri is aided in this focus because he’s working with famed mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, who is directing the show for only the second time. Her first time was at Minnesota Opera barely months ago, and in a video clip she said how “super, super excited I am to have the opportunity to work on the opera again [at Glimmerglass] to refine it even more.”
Graves, who recently received an Opera News’ Award to honor her remarkable artistry, has been “quite wonderful,” Colaneri said.
“She’s one of the great Carmens and she’s been giving such wonderful guidance to the singers. . .to feel and how to understand their roles. We also have similar views on the opera in that it’s a very highly dramatic but lyric piece.”
That makes Colaneri’s job much easier.
“As a conductor, you make certain suggestions and they must agree with the singers’ concerns,” he said. “Then, I must remind everyone (including the orchestra, which has about fifty musicians) what all has been agreed upon. It’s a reconfirmation of what’s been rehearsed and to be alert to in each performance. This is live and no two performances are exact copies.”
“Carmen” will have 10 performances and will be sung and spoken in French with English supertitles. It will also be done as it was originally premiered in 1875 in that there will be arias and spoken dialogue.
“It’s the way Bizet conceived the piece. And interestingly, in all the performances I did of it at New York City Opera, we used the spoken dialogue,” Colaneri said.
Graves will also be singing in another musical drama called “The Passion of Mary Caldwell Dawson,” which opens Aug. 15 for two performances.
And Colaneri will be conducting in the world premiere of “Tenor Overboard,” which opens July 19 with seven performances.
Commissioned by the company as an antidote to the pandemic and world events, it’s been written by comic playwright Ken Ludwig and Colaneri said it was hysterical. Ludwig, who loves opera, integrated the dialogue with Rossini arias that Colaneri chose mostly from lesser known operas.
“It’s been very exciting, especially in having a hand in shaping it. It’s been a team effort,” Colaneri said. “We’ll have a great time. I’ve done world premieres before and it’s always with a sense of joy.”
Also on the docket is a double bill to premiere July 29 in seven performances of “Taking Up Serpents” written by composer-in-residence Kamala Sankaram that explores faith, family and destiny; and Damien Geter’s “Holy Ground,” which reimagines a biblical story about feminism and choice.
Sankaram also wrote the music to “Jungle Book,” a youth opera, based on Kipling’s Mowgli’s adventures with the wolves to open Aug. 4 in three performances.
WHEN: July 8 – Aug. 21, performances at 1 p.m. ; 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown
HOW MUCH: Wide range of prices
MORE INFO: www.glimmerglass.org; 607-547-2255