Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, Glimmerglass Part III

by Megan Meister

Yesterday was a busy but rewarding day, starting in the morning with auditions with the rest of the apprentice artists.

There were many colleagues joining me at Glimmerglass this weekend, and these auditions were attended by representatives from several artists’ managements, schools of music and various opera companies.

There were two very interesting singers, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Lauricella (whose audition was interrupted by a fire alarm going off but she seemed unphased by the disruption) and a young baritone from Texas, John Boehr.

John, who has been a winner in the Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition, is already set to make his debut with us next season.  This was his second season as an apprentice at Glimmerglass, and a lucky one for him.

One of his assignments was to cover Dwayne Croft as “Professor Harold Hill” in THE MUSIC MAN, and now that the production is being taken to Dubai in October for four performances, John will be taking over the role opposite Elizabeth Futral since Dwayne will be at the Met.

Yesterday’s matinee of Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s LOST IN THE STARS, an adaptation of Alan Payton’s CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY, was a performance I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

A deeply affecting story about Apartheid in South Africa in the 1940′s, this revival of a nearly forgotten work was a powerful theatrical experience that boasted a towering performance by Eric Owens as “Stephen Kumalo” a Black South African minister whose son is arrested for murder.

In a simple, but infinitely reconfigurable set of corrugated metal walls created by Michael Mitchell, a South African designer, the action played out simply and powerfully.

Superbly conducted by John DeMain, who was given permission by the Kurt Weill Foundation to tinker with and improve the ending, the work has now been restored to the repertoire and needs to be seen and heard by more people than were able to attend the performances in Cooperstown.

The production was wonderfully and sensitively directed by Tazewell Thompson.

As magnificent as Eric Owens was in the central role, he was by no means alone in bringing this piece back to life.  The rest of the cast included wonderful performances by Sean Panikkar (“Cassio” in the Dallas production of OTELLO which opened the Winspear Opera House in 2009) as a cross between a narrator and a Greek Chorus, and two outstanding apprentices in featured roles, Brandy Lynn Hawkins and Chrystal E. Williams, both mezzo-sopranos who had stood out in the auditions I heard on Friday in more traditional repertoire.  Several young members of the ensemble were brought over from South Africa to lend the production remarkable authenticity.

I was emotionally drained by this extraordinary performance and to be perfectly candid, didn’t really want to see another performance last night, which I thought would dilute the experience of the afternoon.

I am certainly glad though that I didn’t miss the performance last night.

Glimmerglass Festival’s Artistic and General Director Francesca Zambello staged a brilliant modern dress version of Verdi’s AIDA, which included a controversial touch of “waterboarding” Radames during Amneris’ “judgment scene.”. It was incredibly powerful.

The singing was merely good with one exception (Eric Owens, who was really wonderful as Amonasro, in a grueling double performance day) but perhaps not at the highest international standards for these demanding roles.  This young and attractive cast, though, was deeply committed to the concept and gave wonderful performances nonetheless.

The orchestra and chorus played and sang beautifully under conductor Nader Abbassi, head of the Cairo Opera, who has conducted this opera many times, including performances at the Pyramids of Giza.

A wonderful weekend at Glimmerglass has come to an end, but next summer sounds quite interesting with productions of Wagner’s THE FLYING DUTCHMAN, Verdi’s rarely performed early comedy, KING FOR A DAY, a new work by composer David Lang on a double bill with Pergolesi’s STABAT MATER, and Nathan Gunn as “Lancelot” in Lerner and Loewe’s CAMELOT.

The elephants on the front lawn outside the Alice Busch Opera Theater at Glimmerglass (made from grapevine and willow by artist Elizabeth Schoonmaker) that were director Francesca Zambello’s response to the inevitable question about this summer’s production of AIDA—”Will there be elephants ?”

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