Monday, September 02, 2019

What We Did on Our Holidays - Part 2

Our second mini-vacation was to the Glimmerglass Festival, held at the Alice Busch Opera Theater (photo) near Cooperstown, New York. We've attended Glimmerglass together for several years. With our friends Marc and Stuart we rode in Marc's car from Jersey City to Cherry Valley, New York.
There we checked into the Limestone Mansion, where we have stayed now for three summers, enjoying the comfortable rooms and the sumptuous breakfasts prepared by Wolf and Loretta; the latter enjoyed in surroundings like that shown in the photo above.

We arrived mid-afternoon Friday, which gave me time to stroll around Cherry Valley's little "downtown" and discover this "historic" laundromat.

Cherry Valley is about a ten minute drive from the Alice Busch Opera Theater. On Friday evening, we dined on sandwiches and salads from the Festival's outdoor cafe.
We then saw our first opera of the Festival, the world premiere of Blue. It began with a young black man in street clothes alone on the stage. Three policemen emerged from offstage, evoking the possibility of an arrest. Instead, one of the policemen handed the black man a blue shirt and pants. The black man, known throughout only as "The Father" and played by Kenneth Kellogg (photo above, from his website), went offstage and returned in his new blue uniform, and there were handshakes all around.
The Father then married The Mother (Briana Elyse Hunter; photo, from her website) and she became one when a son was born, to great celebration by all, including The Father's police colleagues. All went well until The Son (Aaron Crouch) reached his teens. He was a good student, showing promising talent at art, but he also became involved in demonstrations against police brutality. This  caused a confrontation with The Father, ending with The Father's assurance that he would love The Son, no matter what. Shortly after, The Son was shot dead by one of The Father's fellow policemen, though not one of his friends, while The Son was participating in a demonstration.

The plot then turned to The Father's reaction to this tragedy, told through his interactions with The Reverend (Gordon Hawkins). First he wanted revenge, later he questioned his belief in God. At The Son's funeral, The Mother asked Jesus to take him in his hands as she had asked The Father to take him when he was a newborn. There is a final, poignant scene: a flashback to the family around a table, where The Son announced that his art teacher said he showed great talent, and thought he could get a scholarship to RISD (the Rhode Island School of Design; a highly regarded institution). He then casually mentioned his intention to participate in a peaceful demonstration.

I've described the plot of Blue without mentioning the singing or the orchestral music, both of which were excellent. The music is by Jeanine Tesori and the libretto by Tazewell Thompson, who also directed the performance. The orchestra was conducted by John DeMain.

On Saturday morning we went into Cooperstown and spent some time in Willis Monie Books, a labyrinthine store offering both new and used books at attractive prices. At eight bucks apiece, I couldn't resist Producers versus Capitalists: Constitutional Conflict in Antebellum America, by Tony A. Freyer, University Research Professor of History and Law at the University of Alabama, and The Rosy Future of War (who could resist such a title?) by Philippe Delmas.

We didn't visit Cooperstown's most famous attraction, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, on this trip; we had visited it on an earlier one, and will return someday.
Later we went to the Fenimore Art Museum and viewed the exhibit of photographs by Herb Ritts, who shot photos of many stars of rock, pop. jazz, folk, and blues. The introductory panel featured his photo of Tina Turner.
David Bowie showed up in grungy street clothes, but had a costume for his photo session. Ritts wisely suggested he stay grungy.
Jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie had the ability to inflate his cheeks, which assisted his playing. Ritts wanted to get a photo of it, but Gillespie refused. Ritts happened to turn quickly and got this shot.
Ritts got this lovely profile of Joan Baez; yes, that's her own hand.
Little Richard: "A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop, A-wop-bam-boom."
Ritts mostly worked in black and white, but he got this shot of Madonna on the beach at Malibu in color.

On Saturday afternoon we saw our second opera, The Ghosts of Versailles, with music by John Corigliano and libretto by the late William M. Hoffman. Ghosts had its premiere in 1990 at New York City's Metropolitan Opera, and has played at several other venues since. The photo above is of the scrim before the opening of the opera's first act. Several "ghosts" are visible, including Marie Antoinette (Yelena Dyachek) and some courtiers at the right in the photo, and Louis XVI (Peter Morgan) at the left.

