The cause for celebration begins with an uncommonly fine cast, surely among
the top tier of today’s Dutchman interpreters. As the title
character, Ryan McKinny has served notice that he is poised to be the
Heldenbariton of choice for the punishing requirements of the demanding role.
Mr. McKinny boasts a solid, even instrument that rolls forth with a hint of
darkness and substantial weight. The inherent gravitas in the tone did not keep
him from hurling out important dramatic declamations with a bright laser beam
intensity and welcome purity of line. But, Ryan could also reel in the volume
and ravish us with sotto voce phrasing that was warm, lyrical, and
His traversal of “Die Frist ist um” was a mini-drama-within-a-drama,
varied, well-shaped, empathetic and undeniably moving. I have never been quite
so involved with the doomed man’s plight, or more involved with his journey.
The handsome Mr. McKinny is also blessed with a personal charisma and stage
magnetism that characterize the greatest performers. Mark my words, you will
hear much much more in very short order about this exciting singer.
Every bit his equal, Melody Moore was a marvel of a Senta. Her well-focused
tone had appreciable ‘ping’ but more important, there was an endearing
womanly warmth in her sound, imbuing her vocalizing with great appeal at all
volumes and in all registers. Like her co-star, Ms. Moore limned an unusually
varied and effective introductory aria, which at once captured our interest and
pleased our ears. In their great duet, the pair seem to inspire each other to
even greater heights, with each successive phrase urging on the next resulting
in confrontations of mounting intensity.
As Erik, we were fortunate to have Jay Hunter Morris, one of the most
celebrated Wagnerian tenors of the day. He brought to Erik a shining, steady,
youthful tone with ample steel, and unflagging stamina for the sustained
tessitura. Mr. Morris also looked strapping and youthful, and he found more
than the usual amount of dramatic variety in his two pivotal scenes. Peter
Volpe’s Daland was an excellent foil for the Dutchman, his mellifluous, round
bass filling out the character with insinuating, powerful calculation.
Two accomplished soloists from the Young Artists program made strong
impressions in smaller parts. Adam Bielamowicz’s appealing tenor had
sweetness and clarion punch as Erik and Deborah Nansteel’s solid mezzo made
for a sassy, gutsy Mary.
John Keenan did yeoman’s work in the pit, helming a taut, propulsive
account of what may be Wagner’s most accessible score. The musicians
responded with beautifully judged solo passages and an awesome sense of
ensemble. His judicious use of rubato with his solo singers added immeasurably
to their communication of the drama. If the lower strings occasionally sounded
a bit thinner than usual, it could be owing to the somewhat dry acoustic, or
perhaps the space limitations of the pit. Nevertheless, this was overall a very
I don’t think stage director Francesca Zambello is capable of doing
anything that is uninteresting, and her work here was exceptionally fresh and
thought-provoking. Set designer James Noone devised for her a clever and
effective environment for the work’s disparate visual elements. Mr. Noone has
elevated a large square stage platform and surrounded it with a large metal
“box” of legs and trussing. Numerous tie lines hang from each overhead side
bar. The backdrop is a large staircase rising from up right to high up left,
which is fronted by a stylized “ship” shape. A set of black drapes upstage
can iris in or out, revealing a further stylized image of an old sailing
ship’s rope ladder. Backlit by blood red light, extras (and the Dutchman
himself) can crawl up and down the structure, or simply hang lifelessly.
Ms. Zambello imagines the tale as Senta’s dream. Or perhaps her delusion?
We first see the heroine in a white slip for a fleeting unscripted moment at
the very start, in bed, in a confused state as sailors run all about her
pulling on ropes. We return to this stark setting at opera’s end. Is she in
fact, institutionalized? The decision is left open and that is the
production’s strength. The basic story is told quite comprehensibly while the
subtext and disorienting elements allow us to speculate, drawing us into
what’s at stake.
