Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Last weekend was my annual trip out to Cooperstown, NY for the Glimmerglass Opera Festival, my 20th consecutive year there.  They do four operas a summer an by the time all four have had their premieres, you can see all four in three days from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon.  This year for the very first time, Fritz came out with me.

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.

Cooperstown is about more than the Festival for me.  I go out to the Ommegang Brewery southeast of town to pick up a couple of cases of their Belgian-style beer that's given a secondary fermentation in the bottle, exactly like Champagne.  The first stage fermentation tanks are shown above.  This year I got three cases so as to get a fourth for free.  Among all their beers, my favorites are Hennepin, a wonderfully rich ale, and Rare VOS, "a spicy, fruity amber ale," brewed with orange peel and coriander in addition to other spices. 

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.

The house is built of New York limestone in a very austere version of the neo-classic style.  Among its innovations was the first indoor flush toilet in New York State and heated floors on the first floor.

Hyde Hall had been neglected for a while when the owner deeded it to the state which immediately went to work to stabilize it structurally, finally beginning a full-scale restoration.  Paintings of at least two of the grand rooms on the first floor that were done in the mid-19th century aided in the restoration as did the discovery up in the attic of the original wooden molds for ornamental plaster cornices and moldings.
The house has a lot of variety -- the ornamental squares in the top corners of the door frames are of different styles from room to room, for example. The dining room table is set with the house's original early 19th century French china and Waterford glassware.                                             

The view from a second floor bedroom.  Trees are being selectively removed to recreate the vista the original owner had of the northern end of the lake.

This handsome wood stove in the entrance hall is constructed like a German or Russian stove to be tended and cleaned from a corridor behind the wall so that guests did not have to be inconvenienced by seeing servants at work.

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 opera house is celebrating its 25th anniversary this season.  Architect Hugh Hardy attended the Saturday evening performance (Lost in the Stars) and received enthusiastic applause from the audience when asked to stand.

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.

These ornamental elephants made of grape vines were an art installation on the Glimmerglass grounds and did not appear in Verdi's Aida, which was updated to the Middle East at any time a conflict has occurred there between two nations, which means the period could have been any time in the last 60 years.  The concept worked well, the production bristled with tension, fear and loss instead of the accustomed lavish decoration, costuming and stately posing.  The main setting was a partially bombed building, a daring choice, but the audience was soon into it and applauded enthusiastically at the end.

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.     

I want to see this place some time.
I really like that stove. Hmm....
We talked about visiting Glimmerglass once about 10 yrs ago. They were doing Dialogues of the Carmelites but we ended up going to the Met instead. I am jealous of you re: Lost in the Stars. I am a big Weill fan; at least his theater music; and I do not know that piece at all.
Maybe next year. I have never seen a good production of Camelot.
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