Monday, August 13, 2007

A virtual tour

A customer peruses postcards before an opera.

Inside Alice Busch Opera Theatre, patrons prepare for a night of opera.

The crowded scene shop, where set pieces are stored between performances.

Inside the makeup room of the Wardrobe House.
View of the fire lake from the balcony of the house.

Donors enjoy Intermission Club between acts.

One of over 50 changeovers the stage operations crew will do this season.

Glimmerglass reaches out to the community through events

Each season, Glimmerglass Opera brings in professionals from all around the country to produce high-quality operas. However, as geographically diverse as the opera is, it still has strong ties to the Cooperstown community.

When many people think of Cooperstown, they think only of the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum. But there are many attractions outside of the sports culture like the Fenimore Art Museum, the Farmers' Museum, and of course, Glimmerglass Opera, that reflect the diverse interests of Cooperstown. Although many people travel from outside of Otsego County to visit Glimmerglass, much of the opera's business and its most ardent supporters come from Cooperstown itself.

In addition, many local singers participate directly in the operas. David Fahrquar, a Cooperstown resident and Glimmerglass Opera Guild Member, has sung in the chorus nearly every season since 1982.

"I sing with people here that I read about next year in Opera News," said Fahrquar. "I enjoy it so much that I wouldn't know what to do in the summer besides sing at Glimmerglass Opera."

Fahrquar and wife Donna, along with many other community members, also volunteer their time as ushers.
The Alice Busch Opera Theater itself hosts community events. For example the company hosts Fall for the Arts in September, where an assortment of local arts organizations held performances, demonstrations and workshops. Recently the theater hosted Cherry Valley High School's graduation.

But the majority of Glimmerglass' community contact comes form shows and events. For example, in July Glimmerglass hosted Family Day, where kids ate a picnic, played games and learned the cancan. Afterwards, they saw the opera "Orpheus in the Underworld" by Offenbach, a French comedic opera translated into English. Also, Glimmerglass presents free Young American Artist recitals in Cooperstown and the surrounding area.

Glimmerglass promotes opera in both the summer season and the off-season. During the long New York winter, Glimmerglass participated in Cooperstown's Cabin Fever Film Series by screening films with opera references in them. In the spirit of this year's Orpheus themed-season, Glimmerglass is hosting free film screenings of Jean Cocteau's Orphée and Marcel Camus' Black Orpheus at the Fenimore Art Museum.

Cocteau's Orphée plays:
August 16 at 3:30 p.m.
August 21 at 5:30 p.m.

Black Orpheus plays:
August 18 at 11:00 a.m.
August 24 at 3:30 p.m.

Another way Glimmerglass promotes opera is by hosting seminars. In March the Glimmerglass Opera and the Glimmerglass Creative Learning Center presented a series of seminars entitled Opera Unplugged, which covered a wide range of topics including opera music in film, languages in opera, the life of a singer, and voice types. During the season, Glimmerglass hosts classes through the Center for Continuing Adult Learning (CCAL) , giving participants a taste of life behind the curtain, as well as previews of upcoming operas, a tour, and access to staff production seminars.

During August, the opera also offers backstage tours on Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. and production changeover talks on Saturday afternoons after the matinee performance.

For more information on Glimmerglass events, please visit the Special Events, Picnics, Previews & Recitals page.
For upcoming events, including Young American Artists Program Recitals, please scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

One more Orpheus

Although all the mainstage productions have opened, Glimmerglass still has one more new work to present--a concert version of Haydn's L'Anima del Filosofo. The opera was never performed during Haydn's life and is still rarely presented.

Glimmerglass' presentation features former member of Young American Artists Program Sarah Coburn. Coburn has gone on to sing at the Metropolitan Opera among other great American opera houses. Tenor Norman Shankle regularly graces the stage of European opera houses and has previously sung the role of Orfeo in L'Anima del Filosofo at the Eisenstadt International Haydn Festival. Members of the Young American Artists Program and local chorus form the ensemble chorus, which has a strong presence throughout the work. The conducting work is split between Monteverdi conductor Antony Walker and Glass conductor Anne Manson.

Because the concert must fit into the busy production schedule, it rehearsed on the Offenbach set, but will be performed on the Monteverdi set and the Gluck set.

