Glimmerglass Festival goes virtual, talks social justice

Greg Klein | The Daily Star Clockwise from left, Francesca Zambello, Eric Owens and Joseph Colaneri discuss the role of the arts industry in social justice movements during a virtual town hall sponsored by The Glimmerglass Festival on Thursday, June 18.

The Glimmerglass Festival began its virtual summer with a discussion about social justice and the arts Thursday, June 18.

The hour-long program was broadcast on YouTube and the center’s social media platforms.

Glimmerglass Artistic Director Francesca Zambello, Music Director Joseph Colaneri and Artistic Advisor Eric Owens discussed Black Lives Matter and the struggles of people of color from the perspective of the arts industry.

“The national outrage over violence and mistreatment of black Americans is in part compelling the arts industry into challenging and crucial changes,” Zambello said, “and we are committed to being there and to listening, to learning and growing. We want allyship.

“We want to create the artistic spaces where our black community can feel safe and supported and heard. That is part of our mission,” she said.

At times, the discussion took on the form of a mea culpa, for both the festival and the opera industry as a whole.

“We recognize that the history of opera has been one of inequity,” Zambello said.

In a media release for the event, Zambello went into greater detail, even accepting part of the blame at the festival in Springfield Center.

“The opera industry retains a long legacy of elitism and explicit and implicit racism,” Zambello said in a media release before the event. “It happens in programming, design, casting and administration — and we are not blameless. Glimmerglass must engage in deep self-analysis.

“We are committed to analyzing our work, expanding our current strategies for supporting communities who have yet to see equal representation in the opera and arts industries, and, just as crucially, strengthening our allyship moving forward,” Zambello said in the release.

Thursday, she and her co-hosts spoke of ways to begin that work, including creating a human resources position dedicated to diversity. She said Glimmerglass would commit to finding minority candidates for all positions, from ushers to board members.

Owens said Zambello has always been devoted to giving people of color a chance on the stage, at Glimmerglass and at the Washington National Opera, where she is also the director. He pointed to his own career, which included stints as an artist in residence at Glimmerglass.

“I know Francesca is one artistic director who loves to have a cast on stage that looks like America,” he said.

“She’s not shy about casting people of color,” he said. “I just want to put that out there.”

Colaneri said Glimmerglass wanted to make sure it did more than talk. He said the stage needs to be a safe space for all performers.

“We are using this opportunity today to listen and after we listen, we need to act upon what we hear,” he said.

Zambello said the festival will also hire an outside firm to review its past policies and actions. She said the public can help make sure the changes take place, too.

“Check in on us and hold us accountable,” she said.

Viewers could submit questions, both before and during the broadcast. Zambello said the event was the first of several virtual programs scheduled this summer. Glimmerglass will also have virtual town halls at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 16 and Thursday, Aug. 13.

The July event “Never Again” will consider how the stories of the past are told and how that shapes the future. The August event will feature “Dead Man Walking” author Sister Helen Prejean.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Glimmerglass Festival has canceled its live performances for 2020, and getting back to the stage for live crowds was something all the speakers touched on.

“I am so looking forward to the day ... when we can all come together again,” Owens said. “Music and the arts is food for the soul.”

Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at gklein@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7218.

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