L to R: David Pittsinger as King Arthur, Andriana Chuchman as Guenevere, Wynn Harmon as Pellinore, Clay Hilley as Dinaden, Wayne Hu as Sir Sagramore, Nathan Gunn as Sir Lancelot and Noel Bouley as Sir Lionel in Camelot
The ropes prove to be an important visual motif, at once unsettling and
ordered. There are rows of dangling lines flown in various combinations. In a
brilliant choice, the spinning chorus finds the women sitting in rows and
slowly braiding the ropes like an overhead macramé project. At another time,
cast members riff the rows of lines in opposite directions creating a riot of
motion. Mark McCullough chills our bones with an austere, changeable lighting
design that seems to suggest the wanderings of a troubled mind (Senta’s, not
The director seemed to find unlimited use for every inch of the space, which
found nimble Young Artists even climbing the supporting legs of the truss
during the famous choral numbers. Indeed, the work of the ensemble was
flawless, marked as much by earnest acting, potent vocalism and restless motion
as it was by controlled choreography devised by Eric Sean Fogel. Erik
Teague’s costumes were picture perfect. The exotic, jacketed but bare-chested
look for the Dutchman, displaying a prominent chest tattoo, was just the right
combination of sex appeal and danger. Wagner lovers should fuggedaboutbayreuth
and beat a path to Glimmerglass if they want to see the master well-served.
The ebullient, non-stop inventiveness on display in the Verdi rarity
King for a Day (Un giorno di regno) made for what is possibly the most
fun one can have inside an opera house with one’s clothes on. The creative
team seemed to take a page, make that a Big-Ass-Page from the 60’s Rowan
and Martin’s Laugh-In and exploited that formula brilliantly.
That hit TV show, you’ll recall, bombarded viewers with op-art visual
images, blackout sketches, and manic dances that were as sudden and as
tempestuous as a Cooperstown rainstorm. I have seen this “kitchen sink
approach” fail with many a comic opera staging when the excesses have
exhausted the viewers and left us wanting less. But not here.
Director Christian Räth has thoroughly evaluated his source material, and
while remaining true to the silly plot, he has mined every last guffaw possible
by re-imaging the stock characters and investing them with more personality
than Verdi ever did. Kelley Rourke added to the goofs with a breezy translation
that was colloquial and laced with a welcome hint of irony (although it has to
be said for the first half of Act One, diction was variable). Mr. Räth was
also fortunate to have had the collaboration of a gifted and thoroughly
whacked-out design team.
From the git-go, the look of Court Watson’s tongue-in-cheek set design was
comically akimbo with a stage platform (atop the existing stage) steeply raked
from left to right, and poking out at us from under a diaphanous slanted white
drape like a schoolgirl’s slip that was showing. Lighting Designer Robert
Wierzel flooded the drape with a profusion of psychedelic circles that were set
in motion as soon as the allegro portion of the overture began. Mr.
Wierzel’s tight area lighting and isolated specials contributed mightily to
punching up comic moments, and enhanced the overall joyous frivolity of the
Once the main curtain opened, we were treated to a skewed gilt
proscenium-arch-within-a-gilt-proscenium-arch, this opening tilted in
opposition to the downstage slanted platform. And this image established the
concept for the rest of the show which featured ornate picture frames large and
small, manually carried or flown, that appeared, disappeared and re-configured
to “frame the action.” Most often they were used to capture fleeting family
portraits, but characters crawled in and out of them at will, sometimes sitting
on them like a trapeze, other times soloing in front of a tableau that might
abruptly spring to life.
Other than the basic structure and the ubiquitous frames, locales were
suggested with such economical means as red and gold ballroom chairs, a
red-carpet runner that became a running gag, and a red velvet pouffe topped
with an unruly fern. Mr. Watson frequently upstaged his clever sets with
eye-popping post-Nehru jacket costumes that are a riot of color and ingenuity.
In the pit, recently appointed Music Director Joseph Colenari led a taut,
idiomatic reading that captured the juvenile buoyancy and good lyrical
intentions of Verdi’s second opera. Some judicious cutting of repetitive
music tightened the score to good effect and whatever was there to be mined for
musical interest, Maestro Colenari found it, and urged the cast to appealing
musical accomplishments. Indeed, all concerned seemed hell bent on treating the
opus like a masterpiece it isn’t!
