Wednesday, August 13, 2014


The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of Strauss' "Ariadne in Naxos." 
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.
Reviewed by James Karas

If you see two goats, a rooster and bales of hay in front of a barn door on stage, you may well conclude that you are in Kansas. The map of New York State superimposed on the barn door will dissipate that illusion and you will recall that you are on the shores of Otsego Lake. So be it but what are those farm animals doing in Ariadne Auf Naxos?

In fact you are watching Francesca Zambello’s re-imagination of the Strauss/Hofmannsthal opera for the Glimmerglass Festival. The production is successful on most fronts. It is done mostly in English and the comic parts of the opera, especially the spoken sections, gain a great deal by being immediately understood by nn-German speakers. The sections involving Ariadne’s life on Naxos are sung in German and they are very effective.

Ariadne auf Naxos is set in the house of the richest man in Vienna where an opera and a comedy are to be put on to entertain guests after dinner. Scheduling problems force the host to order both to be performed simultaneously.

Zambello moves the opera from Vienna to a mansion in upstate New York and it works. We do not get a sense of the mansion because the “performances” seem to take place on a make-shift stage in the barn. Unless, the rich host keeps hay in his private theatre, that is, but the setting is effective.

The main characters appear as “themselves” and as people in the comedy or the opera that are performed in the second act. American Soprano Christine Goerke is the Prima Donna, a sort of caricature of the haughty singer, in the first act and Ariadne, the grieving princess abandoned on Naxos by Theseus, in the second act.

She has a big voice, a magisterial presence and some impressive low notes that make her a convincing Ariadne. She is interrupted by the comedians who are trying to comfort her but in the end her plush voice dominates the performance.
 Rachele Gilmore as Zerbinetta (center) and the ensemble in Strauss' "Ariadne in Naxos." 
Photo: Jessica Kray/The Glimmerglass Festival

Her comic opposite is Zerbinetta, the star of the comedy that is to be put on. She is smart, resourceful, agile, funny and a delight to watch and hear. All of which applies to soprano Rachele Gilmore. She has a purer voice than Goerke’s and the contrast between the two performers was a delight to behold.

The opera company has a tenor who plays the part of Bacchus in the “opera.” Corey Bix was not the best choice for the role. He has a small voice and his impressive physical presence could not make up for it. There were times when he was almost drowned by the orchestra and he suffered by being outsung by Goerke in their duets.

Mezzo-soprano Catherine Martin sang the pants role of the passionate and temperamental Composer. She displayed high dudgeon and tenderness as she got some instruction in reality. Martin does a very good job in the role.

Glimmerglass has an outstanding Young Artists Program and makes extensive use of the budding talents that it tries to shape. The comedians, the dryads and the other minor roles are almost all assigned to the young artists. The young artists and Glimmerglass deserve a huge bow for this.

The Glimmerglass Festival Opera was conducted by Kathleen Kelly and sounded simply marvelous. Yes, a woman conducted the orchestra and when, oh when, will we be able not to notice or comment on the gender of the conductor. Right now, women conductors are a rarity by any standard.

Zambello has found a refreshing and outstanding approach to Ariadne. We get the full benefit of the comic parts which can be drowned in a production that uses the original German. The tragic part is done superbly in its original language. Combined with the lush playing of the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra, this ends up being an exceptional and memorable Ariadne auf Naxos.

Ariadne auf Naxos  by Richard Strauss (music) and Hugo von Hofmannsthal (libretto) opened on July 19 and will be performed in repertory eight times until August 23, 2014 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San and Dinyar Vania as Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton. 
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.
Reviewed by James Karas


That is my review of Francesca Zambello’s production of Madame Butterfly for the Glimmerglass Festival. I will use a few more words to describe the production for understandable reasons.

The production has an outstanding cast starting with soprano Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio San. The 15-year Japanese girl who marries Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton (tenor Dinyar Vania) can be seen as fragile, weak and the victim of her family and the American officer. Not in this production. Lee portrays Cio-Cio San as a strong woman who is genuinely in love. She has a beautiful and strong voice that carries magnificently and this Madame Butterfly dies in the end because she is strong. A brilliant and memorable performance that garnered a well-deserved standing ovation.

Vania’s Pinkerton was excellent if more the text-book variety. With his fine singing and handsome bearing, Vania gave us a well-done, haughty Pinkerton who repents his errors in the end. You can’t ask for much more and I mean of Vania, not of Pinkerton’s morality.

The role of Sharpless, the American Consul, usually does not get much attention. In this production Ukrainian baritone Aleksey Bogdanov made Sharpless into an exceptionally humane person. With his fine voice and outstanding acting, Bogdanov gave us a decent and sympathetic Consul that stood out from the rest of the people.

