Joseph Dalton: Glimmerglass Second Weekend

Jul 22, 2018

The summer opera season is now in full swing at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown.  Last weekend saw the opening of its third and fourth mainstage productions, with generous and enthusiastic crowds in attendance at both shows.

If you’re looking for traditional opera with grand voices or maybe you just want to have a good time in the theater, then head to Rossini’s “Barber of Seville.”  The classic score, sung in Italian, is rollicking and unrelenting, and there’s a feisty energy to match in the staging by director Francesca Zambello.

Rather than a traditional box set with elegant parlors and such, the vast empty stage is bathed in brilliant blue light and framed by the outline of a gabled roof.   The necessary furnishing and props, starting with Figaro’s barber pole, are carried on and offstage by the frenzied chorus.  It’s all playful and cartoon line – an appropriate match to the convoluted antics in the story.

Leading the cast was the suave baritone Joshua Hopkins, who had all the bellow and bluster of a fine Figaro.  As Rosina, the glamorous mezzo Emily D’Angelo was exalted, lustful and knowing.  Count Almaviva was played by tenor David Walton whose voice could make anything into a sweet serenade.

During the Act Two orchestra interlude the stage is darkened and the chorus dashed back and forth carrying glittery streamers, proving that unexpected magic can happen out of the blue.

The other new production at Glimmerglass is the opera “Silent Night,” written in 2011 by composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell.  This is an eloquent and poignant depiction of the Christmas Eve truce that happened on the Belgian front during the first winter of World War I.

With soldiers from Scotland, France and Germany, the opera is sung in three languages.  Music is what unites the proceedings.  Beautiful melodies are sown together into one seamless fabric that conveys the young soldiers’ common feelings of fear, confusion and homesickness.

Rarely does “Silent Night” feel like you’re listening to opera.  The composer shows a fine skill at creating a gripping scene by laying down a bed of orchestral writing that grows and blossoms over time.  The cast sings conversational lines against these backdrops.

The emotional high point is the pivotal scene, when the soldiers take tentative steps into no man’s land, shake hands and begin sharing their rations. 

“Silent Night” received the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Music, making it a new classic for our time. 

Performances of “The Barber of Seville” and “Silent Night” continue in repertory with “West Side Story” and “The Cunning Little Vixen” through August 25 at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown.

Local arts writer Joseph Dalton is the author of Artists and Activitists Making Culture in New York's Capital Region.

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