Although announced as indisposed, Alex Lawrence as Belfiore (the impostor
king) sported a sturdy, forthcoming baritone with a warm presence that was as
handsome as his appearance. His easy demeanor and animated antics enlivened
every scene he was in. Jason Hardy’s reliable bass served the role of Baron
Kelbar ably, and his twitchy acting style aptly conveyed the motives of the
mercenary noble who is trying to get the best deal in exchange for his
daughter’s hand in marriage. Jason should only be attentive to pushing too
much in upper forte passages lest his tone become diffuse with pitchy results.
With a hair-do like a hood ornament on a Pontiac (splendid make-up and hair
courtesy of designer Anne Ford-Coates), Andrew Wilkowkse is having a whale of a
time as the daughter’s undesirable suitor La Rocca. His burnished baritone
pleases in a part that is more usually barked by a buffo, and he pairs up
successfully with Mr. Hardy for a nutty, well choreographed boxing match (yes,
with gloves) in which his supple singing floats like a butterfly and his left
hook stings like a bee.
Joe Shaddy sings the character part of Count Ivrea (the other unsuitable
suitor) more beautifully than we could reasonably expect for such a comprimario
role. Mr. Shaddy also scores big with his mastery of physical comedy as he
presents the Count as a crusty old fart who has considerable difficulty
negotiating his walker. His spontaneous entanglement in the apparatus elicited
a show-stopping laugh. Andrew Penning sang cleanly as Delmonte and made the
most of his expanded stage time as a frequent conspirator in comic plot
Jason Hardy as Baron Kelbar and Alex Lawrence as Belfiore in Un Giorno di Regno (King for a Day)
As the young love interest Edoardo, Patrick O’Halloran had it all: a
Verdi-sized tenor, seamless technique, innate musicality, physical stature and
freshly-scrubbed good looks. If the voice sounds a bit anonymous at this point,
age and experience will no doubt provide some individual patina, but Mr.
O’Halloran likely has a bright future. One design quibble: as engaging as it
was to have Patrick costumed as an overgrown schoolboy in horn-rimmed
eyeglasses, shorts, and argyle knee socks, eventually I wanted him to have
matured a bit and perhaps looking more responsible than all the crazies around
Jacqueline Echols was perfection as the Baron’s bargained off-spring
Giulietta. Ms.Echols is possessed of a lustrous, wide-ranging lyric soprano,
that can sound round and dusky at one moment, then incisive and gleaming the
next. Ms. Echols’ bubbly personality and killer smile, her lovely
physique du role, and her charm factor recalled all the assets of the
young Kathleen Battle. She not only partnered effectively with her Edoardo but
warranted one of the night’s most enthusiastic responses for her spot-on
rendition of her first act aria. Ginger Costa-Jackson is giving a
tour-de-force, take-no-prisoners performance as the spurned diva. . .er. . .um,
I mean Marchesa. Looking as glam as a vintage Vogue cover girl, Ms. C-J prowls
the playing space like a tigress in search of a cage just so she could finally
lock down and get some rest. Vocally, she is hard to categorize and while the
commitment and overall effect of her singing is engaging, she can also be
inconsistent. Just when you have her pegged as a mezzo with a rich, plangent
lower voice, she will drop a line on you that totally thins out at the bottom.
Then she will pop out a note above the staff that would be the envy of
Gheorgiu. A moment after she fudges a straight-forward melismatic passage, she
dazzles with an accurate flash of coloratura.
There is no denying that she has any number of compelling effects in her
vocal arsenal and that she had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand.
In a performance chockfull of wholly dedicated performers who achieved
wonderful results, no one else came close to her definitive portrayal. Ginger
Costa-Jackson is a singer, stylist and actress of tremendous gifts. I only urge
her to get all of her substantial strengths completely ironed out and she will
be a star ne plus ultra.
For all the superlative contributions from the performers, there is no doubt
that the triumph belonged to director Räth. At the end of the day, when we
thought we were laughed out, goofed out, and pooped out, the text sang one last
time of “the King” and he brought on Belfiore in an Elvis mask. Helplessly,
perhaps in spite of ourselves, we burst into a final tribute of appreciative
belly laughs. Although King for a Day is not a great opera, it is most
definitely great fun.
