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Arts & Culture

Opera Saratoga At Sixty Is Looking Forward

Press image from "Man of La Mancha"
Opera Saratoga
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Opera Saratoga presents "Man of La Mancha"

On July 5, 1962 a small group of people organized a production of “Die Fledermaus” in the Diamond Point Theater at Lake George. It drew 230 people.

That organization became Lake George Opera and continued performing, mostly in the Queensbury High School, until it moved to the Little Theatre in Saratoga. In 2011, it changed its name to Opera Saratoga.

Now a nationally prominent opera company, this year Opera Saratoga honors its 60th anniversary. After a year of life on Zoom, it will put on three live productions in Saratoga Springs this year. But they will be at three different locations; none of which is the Little Theatre.

The one constant in the season is the theme of the material. All works have to do with the story of Don Quixote and his mission of attaining an impossible dream. Its theme is applicable to the times and the history of the organization.

On June 24 and June 25, they will be producing a concert at Pitney Meadows Community Farm. It is composed of material from operas based on the Quixote story. July 8, 9 & 10 they produce the popular musical “Man of La Mancha” at the SPAC amphitheater. The final production is an outdoor performance of the one-act opera “Don Quichotte at Camacho’s Wedding.” There will be several daily performances at the Spa State Park July 14, 15, 16 and 18.

Impossible Dream, indeed. With all the machinations the organization had to go through to put together a season this year, it might seem difficult to celebrate the milestone. However, that’s not the feeling of Lawrence Edelson, who has been the artistic and general director of Opera Saratoga since 2014.

Though 2020 was without question a terrible hardship, he puts it in perspective using the hardships the organization has overcome during the past 60 years.

He points to the founding of the organization and speaks with admiration of Fred Patrick, who with his wife Jeanette Scovotti, were the leaders during formative years. Edelson sounded in awe of the daunting task of starting an opera company in the early-1960s, in a small rural upstate New York community. “This was before SPAC. This was before Glimmerglass. It was visionary and it succeeded,” he said.

However, after only three years as the company leader, Patrick died of cancer at the young age of 37. “Many organizations would have just disbanded,” says Edelson. Fortunately, their artistic director, David Lloyd, stepped up to the post of general director, a post he continued to hold until 1980.

Edelson spoke proudly pointing out that under Lloyd’s leadership in many ways, but he wanted to recognize how company prioritized new works by American composers.

This brief history lesson was meant to show how before COVID, the organization survived many issues of leadership, financial problems, performance spaces and changing tastes in opera.

Returning to the topic of new composers and developing young artists, he said, “For the art form to prosper we need constant injections of new work. Today we are still committed to performing work by emerging artists.”

He has the same attitude towards young performing artists. One of Lloyd’s great accomplishments was developing the Young Artists Program in 1965. Today, Opera Saratoga’s program is the second oldest in the country.

On a philosophical note, Edelson sees the mission of Opera Saratoga as two-fold. One is what they do on stage. The other measurement for success is what an organization does for the community when not performing on stage.

Throughout the pandemic, artists in every field spoke about the healing power of art. Edelson is committed to putting action to those words. The company is developing a partnership with Songs by the Heart, an area organization that is a leader in the use of music therapy with patients of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.

The goal is to train Opera Saratoga singers in the restorative nature of music therapy. Using techniques of mirroring, verbal and gesture pointing, clapping and even dancing, the singers will lead residents at dozens of senior centers from Albany to Lake George on at least a weekly basis. They will engage the residents in interactive singalongs that have been proven to improve the social interaction of sufferers.

Opera Saratoga is the first opera company in the country to engage in this type of therapy. They hope it will form a template for the rest of the nation to follow.

Edelson believes the innovation and resiliency of the company’s past is the reason for this year’s season. He sees the company’s commitment to programs like Songs by the Heart as the reason the company will continue to celebrate anniversaries for the next 60 years. It’s an impossible dream that seems very possible.

For details and tickets on all shows call 518- 584-6018 or go to operasaratoga.org

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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