Tuesday, August 13, 2013


David Pittsinger, Andriana Chuchman, Wynn Harmon, Clay Hilley, Wayne Hu, Nathan Gunn as Sir Lancelot and Noel Bouley. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
Reviewed by James Karas

 ****   (out of five)

Camelot is one of the great products of the American theatre and the choice for this year’s Broadway musical at the Glimmerglass Festival. The choice is unassailable and the production worth the trip to upstate New York.

The musical had an almost disastrous opening in Toronto at the then new O’Keefe Centre in 1960 but it managed to find its way and become a major hit. With book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner (based on the novel The Once and Future King by T. W. White) and music by Frederick Loewe, Camelot has a marvelous plot containing pomp, circumstance, love, pageantry and an interest in power and justice. It is all based on the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table but what really matters, of course, is that the beautiful Guenevere falls in love with the French knight Lancelot.  It ends tragically for all and the only thing that remains is the legend.

Camelot needs a superb King Arthur who for many of us must compete with the voice of Richard Burton, the original creator of the role. The answer for this production is bass-baritone David Pittsinger who wins the insidious comparison by making the role his own. He has a sonorous voice and when he sings “I wonder what the king is doing tonight” and explains the joys of his kingdom to Guinevere in “Camelot,” he is simply splendid. Pittsinger gives us a humane, sympathetic and marvelous King Arthur.

Canadian Andriana Cuchman makes a beautiful Guenevere. She is sassy and funny when necessary, moving and passionate when in love and a pleasure to see and hear. She goes from “The Lusty Month of May” to “I loved you once in silence” with perfect intonation.

Baritone Nathan Gunn has a marvelous voice and his Lancelot is duly heroic but I have a couple of complaints. Lancelot enters with a big paean to knightly virtue and (unintentionally) human arrogance with “C’est moi”. He needs to overwhelm the audience and here Gunn’s voice falls a bit short in size if not in quality. Glimmerglass, to its great credit, does not use microphones, but in this instance, I wish they had.

The second observation is that Director Robert Longbottom (or was it just a perverse reaction from the audience) found humor in “C’est moi” as Lancelot listed his achievements, including physical perfection. Humour takes away from the beautiful song. Other than that, Gunn made a Lancelot worthy of his self-description.

Wynn Harmon doubled as Merlin and Pellinore, two juicy roles for a character actor and he did well in both.

Jack Noseworthy is a thoroughly villainous Mordred who enjoys being nasty. When he sings about “The Seven Deadly Virtues” he does so with delicious conviction.

The sets by Kevin Depinet were suitable without being grandiose. We see the Castle of Camelot in the background during the outdoor scenes and the interior living quarters are modest. The costumes by Paul Tazewell, from the attire of the heroic knights to the beautiful gowns of the ladies at court, are splendid. 

The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra and Chorus under James Lowe performed heroically as becomes the tenor of the musical and all one can do is repeat that this is an outstanding production of a great musical.

Camelot by Alan Jay Lerner (Book and Lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (Music) opened on July13 and will be performed fourteen times until August 23, 2013 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or www.glimmerglass.org

Monday, August 12, 2013


                                      The chorus in The Flying Dutchman. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.
Reviewed by James Karas

Francesca Zambello, the Artistic and General Director of the Glimmerglass Festival, delivers a thoughtful, thought-provoking and simply brilliant production of The Flying Dutchman for 2013 season of this American showcase near Cooperstown, New York.

The Glimmerglass Festival takes note of the 200th anniversary of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner by producing early works by both of them. Wagner gets the birthday cake for his 1843 opera whereas Verdi is honoured with King for a Day, equally unknown as Un Giorno di Regno.   

The Flying Dutchman, like most operas, can be and has been subjected to all kinds of treatments by different directors. The question was: what will Zambello and the Glimmerglass people bring to this work. The answer came quickly, during the overture before the curtain went up. They have a great deal to offer and they in fact deliver an outstanding production.

The first indicators come during the performance of the overture by The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra. Conductor John Keenan establishes control of the music and the orchestra and delivers a performance of sustained power and clarity. This feat is even more impressive because it is a relatively small orchestra.

When the curtain goes up, we hear the music of the violent storm but also see a woman tossing in bed. We realize that the storm and the rest of the plot are a dream sequence of Senta’s (Melody Moore). Senta is fascinated by the story of the doomed Dutchman who is condemned to sail the seas until he finds the love of a faithful woman. She wants to be that woman and she dreams of his arrival.

There is some precedent for this interpretation of the plot. In the 1978 production at Bayreuth directed by Harry Kupfer, The Flying Dutchman was presented as a figment of Senta’s imagination.

