Thursday, January 27, 2011


Claire McAdams/Glimmerglass Opera
Francesca Zambello, Glimmerglass’ chief executive
Speaking to hard-core fans at the Village Library of Cooperstown Sunday, Jan. 23,     Francesca Zambello praised Glimmerglass Opera’s endurance. 
“Very few have made it past 25 years,” she said. 
Resilience would have to be on her mind, with such eminent opera companies as Boston’s and Baltimore’s declaring bankruptcy in recent years.
But Sherwin Goldman, chairman of the newly renamed Glimmerglass Festival, didn’t bring Zambello – a “brand name” in the opera world – to Otsego County to preside over the collapse. 
Quite the opposite...

Peyton Lea/Glimmerglass Opera
Inside Glimmerglass’  Alice Busch Opera Theater, nine miles up Otsego Lake from Cooperstown.


What a fiasco!
“First, it was such a bad show.  It was a comedy of bad opera,” Francesca Zambello recalled with a visible shiver.  (Granted, it was single-digits outside the glassed-in conference room at the Glimmerglass Festival’s offices that day.)
The opera in question was Marschner’s “Der Templer und die Jüdin” (“The Knight and the Jewess) at Ireland’s Wexford Festival in 1989.
The curtain went up, a singer “went crazy” on stage, tried to kill another actor and had to be dragged off to the Irish equivalent of Bassett Hospital’s Third Floor.
But if every unhappy opera is unhappy in its own way – and thus memorable – most of Zambello’s operas, in memory, are like happy families, much the same in the intensity of focus, the stress and, in the end, the thrill.
Zambello, a 50-something dynamo – bright eyes and shock of thick, dark hair strike you immediately – became the Glimmerglass Opera’s general & artistic director July 1, succeeding Michael MacLeod in the midst of the worst national recession in 80 years.
She was teaching at Yale about a year ago, driving back to New York on manic I-95, when her cellphone buzzed.  It was Sherwin Goldman, chairman of the opera’s board: Would she consider the top job at Glimmerglass?
“He’d asked me five years ago,” said Zambello, a veteran of three decades directing operas from San Francisco to La Scala.  “I said no.  I was in the middle of too many difficult projects.”
But Glimmerglass “has a special reputation,” and she had personally experienced its charms, directing “Iphigénie en Tauride” during the 1997 season.
Goldman, retired New York City Opera executive producer, invited Zambello to meet the rest of the board at his Fifth Avenue apartment.  It clicked.  She took the job.
Rechristening “the gem” she is now responsible for as Glimmerglass Festival is part of a larger strategy, to make the property on Otsego Lake a magnet for, not just committed opera fans, but the public at large.
The Colgate University graduate (1978) – she was raised in Europe and speaks five languages – plans to promote more heavily in the region – Albany, Syracuse, Utica, Binghamton – and to cross-promote where possible.  For instance, “Later the Same Evening,” a one-act opera based on five Edward Hopper paintings, is being coordinated with a Hopper exhibit at The Fenimore Art Museum.
Ommegang Brewery is develop a special beer just for the opera, which will hold a contest to help name it.  The beer will be the exclusive brew at all opera events this summer.  Plus, opera-goers will be able to camp on Ommegang’s grounds for free.
Wednesday, Jan. 26, Zambello planned to conduct a master class at SUNY Oneonta’s Music Department, followed by a “conversation” with the public at the Goodrich Theatre.
The first day of the season, July 2, when Bizet’s “Carmen” opens, tickets are $10 for anyone local who has not experienced the opera before.  All season, tickets are $10 for children accompanying a parent, and students 18+ will get 50 percent off tickets, all with the idea of widening the opera’s reach.
Zambello’s salesmanship was in evidence at the Village Library of Cooperstown Sunday, Jan. 23, when she held a packed room in the palm of her hand for 40 minutes and could have gone longer, (but the library was closing.)
Bizet was “the Andrew Lloyd Weber of his day,” and “Carmen” is “one of the greatest operas ever written.  The younger set loves it:  a lot of murder, sex and death.”
The plan is to include as many local people in the performances as possible, and boys with an interest in the gory have shown particular interest in Cherubini’s “Medea,” where mom Medea kills her two kids and one scene includes one of the youngster’s hearts as a prop.  (Cool!)
“Annie Get Your Gun” will be presented just the way Irving Berlin intended it – with a full orchestra and non-miked singers.  Deborah Voigt, who stars as Annie, will be the company’s first “artist in residence” this season. (There will be a tie-in between “Annie” and The Fenimore’s Thaw Collection of Native American Art.)
Two one-acts, “Later the Same Evening” and “A Blizzard in Marblehead Neck” (libretto by Pulitzer winner Tony Kushner of “Angels in America” fame; he will visit) represent the opera’s ongoing commitment to new works.
“There’s no place quite like Glimmerglass,” Zambello declared, and everyone seemed to agree.

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