Francesca Zambello, in a recent Facetime conversation, spoke about her 12th and final season as artistic and general director of the Glimmerglass Festival. She also said she was excited to launch the first productions in the Alice Busch Opera Theater since the summer of the 2019.
The global pandemic shuttered live performances entirely in 2020, and in 2021 the company offered an innovative series of outdoor shows in “Glimmerglass on the Grass.”
The 2022 season, opening July 8 and continuing through Aug. 21, comprises four mainstage operas, a youth opera, and an expanded version of “The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson,” which was introduced last year. Planning program details takes all year; work on sets and scenery has been ongoing throughout the spring, and now rehearsals gear up for the shows.
“When our young artists arrived (end of May), we all experienced the thrum and thrill of seeing our performance space come alive again,” Zambello said. “We are bringing world class entertainment to our audiences, as we always do, and the entire season is enhanced by the delight we feel in coming together again.”
Zambello will direct Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music,” which opens the season, and, with Brenna Comer, co-direct the world premiere of “Tenor Overboard,” with book by America’s most celebrated comic playwright, Ken Ludwig, and music from Rossini.
THE SOUND OF MUSIC
“The Sound of Music,” a tale of political resistance and courage, had been prepared for the 2020 season that never opened and, Zambello said, it is perhaps more effective, more profound now, in the summer of 2022.
“This treasured show has even deeper meaning in light of the war in Ukraine. The young artists are living through this awful period of the Russian invasion of an independent country. Sadly, they seem to relate to the plot and understand the horror of one nation invading another,” Zambello said. “But, ‘Sound of Music’ is also a show about joy, and we need joy right now.”
Popularized in the 1965 film adaptation, “The Sound of Music” is familiar to generations of Americans, who have had access to annual re-runs and can sing most of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s memorable songs. The kindly mother superior, the confused novice Maria, the stalwart Captain Von Trapp and his adorable children are among the most beloved characters in musical theater.
At Glimmerglass, the production will be based on the original stage version with some elements from the Oscar winning movie. “My Favorite Things,” for example, will be a duet between Maria and Mother Abbess toward the beginning of the show and not sung as a way to distract the frightened children during the thunder storm. “I Have Confidence” will be added from the film version, and the duet for Captain and Maria will be taken from the film as well, replacing the stage version of “An Ordinary Couple” with “Something Good,” from the film.
Zambello says that right now, audiences not only seek joy, they also want laughter. That’s why she invited Ken Ludwig to create a light opera with a story line involving passengers on a cruise ship. Ludwig has already won acclaim for integrating well-known music into an original play. “Crazy For You,” the three-time Tony Award winning stylish musical set in the 1930s, uses some of the best songs of George and Ira Gershwin in a madcap tale that is credited with revitalizing the popularity of Broadway musicals. Ludwig will miss opening night of “Tenor Overboard” (July 19) because he’ll be in London for the revival of “Crazy For You.”
Ludwig said he developed his love of theater while growing up in York, Pennsylvania. Although opportunities there were limited, his parents often went into New York City for entertainment. After they had seen Richard Burton in “Hamlet,” they purchased the cast recording for Ludwig, thinking their young son would enjoy the performance.
“I wore out those four LP records, playing them over and over again until I knew every part,” he recalls. “I have a brother I’m very close to, and his passion is for business and all the ways he can help others through his talent in that profession. My passion turned out to be stage art, and that’s where I’ve found I can make my greatest contribution.”
Ludwig is the very definition of a “Renaissance Man.” After earning his baccalaureate degree at Haverford College, he graduated from Harvard University, where he studied music with Leonard Bernstein, then went on to Harvard Law School and Cambridge University. He says he is a big fan of the “screwball comedies” of the 1930s and 1940s movies, which influence his style, and he is absolutely intrigued by comic opera.
“Comedy is an art form,” Ludwig said. “one that is often overlooked. I jumped at the chance to write “Tenor Overboard” and to collaborate with Francesca for the 2022 Glimmerglass season.”
Set in the 1930s on a cruise ship, “Tenor Overboard” offers glamour, cross-costume hijinks, and an overall joyful spirit. The plot will elicit laughter, and some of the lesser known music of the great Italian genius Gioachino Rossini (1792 – 1868) will be welcomed by those who know his work (“The Barber of Seville,” “William Tell,” “La Cenerentola,”etc.) and new comers alike.
Mezzo-soprano Briana Elyse Hunter, who was introduced to Glimmerglass audiences as the Mother in “Blue” (2019), will sing the lead in Bizet’s “Carmen,” a role in which she has already won rave reviews. Tenor Ian Koziara, a three-year member of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, will appear as Don José. Writing for the Washington Post, critic Anne Midgette said of Koziara, “When he was onstage, he held your attention.”
Bizet’s score is rich with the music of Spanish folk songs and dance rhythms, and the most famous of the arias – Carmen’s “Habanera,” José’s “Flower Song,” and Escamillo’s “Toreador Song – have permeated popular culture through movies, television, and advertisements.