This is the first year that Glimmerglass has presented a concert in addition to the four mainstage productions. The work made its Glimmerglass premiere on Sunday. There will be one more performance on August 19 that is already sold out. Plans are already in the works for another Shakespeare-themed concert next season. Repertoire will include music from Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Young Artists In Recital

Starting July 26, the 29 members of the Young American Artists Program began presenting recitals at venues in and around Cooperstown. The recitals offer community members, ticket holders, opera staff, and fellow program members the opportunity to hear these emerging singers in a solo setting.

The program includes many of the nation's best and brightest upcoming young singers. Members of the Young American Artists Program from years past have gone on to sing at the Metropolitan Opera and other great American opera houses, as well as internationally.

The artists have been preparing their 45-minute recital program in addition to opera rehearsals and performances. Soprano Katrina Thurman (left) has had to cover (understudy) five roles, in addition to being in the ensemble for three of the shows and having a small solo in the Monteverdi. She presented her recital Friday, the day before the Monteverdi opened.

The singers often choose to theme their recitals. For example, soprano Ellen Wieser performed a recital consisting entirely of songs by British composers like Britten and Quilter. Thurman themed her recital around a poem she had written, using it to form a story arc. Soprano Donna Smith also created a story out of her program, using a variety of composers to chronicle a tale of love lost and re-gained.

For a list of upcoming recitals, please scroll to the bottom of the page.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Classic Opera Stories

Possibly the most commonly asked question for artists is "where do you get your ideas?" For most opera composers, the story is already written for them--they simply provide the music. Composers often draw the stories of their operas from the popular culture of the time. Popular legends, myths, books, plays, poems all became subjects of opera. Although most opera stories are set once, maybe a few times, and then retired, a few sources pop up over and over again over the course of music history.

  • Greek myths served as the basis for most operas of the Baroque and Classical Eras, and continued to be mildly popular in the Romantic and Modern Eras. A popular source was Ovid's Metamorphoses, the basis for operas like Cavalli's La Calisto, Handel's Acis and Galatea, Handel's Semele, several operas by Lully, Mozart's first opera Apollo et Hyacinthus, Donizetti's first opera Il Pigmalione, Strauss' Daphne, and many operas about Orpheus.
  • Ludovico Ariosto wrote the epic poem Orlando Furioso, which served as the inspiration for Tasso's work Jerusalem Delivered and the basis for a slew of operas named Armide, set by Lully, Salieri, Gluck, Haydn, Rossini and others. The epic story La liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola d'Alcina, also based on Ariosto's work was the inspiration for Francesca Caccini, Luigi Rossi, Handel, Vivaldi, Lully, Rameau, and Haydn, among others.
  • William Shakespeare became popular in the opera world about 200 years after his death, during the Romantic Era. Many of his plays enjoy one or more opera settings. The Merry Wives of Windsor about the lusty knight Falstaff was set by Salieri, Nicolai, Verdi, Holst, and Vaughn Williams. The ever-popular Romeo and Juliet was set by Gounod, Delius, Bernstein, Bellini, and Vaccai. Glimmerglass Opera is basing its 2008 season around tales told by the prolific bard, including Handel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi (based on the story that inspired Romeo and Juliet), Wagner's Das Liebesverbot (based on Measure for Measure), and Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate (based on The Taming of the Shrew.)
  • Goethe's Faust--Originally a folk legend, the story of the man who sold his soul to the devil was made into a play by Christopher Marlowe (c. 1600) and Goethe (1832). The Goethe play was the basis for several operas by composers like Gounod, Berlioz, and Boito. Texts by Goethe were also extremely popular for lieder composers.
Images courtesy of NYPL Digital Gallery.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Free Films on August 4

In the spirit of this year's Orpheus themed-season, Glimmerglass is hosting free film screenings of Jean Cocteau's Orphée and Marcel Camus' Black Orpheus at the Fenimore Art Museum.
Cocteau's Orphée plays:
August 4 at 11:00 a.m.
August 16 at 3:30 p.m.
August 21 at 5:30 p.m.
Black Orpheus plays:
August 4 at 2:00 p.m.
August 18 at 11:00 a.m.
August 24 at 3:30 p.m.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Last Premiere

This Saturday marked the fourth and final opera premiere of the Glimmerglass 2007 season, Monteverdi's L'Orfeo. The opera is a co-production between Glimmerglass and Opera North (Leeds, England). In 2008, Opera Norway will also produce the opera.

L'Orfeo is one of the most historically significant operas ever written. Although composers had experimented with combinations of music and drama before, the opera is generally considered the "first" opera and is certainly the earliest performed with any real regularity.

