As the Semi-Literate Opera Buff (SLOB), I try to provide a layperson’s perspective toward the 2018 Glimmerglass Festival productions. If anyone would like to see what reading material on this season’s operas is available in the Four County Library System, please check out the 4cls online catalog at www.4cls.org or call the Village Library at 547-8344.
Even though I don’t know the intricacies of opera I can still appreciate good music, voices, choreography and set design. The Glimmerglass Festival has them all. The performances are world-class no matter which one you attend. It really comes down to your taste in a particular type of opera and how you react to it.
The 2018 season presents three operas with totally different styles and substance. “The Barber of Seville” is a more traditional opera and one most people have probably heard of. “The Cunning Little Vixen” is more fanciful and silly with many of the characters being animals and insects. “Silent Night” is a very modern opera (written in 2011) that presents a very powerful message about war. As always, it’s a good idea to read a synopsis of each opera before watching it.
If someone wants to introduce a newcomer to opera there would be no better choice than “The Barber of Seville.” It is an absolute delight. Not only is the singing and dancing top-notch but the storyline is easy to follow. It’s also a comic opera and that keeps things light. Although the Glimmerglass production is performed in Italian (with English super titles) there’s no confusion as to what is transpiring.
The plot in “The Barber of Seville” is fairly straightforward. A wealthy young man falls for a beautiful young woman. His only problem is she is the ward of a doctor who has plans to marry her himself. To the rescue comes Figaro (the “Barber”) who plots with the young man and his desire to win her affections because Figaro can’t stand the doctor (who is one of his clients). Their high jinks in figuring out how to outwit the mischievous doctor and bring the two young lovebirds together are priceless.
One last thing that makes “Barber” such an ideal opera for a novice is that it’s a small cast (not including the chorus). There are only six actors, so it’s easy to identify with them. They all get prominent “air” time. Ben Schaefer, who plays Figaro, is perfectly cast as he bounces around in a light-hearted manner and keeps the audience amused with his wonderful voice. It’s an opera that makes you feel good.
“The Cunning Little Vixen” is a different kind of animal, literally. The lead character is a female fox (i.e., vixen). It’s one of those productions where it’s especially important to read a synopsis beforehand. When you’re dealing with most of the actors playing animals and insects it’s easy to get confused by the storyline. Knowing the plot ahead of time will allow you to concentrate on the singing instead of asking “What’s going on here?”
The opera opens with a forester discovering the vixen and deciding to take it home as a pet. That idea takes chutzpah and is made worse by the fact that this vixen isn’t exactly docile. While there are several subplots in the opera the main focus remains on the vixen and her ability to “outfox” her new owner’s family, other animals and whatever hunters she comes across. Her one fatal flaw is that she doesn’t understand that hunters can actually shoot her. There is an upbeat note at the end when the forester comes to appreciate nature and realizes he shouldn’t mess with it.
What stands out in “The Cunning Little Vixen” is the dancing and the voices of the lead characters. While this particular opera probably won’t appeal to the layperson as much as other traditional or American operas, it is still something to appreciate. And the cleverness of the costumes, especially the reaction of the mosquito after it draws blood, provides some much needed humor.
For an opera that can truly blow your mind it’s hard to beat “Silent Night.” It is spectacular. Everything about it is stunning. The casting, singing, set design and special effects are incredible. Unlike many operas that rely on a simple or whimsical storyline, this modern production has a powerful message that leaves you awestruck.
“Silent Night” is based upon a truce between Allied and German forces on Christmas Eve in 1914 during World War I. What happens to soldiers who are trained to kill and hate their enemy when they suddenly start fraternizing with each other? Man’s inhumanity to man can suddenly shift and the reason for war becomes pointless.
In this instance, it is regiments of Scottish, French and German soldiers who have commanders who agree to an overnight truce that ends up getting extended through Christmas Day. All their superiors are furious when they find out and want the commanders punished. Your instinct tells you the truce is a good idea but a case can also be made for avoiding it. It’s quite a dilemma with no easy answer.
Determining which opera to see if you can’t see all of them isn’t easy. For those who want to experience something unusual with the bonus of a “wow” factor then “Silent Night” would be the best choice. But it’s an instance where you can’t go wrong. The Glimmerglass Festival never disappoints and 2018 is no exception.
“Before and Again” by Barbara Delinsky presents a novel of a woman who is trying to forget her past. Mackenzie Cooper blinked for one second and caused the auto accident that claimed the life of her 5-year-old daughter. Years later, trying to survive in a small town in Vermont with a new life, circumstances lead to her facing the memory all over again. It’s another character study that the New York Times best-selling author is well known for.
“Reporter: A Memoir” by Seymour M. Hersh documents the life and career of this Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. Hersh gained notoriety for his independent reporting on the Mai Lai massacre during the Vietnam War and has covered many of the world’s hot spots since then writing for the New York Times and New Yorker. One reader called him “one of the towering figures in investigative reporting in the last 50 years.”
“Callipidder Birds” by Judy Steiner Grin adds the local touch to our collection. Steiner Grin is an area resident and former school teacher. This children’s picture book presents the wonder of discovery exhibited by a brother and his younger sister. One reader said the author “brought the Zen of joy to each written page.”
David Kent is the village librarian in Cooperstown.