American mezzo-soprano Kristen Choi was a superb Suzuki and the rest of the relatively minor characters made a strong cast in this WOW production. 

The highest praise belongs to Zambello, the Artistic and General Director of the Glimmerglass Festival. The conception and execution of the production belong to her. The music is delivered gorgeously by the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra conducted by Joseph Colaneri.

Madame Butterfly is set in a Japanese house on a hill overlooking the harbour and the city of Nagasaki. Zambello and Set Designer Michael Yeargan have moved most of the action to the American Consulate in Nagasaki. There are a couple of scenes in the house on the hill but the consular offices decorated with a few desks and other such furniture are the focal point.  

There are some odd things but the conception works marvellously giving the production an American slant and feel. In the opening scene Goro the marriage broker (Ian McEuen) is showing off the house on the hill. We are in the consulate in this production and Zambello solves the problem by having Goro show a model of the house. When Sharpless complains about the hard climb, we just ignore it.

When the Bonze (Thomas Richards) appears to renounce and denounce Cio-Cio San appears the lighting changes, the furniture fades away and we are transported to the top of the hill. A few simple, translucent panels are sufficient to indicate Pinkerton’s and Cio-Cio-San’s brief love nest.

The overall effect is startling, electric, astounding. Madame Butterfly, a strong woman, in the busy American consular offices gives a very different feel from her as a poor girl on the top of a hill. She sings her moving aria “Un bel di vedremo” in the consulate rather than on the hill and it is full of passion, faith and longing.

In the final scene, she stabs herself and a blood-red curtain is lowered on the stage. Pinkerton rushes on stage, tears down the curtain and embraces Butterfly. Their little boy (the very cute Louis McKinny) rushes in and jumps on his father’s back. There is not a dry eye in the house.


Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini John opened on July 11 and will be performed a total of thirteen times until August 23, 2014 as part of the Glimmerglass Festival at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or

Monday, August 11, 2014


Ryan McKinny as Billy Bigelow and the ensemble in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Carousel." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.
Reviewed by James Karas

The Glimmerglass Festival, under its Artistic and General Director Francesca Zambello, is continuing with its established programming of one chestnut (Madame Butterfly), one less well-known work (Ariadne auf Naxos), one modern opera (An American Tragedy) and a Broadway musical (Carousel). Running from July 11 to August 24, 2014 in a picture-perfect setting on Lake Otsego near Cooperstown, New York, the Festival is the ideal companion piece for baseball enthusiasts. (No, companion piece does not mean antidote!)      

This year’s Broadway offering is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel in a production directed by Charles Newell. It is an intelligent work that, in addition to its great melodies, comedy and drama, touches on the question of good and evil and travels to the afterlife and back.

Billy Bigelow (Ryan McKinny) is a carousel barker with many unpleasant traits including ill temper, violence, and attempted robbery to his discredit. Julie Jordan (Andrea Carroll) sees his good side and marries him despite being struck by him. The robbery is botched and Billy stabs himself. He is not permitted to enter heaven because he has not done enough good and he returns here 15 years later to see his daughter and the rest of his circle.

Sharin Apostolou as Carrie, Andrea Carroll as Julie and Ryan McKinny as Billy Bigelow in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Carousel." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Bass-baritone McKinny gives a fine accounting of the role of Billy. We don’t like Billy but, like Julie, we want to like him. McKinny soars when he sings and we find sympathy for his character and his desire to help his daughter.

Carroll’s Julie is the soul of forbearance, forgiveness and love in a fine performance. She is matched by soprano Sharin Apostolou as Carrie, the woman who marries Enoch (tenor Joe Shadday) for practical reasons. She ends up with wealth, status and many children.

Mezzo-soprano Deborah Nansteel gives a superb performance as Nettie Fowler as does Rebecca Finnegan as Mrs. Mullin. Shadday fell a bit short of the vocal requirements for Enoch but overall the singing and acting were very good.

Carolina M. Villaraos as Louise and Tyler Whitaker as Enoch Snow Jr. danced the beautiful ballet sequence in the second act. Kudos to choreographer Daniel Pelzig.

John Culbert’s sets are Spartan but effective. There is the suggestion of a fishing village with very little ornamentation and the scene in heaven is done with changes in lighting and little else. You can provide elaborate sets but you don’t need them for a fine production. Mark McCullough deserves special kudos for his imaginative and highly effective use of lighting.  

Doug Peck conducts The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra in a fine rendition of Rodgers’s score.

Charles Newell directs with economy of ornamentation but with musical and emotional effectiveness.         _____

Carousel by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics) opened on July 12 and will be performed twelve times in repertory until August 22, 2014 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or