Glimmerglass readies for busy season with new director

Actors on stage

Bradley Dean (center) as Pangloss/Voltaire and Brian Vu (left center) as Candide with ensemble cast rehearsing the 2023 Glimmerglass Festival production of "Candide."

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Excitement is building for yet another season of Glimmerglass Opera as the company prepares to open Friday with the first of four operas and several other related events, including a youth opera.

“I wanted to make it a full festival mingling of artists and patrons,” said Robert Ainsley, the company’s new artistic and general director. “I’m hoping to reset the contact with everyone to [allow] the patrons to see the nights and the dinners and the picnics and the hikes . . . the full experience. I can’t wait for the season to open.”

As always, the season will offer two traditional operas — a musical and an opera from the Baroque era. Up first for 13 performances is Puccini’s “La Boheme,” set in 19th-century Paris among a group of young bohemians who are struggling with poverty, disease and heartbreak. The ravishing score, which will be sung in Italian with English supertitles, will be conducted by Egyptian-born conductor Naser Abbassi.

On Saturday, Leonard Bernstein’s dark comedy “Candide” opens for the first of 12 shows. It will feature Broadway star Bradley Dean, who is debuting with the company in the role of Dr. Pangloss/Voltaire.

“Voltaire is the narrator, and there will be about 28 other singers, of whom six dance,” Dean said. “But it’s fantastic. The production values are Broadway-level. The cast is extraordinary and I’m completely enchanted with all the nature around.”

Dean has been in the show before, in 2018 with the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, but played a different role. That meant different songs to sing.

“The music is quite challenging. I’m a tenor, but in musical theater a singer’s range is not so specific,” he said. “But these songs — there are no love songs — have a lower range but you must do it all. It’s part of the gig. But the songs are so world-class. It’s a humbling experience for someone coming from a musical-theater background.”

There is also plenty of dialogue.

“I’m speaking more words than I’ve ever said onstage. There’s an enormous amount as the narrator . . . almost like the Olympics, and quite a bit of acting,” he said.

As to how he landed the gig, he said director Eric Sean Fogel and he had worked on the “Evita” tour in 2004 and Fogel thought of him for this role.

“I’m super excited,” Dean said.

Opening July 15 for eight performances is Charles Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet” in a contemporary production conducted by music director Joseph Colaneri that is a showcase for the two young leads: tenor Duke Kim and soprano Magdalena Kuma. It will be sung in French with English supertitles.

What may be the surprise offering is Handel’s “Rinaldo,” which opens July 28 for six performances and will be sung in Italian with English supertitles. It will star Metropolitan Opera countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, who is also this season’s artist-in-residence.

“The Handel is challenging and I’ve never sung the role before,” Costanzo said. “It was written for the castrati, who were the rock stars of the day. Because they had unusually large rib cages they could expand more, so Handel wrote them longer phrases to sing with fast notes. I’ve had to figure out how to do that. And the opera is about two hours, and I’m probably onstage a lot of it.”

These many arias, which are called da capo arias, are written in an ABA form. This means when the A or main melody returns, the singers must improvise or ornament the line.

“I’m not a composer, but I’ve become more skilled to make that final line more vibrant by adding my own ornaments,” Costanzo said.

Costanzo is up for the challenge. Brought up in North Carolina with parents who were college professors, he’d always sung, especially in musical theater. But at 11, he told his parents he had to go to New York City to do Broadway.

“They were totally supportive and worked it out. From 11 to 13, I did all the auditions, learned to deal with rejection as well as got the roles,” he said.

As he matured his voice began to gain a falsetto, and although he’d never heard of what a countertenor was he decided to develop that higher range. He now comfortably sings in what is a woman’s voice range. Despite success in numerous fields including fashion, art and drama, and a degree in music from Princeton University, Costanzo was thrown a challenge at 26: thyroid cancer.

“It was terrifying and yet fascinating, and made me take stock as to what was important to me,” he said.

Costanzo received treatment, then earned a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music and went on to win countless awards. Since then he has had enormous operatic success. In remission for several years, he said his experience plays directly into the Handel opera.

“Instead of talking about knights and the Crusades, the director, Louisa Proske, has set it in a kid’s cancer ward where those knights are in the child’s imagination,” Costanzo said. “It’s a fascinating concept where he goes between fantasy and reality. The opera is a masterpiece and I’m very excited.”

As for Costanzo’s real-life role as the company’s artist-in-residence, he’s working with roughly 40 young singers to “inspire them, talk about their experiences and to think outside of the box.”

Glimmerglass Opera

“La Boheme” at 7:30 p.m.: July 14, 29, Aug. 3, 11, 19; at 1 p.m. July 18, 24, Aug. 1, 5, 8, 14

“Candide” at 7:30 p.m.: July 8, 27, Aug. 5, 18; at 1 p.m. July 10, 16, 25, 29, Aug. 7, 13, 15, 20

“Romeo and Juliet” at 7:30 p.m.: July 15, Aug. 4, 8, 10; at 1 p.m. July 17, 30, Aug. 12, 19

“Rinaldo” at 7:30 p.m.: July 28, Aug. 12, 15, 17; at 1 p.m. July 31, Aug. 6

WHERE: Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown

HOW MUCH: $34-$168

MORE INFO:; 607 547-2255

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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