Arriving to Cooperstown, New York, from the south, one must cruise through narrow winding roads that run past brown cows and corn fields, faded red barns and rotting 19th century siding. When the Alice Busch Opera Theater finally raises itself grey from the predictably gorgeous green surroundings, a beacon of culture lays in promise via the Glimmerglass Opera. It totally delivers for what and where it is, and usually supersedes. This past weekend sampling three of the summer festival offerings, it did just that. //*end predictable & generic opener* *fade to black*
(Michael Maniaci as Orphée and Brenda Rae as L’Amour in Glimmerglass Opera’s production of the Gluck/Berlioz Orphée et Eurydice. Credit: George Mott/Glimmerglass Opera.)
First up was Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice (Berlioz version). Although countertenors aren't really my thing (I'm more of a girl-on-girl kind of woman O_o), the production was overall strong. Since the OC household favorite of Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice is Riccardo Muti's agile, elegant, elemental, and quicksilver version, it is impossible to even begin comparing the endearing, economized, and industrious Glimmerglass orchestra (with Julian Wachner conducting), so we'll just leave it. A few of the soloists left a good impression, especially the lovely and seductive clarinet solo that came shortly after the first intermission.
Michael "Counterternor My A$$" Maniaci as Orfeo had a round, powerful voice for a male soprano, and pushed out his expressive notes almost consistently while he seemed to barely break a sweat. Animated but severe, Maniaci kept the scenes moving nicely. The tragedy of the opera was given a dignified wash, and he commanded a decent balance between the music and the drama. Alas, however tragically gorgeous this production fared, OC just wasn't able to transcend from the opera house that afternoon. Breda Rae as L'Amour was captivating, with clear diction and matching voice, and Amanda Pabyan's Eurydice was equally smooth and practiced. Sets, scenery, and costume were traditional in pale pastels and creamy whites, a real treat for the eyes.
With the afternoon peformance over, Opera Chic headed over to Cooperstown to do some shopping at the new Prada boutique (next door to the Baseball Hall of Fame) and stock up on some Rag & Bone denim for my extensive denim collection at the Barneys CO-OP erstown. playin. played! ok ok I ate 12 hotdogs and drank 3 dr peppers while waiting for an engraved "Opera Chic" wooden slugger from the Cooperstown Bat Company.
(Michael Slattery as Orfeo and Megan Monaghan as Euridice in Glimmerglass Opera’s production of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo. Credit: George Mott/Glimmerglass Opera.)
Next on deck (LOOK! BASEBALL LINGO!) was the Saturday evening performance of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo. All abandon hope, ye who enter here. ha ha just playin. L'Orfeo played to a mixed crowd. During intermission and egress, overheard conversations revealed that patrons didn't "get" the direction. The dissatisfaction even elicited an unmistakable smattering of booing during lights out for the curtain call, but all chaos was quickly countered with a partial standing ovation and raucous cheering.
OC will set the curious str8: for every weakness in direction, there were equal moments of brilliance which cannot be omitted.
The steamy hawt crush of the night was young American tenor Michael Slattery talented in the ways of tonsils and technique...and versatility versed as an accomplished media artist, and (not making this up TRUST) "he makes nightly appearances as the operatic voice of the Pillsbury Doughboy." I have no idea what that alludes to, and I'm not going to even pretend I know.
As the curtain raised v e e e r r y slowly on Act I, random couches, loveseats, and chairs were the only furniture littering a large hall with floor to ceiling blond wood paneling, and the only element that changed by scene. Soaring windows stage left served as the exit and entrance onto the stage. The Act I celebration introduced La Musica, signaling the first time OC has seen purple on the opera stage in like 2 years. The shepherds and nymphs are introduced in a mélange of costumes (Elizabethan to Renaissance, 60s mod to Venetian), everyone oozing secks, and even engaging in covert, mimicked couplings. The vocal lines were hollow and affected in 17th century technique, which mostly worked save a few instances where the lack of modulation created crescendi that were just too heavy over the delicate orchestra.
Act II's Tu se' morta from Slattery was an anguished, tortured, pitiful triumph. The direction of Slattery being so overcome with grief that he cocoons (drawing his gray hooded sweatshirt tightly over his head, and pulling the drawstrings closed to constrict his face) was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Even better that it covered his low-plunging v-neck gray t-shirt (American Apparel? gawd how i hate that hipster deep-v on men.) Slattery continued to writhe around the stage with hood pulled over his eyes, shoes kicked aside and sock-less, which ensured Act III's Orfeo son io as heartbreaking, and Slattery continued to kill us (in a good way) throughout Acts IV and V.
Conductor Antony Walker drew out a purified sound from the historically accurate setup, including bebee trumpets, some viola da gamba, wooden recorders, and other olde timey instruments that frankly, we could care less for. Give me bass & bump & thump...not the tinny, wheezy, compressed flat lines. ugh. wooden recorders. ugh. it was like a knitting club under the stage it was so small.
Low points?: flat, tepid, sallow yellow lighting that evoked not earth dwellers or hell, but like it was set in that Disney Haunted Mansion elevator...and equally, lighting that did not once change before the intermission. Also: the curtain rising on Act I that moved like -5 millimeters every second, agonizingly painful to watch and equally distracting.
Strengths: Aside from everything above, we liked the interpretation of Charon, who was lulled asleep in a chair while simultaneously reading a newspaper. Also: upon the renouncement of women, each nymph leaves the stage with looks of disgust, but the final spirito gives Orfeo an angry and aggressive middle finger to his back. heh. We also liked the nerdy and cranky Apollo, a character straight out of a Chris Ware graphic novel.
Sleeping. Bed Time. Opera Chic promises a full review on the third performance, Philip Glass' Orphée, tomorrow that you don't want to miss. Plus pictures from Glimmerglass and Cooperstown. You know you want it.