Monday, August 10, 2015


James Karas

Antonio Vivaldi composed Cato in Utica in 1737 and it had its America premiere this summer at the Glimmerglass Festival. The problem is not with the quality of the opera rather than with the fact that the music for Act I is missing. There is a way of getting around it by adding some music from other Vivaldi compositions and some explanatory notes. The effort is worth it.

Cato in Utica is the loosely based story of the Roman senator who tried to stand up to the dictatorial Julius Caesar on republican principles. Cato went to Utica, Numidia in North Africa with his daughter Marzia and Emilia, the widow of Pompey whom Caesar murdered.   
John Holiday as Caesar and Megan Samarin as Marzia in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2015 production of Vivaldi's "Cato in Utica." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

As creaky plots go, this one can use an extra dose of lubricant. You can draw a diagram of who loves or does not love whom. Cato wants his daughter to marry Arbace, the Prince of Numidia. Arbace wants to marry Marzia but she loves her father’s enemy Caesar. Caesar’s lieutenant Fulvio is in love with Emilia who wants to kill Caesar. 

The opera consists of a string of solo arias connected by recitatives. There is no chorus, no ensemble singing not even a duet. The enemies and lovers walk on and off the stage without much sense of why they are there. They sing, walk off and return for their next big aria.

There are some beautiful arias and the production has a marvelous roster of singers with an unfortunate exception. I was most impressed with the performance of mezzo-soprano Sarah Mesko as the aggrieved and vengeful widow of Pompey. She wants to get Caesar. She has a velvety voice that combines flexibility, beauty and strength. She has a good stage presence and seems to be at the early stages of her career. We want to hear her again.

Countertenor John Holiday Jr. sang an outstanding Caesar after the initial surprise at his appearance. He is a muscle-bound African-American and on first sight I expected him to have a deep voice like, say, Eric Owens, whom I heard the night before. A high-pitched countertenor voice seemed incongruous but you get over the incongruity after listening to a few bars. He has a number of long arias where he expresses his love for Marzia and his disagreements with Cato. He was outstanding.

Mezzo-soprano Megan Samarin played what we would call the conflicted Marzia who is damned by her father for loving his enemy. Samarin showed great vocal and physical agility. She is one Glimmerglass’s Young Artists with a lovely voice that holds much promise.

Thomas Michael Allen as Cato, Eric Jurenas as Arbace and Megan Samarin as Marzia in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2015 production of Vivaldi's "Cato in Utica." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Mezzo-soprano Allegra De Vita as Fulvio and countertenor Eric Jurenas as Arbace are Young Artists as well that performed well. Both are getting early exposure that stands them and the Festival in good stead.

Tenor Thomas Michael Allen was a disappointing Cato. Baroque opera does not appear to be his forte and he seemed uncomfortable in the role and the arias assigned him came out unsatisfactorily.

The set by John Conklin consisted of what looked like a Roman ruin with an archway opening to the back. The opening provided a space for variations in lighting and vignettes of open sky and monuments.

The opera can be almost completely static with the singers stepping up to the lights, as they used to say, and singing their arias between recitatives. Director Tazewell Thompson reduces the static effect by making the singers move around the stage and interact with each other. It works.

The fine performance of the Glimmerglass Orchestra conducted by Ryan Brown was an essential ingredient in bringing to a full run an opera with a missing limb.

Cato in Utica by Antonio Vivaldi opened on July18 and will be performed  nine times until August 22, 2015 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or

Saturday, August 8, 2015


Reviewed by James Karas

The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of The Magic Flute uses a bold if not always successful adaptation of Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto by Kelley Rourke and is directed by Madeline Sayet.     

Tamino, the prince in the original opera, is a harried office worker in a large city who escapes from the hustle and bustle of the urban jungle and goes to live in the forest. He wears a modern suit and most of the other characters are dressed in modern attire.

Sean Panikkar as Tamino and So Young Park as Queen of the Night. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
Tamino runs into some unusually large and annoying insects and faints. The frightful monster of the original libretto is dispensed with. He is rescued by Three Ladies who serve the Queen of the Night. The bird catcher Papageno comes out but looks more like an employee of the Forestry Department than a wild man who is also funny.

The same changes are made throughout the production and the result is not always happy. Rourke brings in modern references and the production tries to make The Magic Flute more approachable and modern at the cost of the magic which is the whole point of the opera. There may be some who prefer modernity, of course.

The production is sung in English and that has the advantage of being understandable and the drawback of the lyrics not always fitting the music. Mozart composed music for specific words and if you cannot find an English word with the same number of syllables and accent the result is awkward. The singer is forced to rush over the extra syllable of the English word and the listener cringes. The best solution is the compromise: spoken words in English, arias in German.

Tenor Sean Panikkar made a good Tamino. He sang well but without as much passion as one would expect. Are office workers less effusive than mythical princes?

