Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The weekend at Cooperstown was an extra kick this year because of the opportunity to spend time with friends in addition to all my usual activities.

Friday afternoon, I made what turned out to be a very minor detour from my normal route to meet fellow blogger Sean Breen for lunch at his place. It became obvious very quickly that we had a lot in common as fellow artists whose houses are set up to entertain large numbers of friends, who eat simply but very well, who are both highly active and continually curious about life, and are blessed with patient, loving husbands who appreciate the high energy unpredictability of their mates. I said good-bye happy to know that on Sunday morning a brunch had been planned about 25 miles east of where I stay in the Cooperstown area at which I would get to spend more time with Sean, meet his husband Jeffrey and their housemate Josh, and have a welcome reunion with blogger friend Thom and boyfriend Richard.


It has become evident that the departed directorship in place at the Glimmerglass Opera for the last five years wasn't brilliant on several points, among them dealing with the economic downturn. Also, one or two seasons had featured less than compelling repertory and some lower ticket sales. One result
this summer was that the scenic designers were told that they had to pull everything required to realize their design concepts out of standing stock from old productions, adapting or repainting as required. Sometimes adversity stimulates creativity -- for the most part this summer, the productions were smart, atmospheric and set the performers off very well. Next year the new administration of American director Francesca Zambello will have taken complete control, but some of the changes and new events that she envisions were in place this year and promise a much fuller and richer experience at what she is renaming the Glimmerglass Opera Festival.

There were four operas this year: Mozart's Marriage of Figaro (A well-cast production filled with a lot of personal character detail and strongly conducted by incoming Music Director David Angus); Puccini's Tosca, the old favorite updated to the World War I era with three first-rate soloists including a terrific performance of the villainous Baron Scarpia by Lester Lynch; Handel's Tolomeo in its very first stage performance in North America, the setting surrealistic, witty and imaginative -- which some found threatening for some reason but which I loved; and The Tender Land by beloved American composer Aaron Copland.

Copland is known for having developed a lyrical, distinctly "American sound" in such works as the ballets Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, Billy the Kid, and in movie scores like Our Town, The Red Pony and two or three others. But Copland's magic was very scarce in the 40 minute first act that consists largely of dialog with very few "aria opportunities" to let his gift for long lovely melodies show forth. Combined with the rather simplistic text written by Copland's boyfriend at the time, act one seemed a LONG 40 minutes. Some amusement was to be had during the intermission when two wags entertained their friends by chanting a parody of the sung dialog:

Well, I'm going to the men's room now.

OK, we'll see you later.

Yes, later, later.

Somehow Copland never found the secret of writing expressive, compelling music for dialog, as opposed to Puccini, Mozart and, especially, Leos Janacek whose dialog crackles with interest and energy. Acts two and three fared much better because the libretto gave the Copland more set piece opportunities: arias, duets an ensemble scenes a number of which were quite lovely. But one can see why this opera is rarely encountered. As the composer wrote the piece to be performable by young singers, the entire cast came from Glimmerglass's Young American Artist program and they performed with distinction. The YAA always take supporting roles at Glimmerglass but here they were the whole show, and they will be again next summer at a specially priced "family matinee" of Bizet's Carmen.

When not at the opera I hit the antique barns that are very special in the Cooperstown area. In the cavernous basement of one I found almost all the pieces I need for an outdoor art project I've had in mind for a while (more on that as it develops), while upstairs I found a piece Fritz and I have wanted to accent our gardens -- something sculptural.

With a warm patina of rust, this finial spire and weather vane pennant at 5'-6" tall was just what we've been looking for. Fritz was delighted when I unloaded it at home Monday morning.

The brunch was planned at the American Hotel in Sharon Springs, NY. When I first saw the hotel in the mid-90s during my first years traveling to Cooperstown, it was an abandoned, decaying remnant of a grand hotel in a sleepy village that had been a major resort in an area of mineral springs and handsome mineral water bath houses, all gone to seed. A revival began a decade or so ago when Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe who had settled in great numbers in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, discovered that mineral baths of they type they had left behind existed in the U.S. not too far away.

Suddenly, the area began to revive. Sharon Springs and neighboring Cherry Valley began to enjoy boom times. Good friends of Sean and Jeffery's, Doug and Garth, bought the American and restored it. The baths were renovated.

Charming old, neglected buildings became art galleries, bed and breakfasts, and caf├ęs. Doug and Garth are good friends, in turn, of the stars of the Green Planet reality show The Fabulous Beekman Boys which is shot entirely in and around Sharon Springs, often with Doug and Garth on camera.

There were six of us at brunch, it was great to see Thom again, Doug held forth at every opportunity, hilarity ensued.

Our new garden centerpiece in place where it will eventually stand after I arrange a secure base for it and get it coated with a weatherproof sealer.


Well, this morning I was spinning through my friend links on Facebook and got to the aforementioned Mr. Breen's page.

Sean had begun his day by posting this magnificent statement that I immediately commented should be read on the floors of both houses of the Congress, and in the legislatures of all 50 states. Posted here with his permission:

Dear Citizens who feel they should discriminate against and harass me and impose your beliefs and opinions on me and mine and demote me to a legal second class citizen:

I may not like you. Hell, I may hate you and want to punch you in the face some times. I may disagree with you vehemently, seriously oppose your religious views, your philosophies and your opinions about people, places and things. I may hate where you shop, how you dress, how you raise your children, what you drive and every tacky thing about your family picnics, weddings, lifestyles, homes and hobbies. I may never want to be your neighbor, work for or with you, share a room or a shower with you or even engage in small talk on public transit. But I would never deign to try to legally ban you from or remove your civil and legal rights and protections and equality solely because you're not my cup of tea. Ever. And I don't feel this way because a god or government or society told me to. I feel this way because I think it is the moral, ethical, proper, just and fair way to live and thrive in a society with my fellow people - as equals.

You have the most awesome taste in friends, Will :-) Thank you again for making this weekend extraordinary! Come back soon.
Mr Breen as always seemed to me to be a quality gent & worth getting to know.

I am a fan of Copeland & have posted about him.

After almost 2 years of following DesignerBlog, I still remain a fan & look forward to my visits. I long to spend another evening with you & Fritz... maybe some hot tub time & an overnite?
Stephen, do you and Richard ever cone east? We'd love to have you here!
How fortunate you got to meet Sean. I hope to have that honor some day.
We share your joy this side of the pond about the overturn of Prop 8 - delighted that it was the first item on the BBC World Service news this morning. At last.
Sounds like you had a wonderful time. I had not thought of Cherry Valley, New York in decades. The second butterfly in my early childhood collection was captured there by my dad. It was a Great Spangled Fritillary, and he got grass stains on his Bermuda shorts when he slid down an embankment during the pursuit. Thanks for sparking that memory.
It sounds like a perfectly lovely weekend with wonderful company.

And...I'm terribly jealous of your garden art find. That is one spectacular piece!
Hmm- I'm loving the concept of Glyndebourne without the social pretentions
Love GS
Recently met up with someone from Raymond (a friend of a friend). He was mentioning a really cool pub there - former church or something. Have you been?
Yes, Rick, it's called The Holy Grail and it's in Epping which is about five miles east of us. The atmosphere is really great, the beer selection first rate, but we weren't all that impressed with the food. It's OK but pub food is something we both love and the shepherd's pie was small and ordinary, for example.

I think it's best to go for an evening with friends, hang at the bar and order munchies every now and then. We won't be going back for dinner.
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