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Glimmerglass Fest changing the way Upstate does opera

Glimmerglass Fest changing the way Upstate does opera

'We have a real variety,' says general director Zambello
Glimmerglass Fest changing the way Upstate does opera
Francesca Zambello
Photographer: photo provided

COOPERSTOWN — The dulcet tones of a bel canto opera are relatively rare in the Capital Region. 

Perhaps more rare are the rapping and heavy drums of a hip-hopera. 

The Glimmerglass Festival is working to change that.

“ . . . I’ve worked hard to make it more accessible,” said Artistic and General Director Francesca Zambello.

The Festival, formerly known as the Glimmerglass Opera, has been running since 1975, although anyone who knew the scene back then might be surprised at what they would find today. 

“We have a real variety,” Zambello said. 

After taking the director position, Zambello changed not only the name (from Opera to Festival) but she also added a few other programs like concerts and discussions to shake up the season. 

This is their first year showing a hip hopera that they’ll eventually be touring across North America, but it’s not the only way that the Glimmerglass Festival has been working to branch out. 

They’ll also be hosting David Sedaris, author, comedian and radio contributor in August. 

The Festival also goes into the Attica Prison for a performance once a season and they work with the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame to hold baseball-centered programs.

“We’re looking to do broader works that are community based as well,” Zambello said.

Yet, opera is still the heart of the operation. 

They have four main operas this season: “Porgy and Bess,” Oklahoma!” “The Siege of Calais,” and “Xerxes,” along with two other one-act operas. 

The Festival also helps aspiring actors and opera singers to get started with the Young Artists Program. Getting in is competitive and the program gives students intensive training on putting together an opera.

This season, the program will perform “Any Place I Hang My Hat.”

With each opera, Zambello hopes to bring a bit of variety to Cooperstown. 

“I try to get range into what we present,” Zambello said. 

Thus, the Festival might pair a baroque style opera with a rock opera. Or a hip hopera. 

The stereotypes of the genre have been steadily breaking over the last few years as operas like "Les Miserables" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" are given time in the spotlight. 

But Zambello wants to break the stereotypes down even further. 

“You can show up in your jeans and shorts. It’s a total experience, it’s not just a show,” Zambello said.

She is hoping that people will tie in a visit to the Festival within their day trips to the Glimmerglass park and to Cooperstown. 

Putting opera in a place that feels a bit closer to home.

“We’ve increased our attendance. . . . People come from the 50 states….the demographic is very wide-ranging,” Zambello said. Ticket sales have grown from 32,582 in 2010 to 35,766 in 2016. 

For every season, the Festival explores one topic or theme through the operas themselves, lectures and other programs. 

This year, the Festival explores the theme of home. 

“Stomping Grounds,” the hip hopera, sings a story about a neighborhood that is being gentrified. 

“So it very much deals with the notion of ‘what happens to your stomping grounds when people change it?’,” Zambello said. 

To top off the theme, the Festival features a showing of "The Wizard of Oz" film from 1939, a movie that is riddled with questions and references to home.

“Porgy and Bess,” a folk opera, looks into what it means to build a home amidst physical and financial struggle, “Oklahoma!” pulls apart what it means to settle into unchartered territory and learn to live in a land that is all new.

From Zambello’s experience, any story can be told through opera, which makes it more universally appealing than some may realize. 

“I think it tells passionate stories. It communicates big ideas and it has the power to be intimate and grand,” Zambello said of the genre celebrated every summer at the Glimmerglass Festival.

Due to the Festival’s popularity, Zambello hopes to begin holding other events during the off seasons. Although, that depends on funding and donations. 

“Overall, we have approximately 1,500 funders, the majority of which are individuals making gifts from $10 to six figures,” said Brittany Lesavoy, the Festival’s director of public relations, in an email to The Gazette.

Groups like The Clark Foundation, the Tianaderrah Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the Guild of the Glimmerglass Festival also donate to the Festival every year. 

Although raising money is always a concern for the Festival, Zambello said that they have generous donors and that the fundraising team works hard every year to fund the Festival. 

In the end, they’re not only funding the Festival but the arts available to everyone in the Greater Capital Region.

“The arts are what help define our civilization,” Zambello said. 

Here's a look at a few upcoming events at the Glimmerglass Festival:

"Porgy and Bess"
July 7 - August 21

July 8 - August 22, 2017

July 15 - August 18, 2017

"The Siege of Calais"
July 16 - August 19, 2017

August 4 and August 13

Stephen Schwartz
July 21

David Sedaris
August 21

"Stomping Grounds"
August 1, 3, 7

For more events and information, visit: glimmerglass.org


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