Denyce Graves will be stage director for this new production of “Carmen,” which has been developed in collaboration with Minnesota Opera, where she directed eight performances this spring. The Twin Cities Pioneer Press review of that production says, “Graves brings a somber, desolate feeling to the piece, full of symbolism.”
Graves, a mezzo-soprano, is intimately familiar with the Carmen’s tragic story of passion, jealousy and violence having performed the title role herself in opera houses around the world, including with Minnesota Opera in 1991 and again for her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1995. She defines the fiery Carmen as the embodiment of liberty.
“The reason Carmen is a heroine today is because she’s unapologetic and doesn’t know how to be anything else but authentically who she is. Her example shapes us and gives us permission to be who we are,” Graves said.
“Holy Ground,” with music by Damien Geter and libretto by Lila Palmer, opens July 29 in a world premiere that is half of “Double Bill.” Composer in Residence Kamala Sankaram, and librettist Jerre Dye’s “Taking Up Serpents” will complete the program of contemporary one-act operas that opens July 29.
“Taking Up Serpents,” commissioned by the Washington National Opera, was premiered at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2019. Librettist Dye draws upon his roots in the Deep South to delve into the relationship of a fire-and-brimstone preacher and his estranged daughter, Kayla. When she returns home to attend to her father, who has been bitten by one of his own poisonous snakes, she is forced to consider her dysfunctional upbringing and face questions about faith, family and destiny.
A spare orchestral score and eclectic music that includes shape note singing, a musical notation device that was popular in southern American churches and social singing groups. The Wall street Journal hailed Sankaram’s music in “… Serpents” as “skillful, passionate vocal writing” that aptly defines the main character.
“Holy Ground,” as the title implies, reimagines a New Testament text, the story of the Virgin Mary. Written in the voice of a young woman with plans for her life, it examines her response to the angel’s announcement that she has been chosen to bear the child of God.
In Palmer’s telling of the Annunciation, Mary’s dialogues with her mother and a messenger angel offer nuanced, and at times humorous perspectives on the big questions of motherhood — the risk and sacrifice, the joy and wonder.
Palmer said in a telephone conversation that the courage to write an opera about Mary’s response to having been chosen to bear the Messiah came, in part, from her own pregnancy. The opera libretto and Palmer’s child had the same due date.
“I wanted to write something cheerful. I was looking for reasons to write a joyful opera, and Mary’s story kept coming to mind,” Palmer said. “As I was teasing apart this question of her becoming a mother, I realized that because she was asked to say ‘yes’ it was also possible that she could have said ‘no.’”
Living in a utilitarian, pharisaic, dystopian world, where everything comes down to the bottom line, Mary is defined in “Holy Ground” as an unique woman so out of sync with her society that she is willing to consider the angel’s request.
Palmer did not set out to change Mary’s story. Rather, she has written to activate its humanity and highlight the inherent questions hiding (as she puts it) in plain view; even, to incorporate a sense of play–evident in the corps of pompous angels who have already received negative responses from 489 “Messiah suitable” women.
Geter, is hailed as a composer who infuses classical compositions with music from the African diaspora and skillfully creates scores that illuminate texts. He has gained acclaim for his “An African American Requiem,” recently performed at the Kennedy Center. His first full length opera, “American Apollo” (also with Palmer) addresses themes of erasure and the white gaze. Scheduled to be premiered in 2024, it is based on the closeted painter John Singer Sargent’s ambiguous relationship with the African American Model Thomas McKeller, the subject of his only finished male nude.
In addition to the mainstage shows, Glimmerglass Festival will produce Kamala Sankaram and Kelley Rourke’s retelling of “The Jungle Book,” with local young people in the cast alongside performers from the Glimmerglass Young Artists Program. The youth opera is one of Zambello’s initiatives, established in 2015. Filling out the season is a two-night performance of an extended version of “The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson,” which was part of Glimmerglass on the Grass in 2021.
Robert Ainsley has been appointed by the board of directors to assume the position of artistic and general director at the end of this season. Ainsley has served as the director of the Washington National Opera’s Cafritz Young Artists Program and the American Opera Initiative, where he commissioned, developed, and premiered more than 30 new operas and songs.
Zambello, who will go to Vienna for work on a musical directly upon the close of this season, then on to Kennedy Center for a lecture series, says she leaves Glimmerglass feeling optimistic about its future.
“Financially, we’re in good shape, with an endowment that has doubled during my 12 years. Artistically, Glimmerglass has earned a well-deserved reputation for world-class productions. And, personally, I cherish these years as some of the best of my life,” Zambello said.
What: Four mainstage shows in repertory, youth opera, and special performances
Where: Alice Busch Opera Theater, 7300 State Highway 80, Cooperstown
Tickets: By phone, 607-547-2255, or at Glimmerglass.org
Cost: Single ticket prices start at $26 with discount for youths 12 and under.
Season packages: Best pricing and still available
Covid Protocols: Masks required; updates on website