If you had told me that the staging of the Pergolesi Stabat Mater
would be the knockout of the Festival, I might have thought you mad. However,
from its rather gentle source material, the artistic team has indeed wrought a
mesmerizing creation of enduring beauty, worthy of inclusion in the repertoire
of the world’s ballet companies.
At curtain rise, Marjorie Bradley Kellogg’s evocative set consists of a
large ashen tree trunk standing center stage, framed by a triangular opening,
fronted by a matching log hovering high above, parallel to the stage floor. A
lone sorrowful dancer is at the foot of the tree draped in an oversized grey
veil as the mother of Christ.
With economical means and telling dance moves, director-choreographer
Jessica Lang has found inspiration in the text and tone of the score’s
various movements to devise meaningful, and at times devastating expression of
Pergolesi’s opus. Ms. Lang seems to set up a visual theme, then breaks it
apart into variations, changes group sizes, inverts certain steps, and
subsequently expands upon then to give us an overall experience of potent
The well-schooled dancers, simply clad in what might pass for rehearsal
clothes, embraced the concept and committed to it with whole-hearted expertise.
The re-positioning and angling of the two pieces of the tree, and the frequent
re-purposing of the veil were highly effective. I will not soon forget the
descent of the large vertical log to serve as the cross beam upon which one
male dancer suggests the crucifixion. Other dancers drape the wood with the
gray cloth consistent with familiar Christian imagery, and that effect slowly
raised skyward as the “corpse” remained earthbound. Stunning.
No less over-powering was the perfection from the two vocal soloists. Nadine
Serra’s appealing soprano has almost a spinto thrust and spin at times, but
she also has an uncanny ability to scale it back to execute masterful Baroque
effects with no loss in quality or sweetness. I have long admired Anthony Roth
Constanzo and his countertenor has never been heard to better advantage. Mr.
Constanzo can sing with full-throated abandon with no loss of color, his florid
passages are dramatically charged perfection, and his introspective musings are
achingly beautiful. Both singers are well integrated into the dance movement,
and Anthony was especially entrusted to execute some graceful choreography with
skill and conviction.
The small period orchestra was expertly paced by Speranza Scappucci, who
showed a real affinity for musical subtlety and effective dramatic pacing.
Audience response to this unexpected jewel of a performance was immediate and
vociferous. As soon as the curtain fell a cheer rose up that could probably be
heard in Cooperstown.
Stabat Mater was followed after intermission by the staged premiere
of David Lang’s the little match girl passion (sic), the double bill
marketed under the heading Passions. There was much to admire in
Lang’s writing, especially the unique palette of vocal sounds and
purposefully controlled use of limited intervals and harmonies.
As part of finding theatrical expression for match girl director
Francesca Zambello commissioned Mr. Lang to compose a sort of curtain warmer
that featured the excellent Glimmerglass children’s chorus (Tracy Allen,
Chorus Master). The result was the opening chorus when we were
children. This was played in front of a main scrim with a row of
red-lacquer benches (Ms. Kellogg again designed the set). Ms. Zambello had the
ragamuffin children enter through the audience with house lights still on, and
variously take their places sitting on the long expanse of benches until every
seat was filled. The house lights dimmed and the children intoned a haunting,
layered unaccompanied chant of few pitches and limited harmony.
When the curtain rose, there was little to reveal within the Pergolesi’s
left-over triangular frame save a few platforms stage right with a bank of
percussion instruments. These were played by the four adult vocalists as they
sang in place. These Young Artists meticulously executed the complex vocal
demands and were uniformly terrific: Julia Mintzer, James Michael Porter, Lisa
Williamson, Christian Zaremba.
With the eventual addition of only the mournful thudding of a solo bass
drum, and witnessing the blackened pit, it became evident there would be no
other musical accompaniment forthcoming other than what might emanate from the
onstage instruments. Festival Chorus Master David Moody conducted and admirably
kept the whole piece tightly knit. Mr. Lang has a distinctive style here, which
deconstructs words and divides phrases almost on a syllable-by-syllable,
note-by-note basis. This poses a real challenge in understanding the text, and
all necks seemed to be craned to read the super titles.
