One of the more recent summer opera festivals in the northeast is Glimmerglass, with a rural theater outside of Cooperstown, N.Y. Styling itself the Glimmerglass Festival since last season, one of the changes instituted by current artistic and general director Francesca Zambello, who was appointed in the fall of 2010. Since the late 1980s, when it opened a new theater, Glimmerglass has presented three or four operas each summer, and a quick look through the company's production history shows an adventurous spirit. Operas from the 20th century and from the 17th and 18th centuries were represented, alongside some audience favorites, a recipe that has worked quite well for Santa Fe Opera and other companies. This season, however, Glimmerglass is presenting only two operas, Verdi's grand opera Aida (ambitious) and Lully's Armide (esoteric). The other half of its budget is being spent on musicals.
Julius Rudel championed Lost in the Stars at the New York City Opera, and his recording with the Orchestra of St. Luke's is still worth hearing. Weill created the title role for Todd Duncan: the original cast recording, premiered on Broadway in 1949, is still available from Decca. Maxwell Anderson adapted the libretto from Alan Paton's novel Cry, the Beloved Country (1948), set in South Africa, and the story of black life finally satisfied Weill's desire to write an opera for black characters (supposedly dating back to the period after his arrival in New York, when he saw a dress rehearsal of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess). Critic Howard Taubman panned the City Opera revival in the New York Times, not on the grounds that it was a musical, but because it was "more play than opera," adding that "Weill's score rarely probes beneath the surface." As Taubman put it, the score "rarely adds the depth and compassion that it can and should bring to a big theme."
Aida, the grandest of grand operas, can actually work in a small-scale production, as Virginia Opera showed last season. The Glimmerglass production by Francesca Zambello, which updates the story to recent events in a modern Islamic country, brings together two rising African-American singers -- soprano Michelle Johnson and tenor Noah Stewart -- with a more established one -- bass-baritone Eric Owens. Johnson won the Grand Prize at the Met Council Auditions last year. She was reportedly put on vocal rest at the start of the run, replaced by Adina Aaron for the first three performances. The trouble may have been partly due to having taken on the title role of Puccini's Manon Lescaut with Opera Company of Philadelphia, during time she told one interviewer she had planned "to start preparing more diligently" for Aida, but she is now back in the title role. Her Radamès is Noah Stewart, whose good looks and rags-to-riches story have made him PR gold, with news outlets of all kinds falling over themselves to interview him. He has an embarrassingly corny crossover album out from Decca this month, which has done brisk business in its U.K. release, and a contract to make more recordings.
The slot for Baroque opera at Glimmerglass has happily been maintained, with an all too rare staging of Jean-Baptiste Lully's Armide, without a doubt the most successful and popular French opera of the 17th century. In regular revivals in Paris, it continued to be influential and beloved in Paris through the 18th century, inspiring composers in the debate between gluckistes and piccinnistes, for example. We have had only one opportunity to review the opera live, with Opera Lafayette, a concert performance that was later released as a live recording. This co-production between Glimmerglass and Toronto's Opera Atelier brings with it some singers and musicians from Canada, which may have been partially to account for the last-minute renegotiation of the Glimmerglass Orchestra's contract. Thoughts on three of the productions, not including The Music Man, are forthcoming.