During a production seminar last Wednesday, conductor Antony Walker explained the evolution of opera before Monteverdi. "Fifty years before this was written, there were many documented, large-scale celebratory pieces that sometimes had a narrative going through them. A little analogy might be the musical theatre of today, which had a lot of spoken dialogue and then some songs as well. Then we had people asking, 'What did the Greeks used to do? What did they do with their dramas and how can we possibly hearken back to the Hellenic times and recreate what they might have done?' So, they came up with this sung recitation, which was accompanied by continuo-- it wasn't so much a song, but a narration."

As historically notable as the music is, director Christopher Alden strives to bring modernity to the production. "This version of the opera is very much about Orpheus as an artist. We're talking about art and what it means to be an artist. To me what's fascinating about this piece is Eurydice is like Orfeo's art, his muse, his creativity. It was so long before she gave in to him. That's when he created all this amazing music, out of his longing for her. And then, as soon as he gets it, she dies--it's taken away from him. When you want it, when you are really hungry for it, that's when you are creative, but as soon as you get that thing and are paid for it and are successful on some level, it's gone."

The opera is the centerpiece of the season, the one that General and Artistic Director Michael MacLeod built the season around to celebrate the 400th anniversary of its premiere. "I think it's extraordinarily lucky that in 2007, the 400th anniversary of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, that we have the chance to present it at Glimmerglass for the first time. In fact, that was the germ of the idea of having an entire season based on the Orpheus myth," MacLeod said.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Check Glimmerglass' newly updated recommendation list here. The list includes books, CDs, and DVDs relating to the 2007 season.

Monday, July 30, 2007

From the Screen to the Stage

Harry Potter's done it. So have the Geico cavemen and the Incredible Hulk. The crossing of a story from one medium to another is the current obsession of the western media. However, movie and TV producers aren't the only ones borrowing from another medium. More and more modern composers have taken their libretti from the stories already made popular by film.

This season, Glimmerglass Opera is presenting the genre-jumping opera Orphée by modern composer Philip Glass. The opera is based from Jean Cocteau's 1950 film by the same name. From 1993-1996 Glass wrote an entire opera trilogy based on the films of Jean Cocteau: Orphée, La belle et la bête (Beauty and the Beast), and Les enfants terribles (The Terrible Children). Each opera shows a closer merge between the genres. Glass composed Orphée by using Cocteau's screenplay as his libretto. Glass meant La belle et la bête to be performed as an concert opera, with the film without sound playing simultaneously in the background.
However innovative Glass' operas are, he is not the first or last composer to use a film as inspiration for an opera.


  • Dancing in the Dark by Poul Ruders, based on Lars Von Trier's award-winning film (2000) by the same name, which featured Bjork
  • The Fly by Howard Shore (Oscar-winning composer of Lord of the Rings) based on the David Cronenberg film (1986) by the same name which featured Jeff Goldblum. Placido Domingo will music-direct the production.

Composers are using films as inspiration for opera more and more, but currently it's far more common for novels to cross into operas. It's been happening for centuries.

  • Wagner--Baron Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Rienzi, Last of the Tribunes
  • Tchaikovosky--Pushkin's Eugene Onegin
  • Richard Strauss--Wilde's Salome
  • Korngold--Die Tote Stadt after Rodenbach's Bruges la morte
  • Prokofiev- Tolstoy's War and Peace
  • Britten--Henry James' The Turn of the Screw
  • John Harbison--Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby
  • Mark Adamo--Alcott's Little Women
  • Poul Ruders-- Atwood's Handmaid's Tale, Kafka's The Trial
  • Tobias Picker--An American Tragedy

However, many of these stories are best known by their classic film adaptations:

Images courtesy of NYPL Digital Gallery.