This is a fascinating score, with memorable moments and painful dissonances,
and unsettling open harmonies. With something this minimal however, it is
incumbent upon the performers to execute the rhythm, intervals, and chords with
absolute accuracy to make a complete effect. While the adult quartet succeeded
admirably, I believe that the composer set the bar just a mite too high for
this (or any) children’s chorus, who nonetheless performed conscientiously.
For her part, Ms. Zambello wrung every possible bit of dramatic possibility
out of the fragmented narrative with constantly evolving stage pictures and
confrontations that emerged from almost cinematic dissolves. From all I read, I
believe that Mr. Lang meant truly to move us with his composition. For all its
admirable aural complexity, its original voice, and its accomplished staging,
the piece fully engaged my intellect but could not engage my heart.
Rounding out the Festival was the annual classic American musical entry
Camelot, which was treated to a handsome production. I am not sure
Camelot is a “classic” since it is so plagued by book problems,
narrative holes, and a couple of weak tunes. Over the years, there were so many
songs and scenes excised, then randomly restored that there does not seem to be
a definitive performance version. Never mind, director Robert Longbottom
exerted a sure hand and paced the show well, imbuing as much clarity as is
The show was blessed to have the highly appealing performer David Pittsinger
as its King Arthur. Mr. Pittsinger has one of the most impressive baritones in
the business and his treatment of Arthur’s songs was luxurious to say the
least. While the role is written primarily for an actor who can sing (a
little), David also proved to have the chops to pull off the King’s great
speeches with unaffected grace, looked youthful and appealing, and was the
anchor that the production required him to be.
Lovely young Canadian soprano Andriana Churchman was a delectable Guenevere
with a voice of more solid radiance than I have ever encountered in this part.
When she was allowed to sing a few optional notes in her gleaming upper
register, we were keenly aware that Ms. Churchman has operatic abilities way
beyond the requirements of Lerner and Loewe. Mr. Longbottom surely re-instated
You May Take Me to the Fair to give Andriana another chance to shine
and she made the most of it.
Nathan Gunn’s well-documented physical appeal and his alluring baritone
are a near-perfect match for the preening Lancelot. It was a joy to discover
the unforced sense of humor and subtle French accent that Mr. Gunn put to fine
use in a well-calculated C’est Moi. Curiously, Nathan did not opt
for a full-voiced ending to If Ever I Would Leave You which is
decidedly more effective than a crooning finale. Still, he sang sweetly and
acted with sincerity and purpose.
Victoria Munro (center) with the children's chorus in The Little Match Girl Passion
Jack Noseworthy was a definitive, boyishly spiteful Mordred, sprinting about
with a dancer’s wiry poise and singing in a firm character tenor. Jack
managed to make an art song out of the score’s weakest number, The Seven
Deadly Virtues. We were lucky that he was also included in a re-instated
Fie on Goodness as the primary soloist, a directorial choice that paid
extraordinarily good dividends. Wynn Harmon, doubled as King Pellinore and
Merlin, found a way to mine every possible laugh with his savvy delivery,
although we were not fooled for an instant that the same actor played both
Clay Hilley, Noel Bouley and Wayne Hu made solid contributions as Sirs
Dinadan, Lionel and Sagramore, respectively, with Mr Bouley particularly
notable for his virile bass-baritone. Richard Pittsinger (King Arthur’s real
life son) was a sincere Tom of Warwick, characterized by excellent diction.
Everything was dispatched with great efficiency and, in spite of reclaiming
two numbers, the legendary lengthy playing time was kept in check with other
substantial cuts. Dance music was partly affected, but I didn’t mind so much
since Alex Sanchez’s choreography was more pleasantly ‘functional’ than
it was ‘inspired’. Other nips and tucks were internal save for the total
elimination of Arthur’s visit to Morgan Le Fay and the Enchanted Forest in
Act Two. This deprived him of stage time which seems really necessary to keep
him a central figure in an act that is dominated by other characters. Conductor
James Lowe kept things bubbling along in the pit, once past an overture that
had muffled brass fanfares and a somewhat odd balance.