The central character in Ghosts is Pierre Beaumarchais (Jonathan Bryan). Beaumarchais had a remarkable life as a watchmaker, playwright, musician, spy, and lover. In Ghosts he is portrayed as being in love with Marie Antoinette, who desperately wanted to be brought back to life. Beaumarchais promised to do this by means of an opera, based on Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, which was itself based on a play written by Beaumarchais. In this opera, Figaro (Ben Schaefer) is to steal a valuable necklace and use it to bribe for Marie Antoinette's release before her execution, after which Beaumarchais would take her to safety in America. "We will live in Philadelphia!" he exclaimed, which evoked laughter from the audience.

Beaumarchais' scheme went awry when, in the opera-within-an-opera, Figaro rebelled and refused to cooperate. All was resolved at the end, when Marie Antoinette decided it is best not to disturb history, but to enjoy her afterlife with Beaumarchais.

Ghosts is long, has many characters, and with its nested operas structure, is complex. At times it made me think of Firesign Theatre's "Further Adventures of Nick Danger". Hoffman inserted bits of humor, such as the "Philadelphia" line and some others that got chuckles from opera buffs. At the close of one particularly chaotic scene a woman wearing a helmet with horns and a breastplate emerged from backstage and proclaimed, "This is not opera. Wagner is opera!"

As with Blue, the singing and the orchestra, here conducted by Joseph Colaneri, were excellent. Ghosts also featured some superb dance performances.
Glimmerglass always includes one Broadway musical comedy in each summer's roster of performances. This year's selection was Show Boat (Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein, 1927). I'd never seen Show Boat on stage, though I did see the 1951 movie version when I was about six years old. One thing I remember from the movie is William Warfield's rendition of "Ol' Man River." In the Glimmerglass production, it was sung by Justin Hopkins as Joe. I'd rate his performance as equal to Warfield's. In the video clip above, Hopkins sings it accompanied by the Philly Pops. Perhaps the other best known song from Show Boat is "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," sung beautifully at Glimmerglass by Judith Skinner as Queenie.

The plot of Show Boat is probably familiar to most readers, and certainly to fans of Edna Ferber, on whose novel the show is based. There's a sub-plot, certainly controversial in 1927, concerning Mississippi's anti-miscegenation law and the notorious "one drop rule," the latter of which, ironically, saved Julie La Verne (Alyson Cambridge) and Steve Baker (Charles H. Eaton) from imprisonment, though they both had to abandon their leading roles in the boat's itinerant drama.

The main story concerns Magnolia Hawks (Lauren Snouffer), daughter of the boat's captain, Andy Hawks (Lara Teeter), and the riverboat gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Michael Adams) with whom Magnolia fell in love. She and Gaylord replaced Julie and Steve in the show's cast, but when Cap'n Andy's wife (and Magnolia's mother), Parthy Ann Hawks (Klea Blackhurst), opposed their marriage, they left the boat and eloped.

For a time, Gaylord's luck ran well, and they lived in Chicago's elegant Palmer House. Then it turned bad; they got evicted, and Gaylord, in shame, abandoned Magnolia, whom he didn't know was pregnant. Magnolia gave birth to a daughter, Kim, and raised her as a single mother while developing her own career as a cabaret singer. Eventually, she and Ravenal were reunited, he met his daughter for the first time, and presumably all was well thereafter.

Again, the singing and the orchestra, conducted here by James Lowe, were superb.

As always, we were impressed by Glimmerglass' selection of musical offerings and by the quality of the singing and orchestral performances. Our special congratulations to Artistic Director Francesca Zambello.
Some of us had to be back to work on Monday, so, with reluctance, we packed, enjoyed one last Limestone Mansion breakfast, and headed back to New Jersey and New York City. I took the photo above of the countryside just east of Cherry Valley, with Lake Otsego in the background, from the window of Marc's car.