Hot Links:
Cronenberg's The Fly to transform into an
Opera to retell classic tale of love and insecticide-The Sydney Morning Herald
New Opera to Be Based on Von Trier Film--AP
Lost Highway, Opera Based on David Lynch Film, Gets New York Premiere--Playbill Arts
Opera and Film: Can This Union Be Saved?--Washington Post
Opera by the Book--Village Voice
The Novel of the Opera--Norman Lebrecht

Thursday, July 26, 2007

All About the Journey: Jill Gardner, Offenbach's Newest Muse

After a brief illness opening weekend, leading lady Jill Gardner is back in the role of Eurydice in Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld. An alumna of Glimmerglass' Young American Artists Program, Gardner earned her bachelor's degree in piano, but decided to focus on voice instead after a fellow pianist recommended a voice teacher whose students he accompanied.
Offenbach's Eurydice is unique. In every other Orpheus opera Glimmerglass is producing this season, Eurydice takes a back seat to the heroic Orpheus, the center of the action. Offenbach puts a twist on the myth by placing Euridice as the heroic figure of the story--the only character who doesn't cave to the domineering Public Opinion. Jill sees the character of Eurydice as a multi-faceted, beyond the frivolous veneer usually linked with comic characters.

"It's easy to think that Eurydice is naive, that she doesn't know what she's doing. She's skirting the societal influence, that which is always trying to wield its sword over us in whatever guise. She is the only one that does not operate in this socially influenced way. That's why I find it interesting and that's what I ultimately want to bring to this portrayal, not just someone who sings a ton of high notes."

Despite much experience in opera and operetta, Orpheus in the Underworld marks the first comedic role for Gardner, a thrilling challenge for the young soprano. "That's another reason why I found it interesting to try myself out at this. I'm not a big TV-watcher, but I've taken the time to watch some Sex and the City and Seinfeld and even going back to watch I Love Lucy and The Carol Burnett Show. When you sit and watch it totally from the aspect of comedy--not the story, just how they deliver the comedy-- you realize how much real life actually operates in that realm. You see human nature in the most real kind of way. Your instincts are really driven to deliver the comedy in a timing and a specificity that is very multi-layered. This kind of comedic timing is very hard. I have a lot more respect for it than I did.
"When you're singing all the time, when you have music to suport your words, that already sets up a multi-layered dimension and the music often expresses so well the subjective aspect of a character. You realize with dialogue how much energy's got to be in it and how quixotic we are as human beings."

As well as being her first comedic role, this is Gardner's first opportunity to sing a show with her husband Jake Gardner. Jake plays Jupiter, the head god and one of the many men who fall in love with Eurydice. The pair sing the famous "Fly Duet" and share a few romantic moments on stage.
"It's been great. Jake and I have sung quite a bit of concert work and oratorio work together, so it's not like this is the first time we've worked together. We have a lot of respect for one another. There's a lot of give and take in our relationship that's a part of that respect. To be able to have a flirtation with one another as we do in the Offenbach is wonderful. It's fun, not only for us, but for other people as well. You want people to feel enjoyment, happiness, magic, lust, love, flirtation. There are pieces that we'd like to be able to do together where that flirtation isn't there. We'd love to be able to do Carlisle Floyd's Susannah, for instance. I think as long as that mutual respect is there and that we're always reaching for this artistic integrity, that's what guiding us. And then our mission is the same, whatever ego is there or need to control."
"Having this much time to be together with Jake is just nirvana. It's a real gift."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Through the Glass Darkly

Last week the creative team and singers of Philip Glass' Orphée moved from the gymnasium of Richfield Springs High School to the stage of the Alice Busch Opera Theater. It was during this week that all of the elements of the show came together to form one cohesive artistic production. During each rehearsal, about 20 people from various departments were in the house of the theatre and about 10 are in the lighting booth and backstage, running the show and taking notes. Some of the corrections, like music and lighting cues, were addressed immediately. Other corrections were made later--changes in costuming, wigs and make-up, and set details.

Director Sam Helfrich explained the challenges he faces during a tech rehearsal. "I've spent three weeks in a room sitting in this one place at this one table, watching the stage from about five feet away and creating the show. The minute you move out into the house and start watching the show from 50 feet away, 100 feet away, it changes. Now it's a question of finessing things."

While looking forward to the show's opening and all the work ahead, the creative team took time last Wednesday to look back at the work they've done so far and present it to the entire staff of the opera. Orphée is based directly from French filmmaker Jean Cocteau's film of the same name. Helfrich's first concern was translating a 1950 film with over 15 sets and effects -- such as reverse motion and people walking through mirrors --into a viable opera.

"You can't avoid--I almost regret it now-- starting out by watching the movie. It's such a beautiful and exquisite piece of filmmaking that the designers and I made the decision early on to try to find a way to approach this piece that would be theatrical, that would work on the stage and that would really have something to say that was contemporary and modern and of its time," Helfrich said.