If there is any baggage accompanying Camelot it is likely the
expectation of a lavish physical production. Set Designer Kevin Depinet makes a
very good first impression. The tree stage left that conceals Arthur in Scene
One was a very exciting, gorgeously stylized interpretation, almost suggesting
a wave, and a true work of art. The mid-stage drop featured a slanted girder
hung with a lovingly painted castle and an eroded hem that presaged the strife
But oddly hanging over this outdoor scene was a huge brass chandelier. This
later dropped lower for the study scene with the addition of a draped tapestry
and some ornate chairs, but for the interiors the tree stubbornly remained in
sight. In fact after about thirty minutes it was clear that with the exception
of some other furniture, we had seen all we were really going to see, and that
the big chunks were never leaving our sight.
Too, the chorus was on the small side, with Pellinore even pressed into
service as a vocal participant in The Joust. With all the Young
Artists at their disposal, and given the history of having large casts in the
musical series, my only thought is that budget constraints may have dictated
keeping the cast size smaller to avoid needing too many more of Paul
Tazewell’s lavishly beautiful costumes. Side note: when Guenevere,
extravagantly clad in a dazzling, perfectly tailored bugle-beaded gown tells
Lancelot she has to change for dinner, I would love to know what she had in her
closet since she already looked beyond ‘spectacular’!
Still, the capacity audience loved it all, there was the predictable
standing ovation, and it was all entirely professional. But I kept having the
nagging sensation that, for whatever reason, I was at a performance of
Cast and production information:
Un Giorno di Regno (King for a Day)
Baron Kelbar: Jason Hardy; La Rocca: Andrew Wilkowske; Delmonte:
Andrew Penning; Belfiore: Alex Lawrence; Edoardo: Patrick O’Halloran;
Marchesa: Ginger Costa-Jackson; Giulietta: Jacqueline Echols; Count Ivrea: Joe
Shadday; Conductor: Joseph Colaneri; Director: Christian Rath; Choreographer:
Eric Sean Fogel; Set and Costume Design: Court Watson; Lighting Design: Robert
Wierzel; Hair and Make-Up Design: Anne Ford-Coates; English Adaptation: Kelley
King Arthur: David Pittsinger; Guenevere: Andriana Churchman;
Lancelot: Nathan Gunn; Mordred: Jack Noseworthy; Sir Dinadan: Clay Hilley; Sir
Lionel: Noel Bouley; Sir Sagramore: Wayne Hu; Merlin/Pellinore: Wynn Harmon;
Tom of Warwick: Richard Pittsinger; Conductor: James Lowe; Director: Robert
Longbottom; Choreographer: Alex Sanchez; Set Design: Kevin Depinet; Costume
Design: Paul Tazewell; Lighting Design: Robert Wierzel; Hair and Make-Up
Design: Anne Ford-Coates
Passions: Stabat Mater, Little Match Girl Passion, When We Were
Set Design: Marjorie Bradley Kellogg; Costume Design: Beth
Goldenberg; Lighting Design: Mark McCullough; Hair and Make-Up Design: Anne
Ford-Coates; Stabat Mater soloists: Anthony Roth Constanzo, Nadine Sierra;
Conductor: Speranza Scappucci; Director/Choreographer: Jessica Lang; little
match girl passion & when we were children Vocal Ensemble: Julia Mintzer,
James Michael Porter, Lisa Williamson, Christian Zaremba; Conductor: David
Moody; Director: Francesca Zambella; Choreographer: Andrea Beasom
Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman)
Daland: Peter Volpe; Steersman: Adam Bielamowicz; Dutchman: Ryan
McKinny; Mary: Deborah Nansteel; Senta: Melody Moore; Erik: Jay Hunter Morris;
Conductor: John Keenan; Director: Francesca Zambella; Choreographer: Eric Sean
Fogel; Set Design: James Noone; Costume Design: Erik Teague; Lighting Design:
Mark McCullough; Hair and Make-Up Design: Anne Ford-Coates