Glimmerglass Review: If You Build It, They Will Sing

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Situated on 26 acres of farmland on the bank of Otsego Lake a few miles north of Cooperstown, NY is the Alice Busch Opera Theater. It’s not where you might expect to find one of America’s largest summer opera festivals, but driving so far out of the way to find the Glimmerglass Festival is one of the biggest reasons why it makes for such a wonderful weekend trip.

Founded in 1975, the Glimmerglass Festival has become one of the longest summer seasons on the East Coast. Since the construction of the Alice Busch Opera Theater in 1987, the creation of the Young Artists Program a year later, and this year’s introduction of Deborah Voigt as the inaugural Artist in Residence, the festival has built a quality reputation and remains an artistic counterweight in a region better known for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

This season Glimmerglass performs in repertory with Bizet’s Carmen, Cherubini’s Medea; Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun and a double-bill of John Musto’s Later The Same Evening, and Jeanine Tesori’s A Blizzard On Marblehead Neck. The latter, a half-hour opera about the playwright Eugene O’Neill, marks the Festival’s fourth world premiere.

Mixing classics of the operatic canon with newer and unknown productions, and crossing over to cabaret and musical theater has added to Glimmerglass's appeal. Beside’s Voigt’s title role in Annie Get Your Gun, she is also helping coach the Young Artist Program and premiering Voigt Lessons, a solo show written for her by Terrance McNally and Francesco Zambello, the company’s new Artistic and General Director. All of this from a company far removed from the economic safety of any nearby metropolis.

On a recent weekend I made the four-hour trip north to see Anne Bogart’s new production of Carmen. At first glance, the set and staging suggested that no one would be falling in love, but what Glimmerglass lacks in elaborate sets and platinum star power (Voigt aside), they make up in a production with eager, young voices that are fresh and compelling.

Although Ginger Costa-Jackson (pictured), as Carmen, gave the strongest acting performance, it wasn’t until the third act that her voice really started to seduce. Easily forgivable, it being the mezzo-soprano’s first lead role at Glimmerglass. The bass-baritone Aleksey Borgdanov covering last minute for the indisposed Keith Miller in the role of Escamillo made it clear why Carmen could never love Don Jose; he was fantastic. Accompanied by all local children in the chorus and a tightly choreographed ensemble, this Carmen, staged in the open-air theater was testament that periodically leaving the city is a neceessity.

If you’re looking to pair a good performance with a good trip, there are few options better than the drive to Cooperstown. Not only is it set in the Baseball Hall of Fame, the drive along state highway 80 is full of tourist distractions should you need them – after all, you have all summer.

The Glimmerglass Festival continues through Tuesday, August 23.