Sean Panikkar as Tamino, Soloman Howard as Sarastro and Jacqueline Echols as Pamina. 
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Baritone Ben Edquist as Papageno has a fine voice and natural comic talent which seemed not to be put to best use. Papageno has many opportunities for comic business and double-takes and for some reason Sayet made little use of them.

Soprano So Young Park gives a dramatic and vocally accomplished performance as The Queen of the Night. The production hampers her into singing like an irate mother rather than an exemplar of regal wrath on a grand scale.

Monostatos is an interesting character who can be played as ridiculous or pretty nasty as a potential molester. In this production he registers as a minor nuisance and tenor Nicholas Nestorak was not given much chance to show what he can do with a character like that.

Bass Soloman Howard sang an exceptional Sarastro. He has a commanding voice with stupendous low notes to give us an impressive High Priest of Isis and Osiris. Rourke calls him a guide, if memory serves me correctly, which is a significant demotion.

The Glimmerglass Festival Chorus was placed on the balcony on each side of the stage. They sang magnificently and their position just above us gave the feeling that their voices embraced us. Marvelous.

The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra was conducted by Carolyn Kuan and there can be no complaints about their performance.     

The conductor, the director and the libretto adapter of this Magic Flute are all women. There will come a time, we hope soon, when the gender of these people in an opera production will be unnoticeable and unimportant. No doubt there are operas that are directed, conducted and the libretto adapted by women but I am not aware of any. I need hardly add that the Artistic and General Director of the Festival is Francesca Zambello.

Let’s hear it for the Glimmerglass Festival!

The Magic Flute  by W. A. Mozart (music) and Emanuel Schikaneder (libretto adapted by Kelley Rourke) opened on July10 and will be performed  twelve times until August 23, 2015 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Reviewed by James Karas

The Glimmerglass Festival, on the shores of Lake Otsego, near Cooperstown, New York, is delivering four major opera productions for its fortieth season. They are Verdi’s Macbeth, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Vivaldi’s Cato in Utica and Leonard Bernstein’s Candide.
 The Women in "Macbeth." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Director Anne Bogart shows what a fertile imagination and intelligence can do with an old chestnut and not one of Verdi’s best operas, Macbeth. As the orchestra starts playing the overture, we see some women near the stage as other women go down the aisles greeting each other. They are working class women, wearing hats and carrying bags. All twelve get on the stage and we realize that they are the witches.

In the first scene in Macbeth’s castle, they emerge wearing servants’ clothes. They are the maids in the Macbeth household. No wonder they know so much about the Macbeths. When Lady Macbeth finishes reading the letter from her husband she hands it over to one of the maids/witches. Almost the last word in the opera is sung by the same dozen witches, lined up on the stage as at the beginning. They sing a hymn of praise and love to God. Now that is irony. Brilliant.

Soprano Melody Moore as Lady Macbeth dominates the singing of the production. She is domineering, powerful and vocally superb. She belts out her notes like stingrays with authority and evil splendour. The only problem I had with her was during the sleepwalking scene. The horn that punctuates her singing was a bit louder than her voice and I found it slightly disconcerting.

Bass baritone Eric Owens as Macbeth made a fine contrast to Lady Macbeth. He is supposed to be bloody, bold and resolute but, to use an รก propos term from the world’s baseball capital, he was 0 for 3. Owens’ Macbeth has ambition but not the stomach for it. He stoops, he crouches and goes down on his knees like a tyrant who lacks the total evil and bearing displayed by his wife. Owens’ rumbling voice served him well in a fine performance.

Melody Moore as Lady Macbeth and Eric Owens. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Bass Soloman Howard provides another example of contrast. Unlike Macbeth, he is straight-backed with a martial bearing and commanding vocal performance.  He sings his great aria Come dal ciel precipita” (How the shade falls from heaven) with sterling resonance.  

The production is done in modern dress circa 1940s and the supernatural is eschewed. The witches, as I said, are “ordinary” women with a huge streak of nastiness. They know how Macbeth and Lady Macbeth think and they can predict the future by reading their employers’ minds. When Verdi said that Macbeth has only three characters, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and the Witches he was pointing to the psychological truths represented by the latter rather than any supernatural powers they may be deemed to possess. Bogart has capitalized on this idea with marvelous results.
The scenery by James Schuette is minimalist. The walls of the stage have black panels with red roses painted on them for most of the production. There is a large, revolving panel in the centre of the stage with three doors on it. It is dark on one side for outdoor scenes and is turned around to show brighter colours and lights for interior scenes. Nothing lavish but it does the job.

The emphasis in costumes, lighting and sets is on the somber and black except for the painted roses which clearly represent blood.

The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra and Chorus come in for special praise for their brilliant performance. Huge ovations for conductor Joseph Colaneri and Chorus Master David Moody.

The final assessment is that this is a well-sung and well thought out production with some original and obviously unexpected twists that make for a terrific night at the opera.     

Macbeth by Giuseppe Verdi opened on July11 and will be performed ten times until August 22, 2015 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or