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RSCS Reunion - August 20-22 2010

Glimmerglass Opera had humble beginnings
By Richard Palmer

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Glimmerglass Opera has been a part of the Cooperstown cultural scene for more than 30 years. Although snow now blankets the countryside, many people are working behind the scenes to create what promises to be  another spectacular season.

 The opera company presented its first season in the summer of 1975, with four performances of La Bohème staged in the auditorium of the Cooperstown High School before an audience of 1,200 local residents. This year, performances will be presented  from July 18 through Aug. 25 in the 900-seat Alice Busch Opera Center, which opened in June, 1987.

R.S. Mercury
Auditorium of Alice Busch Opera Center in Cooperstown during a recent performance. (Photo by Cory Weaver)

Glimmerglass Opera came into being through the efforts of local Cooperstown residents — musicians, artists, educators and lovers of the art form — who hoped to bring opera to their community. As the founders wrote in the first season’s program, “Cooperstown was chosen because of its glorious natural beauty and its important place in the heritage of America. We believe strongly that a performing arts festival belongs here; that the area is right for it, and that it is right for the area.”

The community continues its support through local members of the Glimmerglass Opera Chorus, supernumeraries and the Glimmerglass Opera Guild, a volunteer group that assists the company with numerous fund-raisers and special events.

Operas have been performed in repertory since 1990. For the first 17 seasons all operas were sung in English. Since 1992 they have, with some exceptions, been performed in their original language with projected English titles.

Since then it has grown to international stature and now offers nearly 40 performances of four productions each season. Glimmerglass Opera has a year-round staff of about 25 people. That number expands to more than 350 during the summer, when interns, staff and artists come on board to produce internationally-acclaimed opera and music theater performances.

Last year, Glimmerglass Opera’s season focused on Shakespeare. The four productions were staged on a set inspired by an Elizabethan theater. The single set served as a base for each production, which varied with the use of props, columns and moveable staircases. The set was built on the grounds of the Alice Busch Opera Theater and is likely the biggest in-house build Glimmerglass Opera has ever had.

This year’s season will feature performances of  Verdi’s La Traviata; Rossini’s telling of the Cinderella story, La Cenerentola; Menotti’s The Consul and dramatized concerts of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. There are 86 people on the seasonal production staff. Nearly 60 interns participate. There are four guest conductors, four guest directors and for choreographers. There are 25 guest artists, 30 singers, two pianists, six ensemble artists, three associate conductors, five principal coaches, two language coaches, one chorus master, four assistant directors, four visiting master-teachers and coaches, a scheduling master, two music librarians, 23 local chorus members, three supernumeraries, 15 parkers and 20 concessions employees.

“Glimmerglass Opera has a high return rate among its interns and staff members,” said Public Relations Director Brittany Lesavoy.  Out of an average of 126 production staff, 44 percent of the 2006 staff returned for the 2007 season. Additionally, seven 2007 department heads at Glimmerglass Opera began their careers as interns, as did 26 other 2007 seasonal production staff members. It currently has five year-round staff members who started their careers at Glimmerglass as interns. Also, the opera has a 200-member volunteer corps as well as 160 ushers.

Participants attend six orientations over a period of six weeks. There are about 35 safety training sessions, plus numerous workshops. The opera has 16 vehicles in its fleet. Last year, nearly 300 participants were housed at the opera company’s lodges. More than 73 properties were also leased for this purpose last year.  

Last year, more than a mile of steel with 5,000 welds was used in stage settings. This also included more than 6,000 linear feet of two-by-six pine timbers which were purchased locally.  During the season, the operation also requires more than 85 computers and eight servers.

The theater is located along the shore of Otsego Lake, the “Glimmerglass” of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales. It is on farmland donated by the late Glimmerglass Board Chairman Emeritus Tom Goodyear and his mother, Jeanette Bissell Goodyear. It was the first American hall built specifically for opera in the 21 years following the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera facility in 1966.

Designed by Hugh Hardy of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, the acoustics were created by Peter George Associates.

An important segment of Glimmerglass Opera is the Young American Artists Program. Established in 1988, it provides training for young singers, helping them and their accompanists in the development of the first stages of their professional careers. Participants are chosen annually from more than 700 applicants. The three-month summer program focuses on education through performance, which comes from opportunities to cover and perform appropriate roles in mainstage productions. In addition to performing, participants receive musical coachings, and attend classes and workshops in diction and acting, audition technique and role preparation. Young Artists perform free recitals in Cooperstown and Cherry Valley throughout the summer.

Michael MacLeod is general and artistic director of Glimmerglass Opera. Prior to his appointment in 2005, he managed Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s Monteverdi Choir & Orchestra for more than 10 years. For five years he was General & Artistic Director of the City of London Festival and served as the Executive Director of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, the fourth-oldest orchestra in America.

Music Director David Angus’s professional career began as a repetiteur with Opera North, before becoming Chorus Master and Staff Conductor for Glyndebourne Festival Opera, where he conducted many operas, both in the festival and on tour. He has also had a very extensive operatic career throughout Europe and Canada.

To show how popular Glimmerglass Opera is, for the past two years, ticket sales have run nearly 35,000 for season. In 2008, more than 3,400 Otsego county residents alone attended the productions.

Single tickets (tickets not included in a subscription package) go on sale March 30. Interested parties can contact the box office at 607-547-2255.


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