The design team decided to create one set for the entire opera, rather than 15. It is set up like a living room--complete with walls, ceiling, and realistic furniture. It took over 5 hours to put all the pieces on stage for the first time.

Lighting was a challenge because of the shape of the set. During the seminar, nearly everyone on the creative team pointed out lighting as one of their major challenges during the tech rehearsal process.
"It should be noted that this actually is an enormously difficult set to light. It's not just because it has a ceiling. There are some limitations on what you can do from above, but we wanted to do it all using practical lighting fixtures. It's very tricky finding a balance between looking at the lighting fixtures themselves and looking at a person's face lit next to a light fixture," Andrew Lieberman, Set Designer, said.

Production Manager Matthew Kirby-Smith pointed out that the "practical lighting" is not always enough to fully light the stage. "There are lighting instrument hidden throughout backstage--over doors, in alcoves, etc. We placed lighting instruments anywhere we could to help."

Mirrors play a large structural and thematic role in the opera. To create the same atmosphere as the mirrors in the movie, each major character has a double that matches them exactly in hair, make-up, and wardrobe.

To Wig and Make-up Designer Anne Ford-Coates, the doubles presented a special challenge. "With Caroline Worra, her natural appearance makes it very easy to believe that she would have the big heart that would anchor a really temperamental artist for years. That's already there, so there wouldn't be the need to change that, except when we get to Brenda Rae, her double, who has dark hair and a different look. We have to style Caroline so she can be Eurydice, but also so that Brenda can be her for a split second on stage."

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Unique New Voice: Michael Maniaci

Male soprano Michael Maniaci has been acclaimed throughout the world for his otherworldly voice. He has sung on many American stages, as well as in Europe. This season, he plays Orphée in Glimmerglass' production of Orphée et Eurydice, a beautiful production populated with extraordinary voices. However, this extraordinary voice has an unusual story. Through a lucky coincidence, Michael's voice never changed.
"My larynx is smaller. My cords didn't lengthen and thicken as much as they could have, but they did fully develop, in that I don't sound like a boy when I go to sing," he said. "I haven't encountered any other men who had the experience that I did--where developmentally, this just naturally happened. I've met with and performed with some falsettists that sing in a soprano range, but I've not encountered professionally anyone else."

Although he was originally drawn to musical theatre, Maniaci realized that there were more roles for him in the world of opera. Indeed, he is one of the few male sopranos singing opera today.
"Actually there are plenty of roles. People sometimes assume quickly that it would be quite limiting, when instead it's the exact opposite. At the end of the day most people will end up narrowing their focus to about a half a dozen to ten roles. There's certainly plenty for me within early Mozart operas or the whole Handel canon."

Music from the Baroque and Classical Eras suits Michael well. During that period, many roles for men were written for the castrati, who sang in a range only approached today by countertenors and mezzo-sopranos. Michael's unchanged male soprano voice makes him perfect for opera characters that are usually considered pants roles.
"I'm fortunate in many many ways, particularly in terms of timing. If there weren't this big Baroque revival going on right now, I wouldn't be having the opportunities that I'm having. There seems to be a real interest on the part of companies and audiences in reviving these works. I've fallen in love with Baroque music; the simplicity, the beauty, the classiness, and also the way that emotion is dealt with in that period is so similar to how we deal with it today. That's why I think it resonates with emotional situations that we still have today--hundreds of years later."

Maniaci believes this is especially true with the Gluck.
"The piece goes in and out of these brilliant juxtapositions. You start the show with this beautiful glorious overture. If you don't know the piece and you come to this opera, you think you're in for a night of grand comic opera. And suddenly it becomes this unbelievably subtle, soft thing. It's transformed into melodie. In the first act, when the chorus is gone and I'm let on stage alone for that huge chunk of time, for me that's just like singing any French melodie. It asks for very quiet static quality, but the text is alive and the music is alive. Then you go from that into a religious hearkening back to Bach and then a pre-Mozartian bravura aria. It's amazing. The piece goes through all of these peaks and valleys--it's wild."

As much as Maniaci has enjoyed performing Gluck's masterpiece, he has also enjoyed the audience's reaction to his unique voice.
"There hasn't been any stopgap with the audience. People say,'oh, this is so weird because you're not a countertenor and you don't sound like a woman--you're just this other weird thing.' Thank God it's been an asset. At the same time, I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility and frankly, pressure. I don't ever want to be successful because I'm weird. Wherever my career continues to go, I want it to be because my talents, my artistry, my musicianship, my vocalism warrants it. There's an enormous responsibility on my shoulders to make sure that I continue working my tail off to keep hashing away at those things."

