Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Fritz is not an opera fan, a great theater fan but not opera. Last year, however, the festival began a new policy of performing three operas and one classic American musical that would be performed in the original orchestrations and keys, and with no amplification whatsoever. These musicals all require legitimate rather than pop-rock voices anyway, so an opera company that treats opera like theater is thoroughly appropriate. This summer, in addition to The Music Man, they were doing Kurt Weill's Lost in the Stars, a play with music, so Fritz came for the two non-operas and I saw all four.
Before the Sunday matinee we visited Hyde Hall, an English-style manor house begun in 1817 that overlooks Otsego Lake (its famed tin-domed gate house, above). The Clark family that built it was distinguished by public service to the state of New York and included many colorful characters including one mistress of the house who was notorious for her flirtatious behavior with other men while being the mistress of the homeowner. A major party animal, she was known in winter for running her sleigh and full team of horses down the nine miles of the lake at any hint of a social function in Cooperstown. Coming into the 20th century, the Clarks lost one family head on the Titanic and welcomed home his traumatized family when the survivors finally landed in New York City.
I had first visited Hyde Hall ten years ago when some rooms still had debris in them and conditions for the visitor were raw to say the least. The progress has been amazing. I won't let be another ten years go by before I visit again
The performances were, in order:
Jean-Baptiste Lully's Armide, a seventeenth century opera-ballet in a sumptuous, gorgeously painted production that had come from Marie-Antoinette's opera house in Versailles. The singing and dancing were on a very high level; one outstanding singer-dancer, Curtis Sullivan, brought an electric erotic presence to the stage in his character, Hatred, dancing essentially naked and singing like a star.
Lost in the Stars, magnificently directed by Tazewell Thompson in a production shared with the Cape Town Opera, South Africa was a virtually perfect production in every way. The stand-out performance was exactly the one it needed to be -- the great Eric Owens as Stephen Kumalo, a clergyman who suffers the loss by hanging of his son in a country sharply divided by apartheid laws and the resulting strict social stratification by race.
The weekend ended with The Music Man. I saw its original production in New York with Robert Preston and Barbara Cook. Cooperstown native Dwayne Croft had starred in the musical while in high school; he is now an established international opera star with a career centered at the Metropolitan. His suave baritone was in great shape, as expected, but who knew he had the chops of a suave song and dance man? With a strong supporting cast and a production that looked to Grant Wood for its vision of life in 1940s (updated from 1912) America, it was a joyous end to our weekend.
Maybe next year. I have never seen a good production of Camelot.