Saturday, August 06, 2016

Glimmerglass Festival, 2016, Day 1: A double dip of Rossini

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So, opera lover, still feel the need for a fix after Opera Theatre of St. Louis closes its four-opera season at the end of June? Consider a trip to The Glimmerglass Festival.

The Busch Opera Theater
Photo: Karli Cadel
Located on the shore of scenic Otsego Lake just fifteen minutes north of Cooperstown in upstate New York, the Glimmerglass Festival starts just as OTSL is finishing at the end of June, with a two-month season of four main stage shows (three operas and a musical) along with numerous concerts, master classes, discussions, and other events related to the four core shows. I made the trip to Glimmerglass along with three other members of the Music Critics Association of North America last month to catch three of the four main stage productions (we didn't get to see their La Bohème) and was impressed with what I saw.

Created around the same time as OTSL (their first season was in 1975), Glimmerglass began with a very similar mission: to present operas in English, featuring young, up-and-coming singers. Over the years their approach has changed slightly in that they now allot one of their four slots to a musical and have gone back to performing operas in their original languages (something OTSL might want to consider), but otherwise St. Louis audiences will find the Glimmerglass experience very familiar, right down to the picnic-style food and outdoor tables.

There are differences, of course. The Glimmerglass season is longer, it offers a wider variety of events, and their purpose-built opera house has better musical acoustics that the Loretto-Hilton Center, along with a bigger orchestra pit. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the auditorium is that right up to show time, the sides are open to the generally very comfortable mountain air, with massive screens to keep out unwelcome winged guests. As the lights dim, massive metal shutters close off the great outdoors and suddenly it's all about the great indoors.

Lost Luggage
Photo: Karli Cadel
Our three-day Glimmerglass weekend began on Friday, July 29th, with a pair of Rossini operas: his two-act opera semiseria La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie) [], written in 1817 and revised several times after that, and his rarely-seen one-act comedy L'occasione fa il ladro, ossia Il cambio della valigia (Opportunity Makes a Thief, or The Exchanged Suitcase). While neither is exactly top-drawer Rossini, they both got splendid productions.

Translated into English and re-titled Lost Luggage, the one-act is a typical bit of fluff about travelers stuck in a train station by a massive storm. There's a pair of romances, stolen identities, comic confusion, and, of course, a double wedding at the end. The music isn't Rossini's best stuff, but it's still unflaggingly tuneful and the updatings to the libretto are very funny.

L to R: Meg Gillentine as the Magpie,
Allegra De Vita as Pippo,
Michele Angelini as Giannetto
Photo: Karli Cadel
Lost Luggage got its one and only performance in The Pavilion, a large barn-like structure in which the audience members were seated at tables and/or folding chairs while the actors performed on a small raised stage. Acoustics, as you might imagine, were not optimal, but the very talented cast drawn from the company's Young Artist program nevertheless had no trouble making themselves understood. Alas, I didn't get a printed program and neither the official Glimmerglass program book nor the web site provides their names, so I'll just say that they all had wonderful voices and impressive acting chops.

The evening's main event, La gazza ladra, also got a thoroughly entertaining production from a cast that included six members of the Young Artist program along with the older performers.

Rachele Gilmore as Ninetta and
Michele Angelini as Giannetto
Photo: Karli Cadel
Based on a popular French sentimental play from 1815, the libretto is the story of a servant, Ninetta, who is falsely accused of stealing silverware actually pilfered by the pet magpie of the title. Circumstantial evidence-some of it wildly improbable-appears to condemn her while frankly incredible plot contrivances involving her father Fernando make it impossible for her to defend herself. The morally repugnant Mayor offers her freedom if she'll submit to his unpleasant advances but she refuses and is about to die on the gallows when her young friend Pippo finds the silverware in the magpie's nest and all ends happily.

Soprano Rachele Gilmore heads the uniformly strong cast as Ninetta, handling Rossini's bel canto fireworks with ease. Tenor Michele Angelini soars as her fiancé Gianetto. South African bass Musa Ngqungwana makes a powerful impression as the villainous Mayor. And dancer/choreographer/singer/actor Meg Gillentine is charming in the non-singing role of the magpie, one of the additions to this new version of the opera prepared expressly for Glimmerglass.

The clash between the opera's comic and dramatic scenes still feels a bit odd but under the direction of Peter Kazaras the fanciful production made a good case for it. Myung Hee Cho's arboreal sets and avian costumes added to the whimsy. For a more complete review, I refer you to my colleague Ken Keaton at Classical Voice North America.

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