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Opening Night!

Finally, it's the night everyone's been waiting for! Ticket holders, opera fans, and all the departments at Glimmerglass have been eager for the season to begin. The Orpheus season began July 7 with Offenbach's satiric comedy Orpheus in the Underworld. However, the opera wasn't the only thing patrons could look forward to!

The night began with an Opening Night Champagne Celebration, to kick off the season. Guests enjoyed light hors d'oeuvres as they mingled and discussed the exciting night ahead.
Every night, a staff member hosts a pre-opera talk an hour before the performance. Saturday's preview featured Lucy Arner and tenor Joseph Gaines, who plays Mercury. Gaines, a member of Glimmerglass' Young American Artists Program, sang an aria from the 1874 version of the score that was not included in the production. Arner explained the history behind the piece and some of the operatic trends of the time.

While patrons enjoyed the sights, sounds, and tastes of pre-opening night festivities, members of Glimmerglass staff were busy behind the scenes making final preparation for the night. Marketing staff manned the Guest Services desk and Gift Shop, Development staff coordinated pre-opera picnics, ushers prepared the house, and the production team focused lights and tested backstage equipment.

Finally the moment everyone had been waiting for arrived. The doors opened, seats were filled, and the orchestra began to tune. However, opening night did not come without its share of drama. Soprano Jill Gardner, who was slated to sing the large role of Eurydice, became indisposed the night before. Fortunately, Glimmerglass makes it a policy to cast covers (understudies) from the Young American Artists Program for every major role in each season's operas, so the show was not cancelled. Soprano Juliet Petrus went on instead and, despite the short notice, gave a masterful performance.

After the opera, singers, staff, guild members, and guests rubbed elbows at an opening night party. General and Artistic Director Michael MacLeod gave an opening address thanking each and every one of the staff, and expressing his excitement for the season ahead.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Opera in Hell

Besides the four operas playing at Glimmerglass about Orpheus, there have been many other operas about the legendary poet, the Greek Underworld, Christian Hell, and Hell's posterboy the Devil.

An astounding number of operas feature the Orpheus myth itself, a popular subject for an opera when the genre was in its infancy. Most operas were based on Greek mythology, so the story of Orpheus, a poet and musician of epic proportion, truly lends itself to a sung musical story. Two of the most popular examples of these early operas are Monteverdi's L'Orfeo (1607) and Peri's Euridice (1600), but the earliest well-known example is Politan's 1480 Fabula di Orfeo (The Fable of Orpheus.)
Over the years, so many composers set Orpheus operas that yet more composers began to parody them, such as P.D. Deshayes who parodied Gluck's famous work. Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld (1858) is certainly the best known and most performed Orpheus satire.
Despite the existence of over 40 operas on the subject of Orpheus, interest in the myth continued into the 20th and 21st centuries. Composers like Darius Milhaud, Harry Birtwistle, Philip Glass set the opera, Stravinsky wrote a ballet, and most recently, Leslie Burrs and John A. Williams created a show re-telling Orpheus legend set during the time of the Underground Railroad.

Orpheus' Influence
  • Fidelio by Beethoven revolves around the rescue of Florestan from an underground prison by his wife Leonore.
  • In Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, Tamino rescues Pamina from imprisonment with only a magic flute at his disposal.
  • Wagner, who was heavily influenced by folklore and myth. The lead males in Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Tannhäuser are both singers with the ability to charm their audience.
Christian Hell or the Greek Underworld

  • Rameau, an 18th century opera composer whose focus was often Greek myth, set Castor and Pollux and Hippolyte et Aricie, both of which involve underworld scenes.
  • Don Giovanni by Mozart features the legendary lover Don Juan, who gets swallowed up by Hell.
  • Rachmaninov's Francesco da Remini is set in the set in the second circle of Hell a la Dante's Inferno.
  • Too Many Sopranos by Edwin Penhorwood--a cult classic amongst college voice students, the opera follows the hijinks of four sopranos trying to get get into Heaven's already full choir.