Zambello with Set Designer James Noone and Costume designer Eric Teague chooses a straightforward and very effective way of telling the story. The ship is indicated by some scaffolding and ropes that are used by the sailors. The same ropes act as the walls of Daland’s house.

The singing is first-rate starting with bass-baritone Ryan McKinny in the title role. The Dutchman is a deeply troubled man, a myth one should say, who is seeking something that can only be granted in a dream or an imaginary world. McKinny has the vocal power and coloration to make a convincing Dutchman and gives a sterling performance.

Melody Moore as Senta makes a perfect match for the Dutchman of her dreams. She is fascinated by his story while awake and we see her clutching his portrait and talking about her dreams of him. Moore has a dramatic voice that she uses to great effect.

Bass Peter Volpe is an excellent Daland. His Daland is a greedy busybody who is prepared to sell his daughter. We can credit the character with having some affection for his daughter and recognize Volpe’s singing and acting for the fine job that he does with this less than admirable personality.

Jay Hunter Morris sings the role of the hapless Erik who is a decent man and a very good tenor but still does not get the girl. A fine job by Morris.  

At the start of this production, we see silhouettes of women on the ropes of a ship in the background. We also see, as I said, Senta tossing in her bed. Near the end, Senta, strangles herself in the same bed with the ship’s ropes rather than throwing herself into the sea as called for in the libretto. 

We then see the same silhouette of her as in the opening scene together with the Dutchman rising above the waves. The Dutchman and Senta have found love through transfiguration.

An astounding production.

The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner opened on July 6 and will be performed twelve times until August 24, 2013 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or www.glimmerglass.org

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Soprano Nadine Sierra and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo in Stabat Mater. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Reviewed by James Karas

PASSIONS is the title of a double bill presented at the Glimmerglass Festival. It is in fact a triple bill consisting of Stabat Mater by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi and two pieces by David Lang, The Little Match Girl Passion and When We Were Children. The Lang and Pergolesi pieces have some things in common but in the end they are completely different.

The Stabat Mater is, of course, a musical setting of the suffering of the Virgin Mary. The idea and the image of Mary standing by the cross of her crucified Son has enthralled hundreds of composers who have tried to give musical expression to her agony.

Director and Choreographer Jessica Lang has created a stage work from Pergolesi’s beautiful music. The vocal parts are taken by countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and soprano Nadine Sierra. They are simply outstanding as they sing of the pain of the Virgin. The Latin of the hymn is very simple and the expression of pain and grief straightforward but Pergolesi raises the simple verses into something ethereal and extraordinary.

Lang has choreographed a moving ballet around the music and singing enhancing the vocal expression of Mary’s anguish. The eight dancers roll on the floor, undulate their torsos and provide an extravaganza of motion that is simply marvelous.

Set designer Marjorie Bradley Kellog has largely taken Christianity out of the most of Christian of settings. The action takes place in an inverted V on the stage and the most prominent feature of the set is a denuded tree trunk in a vertical position. Another trunk is lowered in horizontal position and there is an indication of a cross but the production eschews obvious references to Christianity. The two trunks take various positions as they are maneuvered but they never take the true form of a Christian cross or indicate the crucifixion directly.

Speranza Scapucci conducts The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra in a crisp and precise performance of the Baroque music. The production is a marvel of concision and imagination where a piece of sacred music is turned into a universal paean to suffering.

From Pergolesi we move to David Lang’s new composition, When We Were Children. The Glimmerglass Festival Children’s Chorus lines up across the stage and sings a choral piece based on 1 Corinthians 13:11. In the King James Version it reads:  When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. Lang uses many variations of St. Paul’s words for his piece.

The Little Match Girl Passion is more ambitious. The story is based on Hans Christian Anderson’s   The Little Match Girl and it is dramatic enough. A little girl is selling matches on the streets of New York on New Year’s Eve. No one is buying her matches and she starts lighting them one by one. They provide little warmth and she dies of cold and is transfigured.

There is a vocal ensemble of four (Julia Mintzer, James Michael Porter, Lisa Williamson and Christian Zaremba), all members of the of Glimmerglass’s Young Artists Program. Aside from some percussion accompaniment, the singing was done a capella. This is no doubt a matter of taste, but Lang’s music did nothing for me. It was repetitive, monotonous and unmoving. I hasten to add that Lang won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for The Little Match Girl Passion. As happens so often, there is no accounting for taste and I mean mine.

Passions  a double bill consisting of Stabat Mater by Giovanni Pergolesi and The Little Match Girl Passion and When We Were Children by David Lang opened on July 20 and will be performed eight times until August 20, 2013 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or www.glimmerglass.org