Devil of a Time

  • Faust by Gounod (1859) French grand opera, based on the wildly popular book by Goethe which set to poetry the legend of Faust, a man who sold his soul to the devil. Similar operas followed, including Mefistofeles by Boito and Damnation de Faust by Berlioz.
  • The Devil and Kate (1899) by Dvorak is a comedy based on Czech folk legend that parallels the Orpheus myth. A peasant girl is lured to Hell by the devil and is rescued by her shepherd love.
  • The Devil and Daniel Webster (1939) by Douglas Moore tell the story of another man, this time a politician from New Hampshire, who sells his soul to the devil and what happens when the devil comes to collect.
  • Paradise Lost (1975) by Krzysztof Penderecki depicts the courtship, marriage and temptation of Adam and Eve, with author John Milton as commentator. The piece uses semitones and is designed in the style of a Renaissance Florentine court drama.

All images courtesy of NYPL Digital Gallery.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Insider Rehearsal Report: The Style of Staging

Shepherds (Brian Thorsett and Christian Reinert) embrace Orpheus (Michael Slattery).

Making a modern version of an older opera, like Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, is all about accentuating those contrasts while making them fit into a cohesive artistic vision. Director Christopher Alden is casual and approachable, but obviously knowledgable about the opera and its history.

La Musica (Juliet Petrus) waits for her cue.

In this early stage of rehearsing, the creative team divides its time between music and blocking. With any form of theater, the way an actor delivers his or her lines is essential to building dramatic tension. Conductor Antony Walker coaches the singers not just on tuning or rhythm, but on expression. "In the end I want to conduct it as little as possible and have you drive it."

Directing is very much about taking a page with some music or words on it and creating a world out of it. No two directors will create this world in the same way. Alden's dynamic staging is a far cry from what could be staged as a rather stiff court drama. Instead, there is movement going on nearly every moment. Each line of music has a clear intention behind it and Alden ensures that the singers express it in the staging.

Director Christoher Alden shows Christian Reinert blocking.

Alden shows the actors exactly what he wants by walking their parts, saying what could be their inner monologue. "'Let's get out of here.' 'Yeah, you're right; let's go now.' They're getting more and more freaked out," he said, describing the emotions that the shepherds feel when encountering Pluto, Lord of the Underworld.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Independence Day at Glimmerglass

While the Glimmerglass staff is dedicated to producing high-quality operas, it's not "all work and no play"! Every year, the company enjoys throwing its own events as well as participating in community ones.
One of these events is the Springfield Center 4th of July Parade. Interns like Brooke Cartus and Kate Foster are excited to hand out candy and operate the float.
Set Designer John Conklin and Technical Director Abby Rodd (above left) designed this year's float. Often they use discarded set pieces from the showin their designs. For example, the larger-than-life waving Uncle Sam was originally a moving puppet of Pluto, the Greek god of the underworld. Originally Gluck chorus members used the puppet, plus two others, to act out the myth of Persephone's abduction. When the creative team decided for a simpler look, the puppet was re-painted, dressed, and cut off at the legs to be reincarnated as Uncle Sam.

Besides Uncle Sam, this year's float featured metal chairs, bird baskets holding flags, and a full-size phone booth with a real ringer (to "let freedom ring").

Monday, July 2, 2007

Putting it Together: The Tech Rehearsal

Glimmerglass productions get seven onstage tech rehearsals prior to dress rehearsals with piano and orchestra. Often, this means they hit the stage while still finalizing choreography and staging, and before all costumes and set elements are completed. This schedule gives the creative team a chance to see all of the elements together, which means if things need to change, there are still two weeks to fix them. This week it's Offenbach and Gluck on stage.

Gluck chorus member and Music Intern Dan Richards was surprised that adding technical elements made such a large difference in the way the show was performed. "Before we went to tech rehearsal, we ran the show at the rehearsal venue and it really felt like it was ready to be performed, but then we got into the space and we had to make the performance fit into that space," he said. "The artistic team tried some new ideas. Adding the set, lighting, and costume made everything come together, to feel more like a whole."

Both shows open the first weekend in July, so rehearsal time is crucial for everyone, both on-stage and off, to perfect their parts. The cast, stage and lighting crew, and creative team are in rehearsals six hours a day. Meanwhile, the other crews are still working away on props, costumes, and set pieces.

During tech rehearsals, many costumes are finished. However, there are some not quite finished and some that need to change. "It's all about being flexible--it's just adding and changing every time. Sometimes we have to make adjustments on stage, so the designers can see what it looks like," Shelby Newport, Assistant Wardrobe Supervisor, said.

One thing is for certain--everyone's busy preparing what looks to be an exciting season!