Editor: Marc Bridle
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Seen and Heard International Opera Review
Glimmerglass Opera Festival: Glimmerglass Opera Orchestra and
Chorus, soloists, cond. Beatrice Jona
Opera is Glyndebourne without the snobbery and sometimes simply
stupid productions: it is all the other Glyndebourne wannabees
without their pretensions and
amateurism, and it occupies a stupendously beautiful
setting near the glorious
In its 30th season, Glimmerglass has continued its tradition of presenting four totally new productions each year, and the overall polish, level of organization and high standards are a glowing tribute to a festival which was founded by a group of local residents with the sole aim of bringing opera to their little community – how wonderfully egalitarian and somehow truly American this is, in contrast to the reason for both the foundation and continuation of, say, Glyndebourne. I would have loved to have covered the whole season, which included a most enticing ‘Death in Venice’ featuring the excellent tenor William Burden and the promising countertenor John Gaston, and an equally tempting ‘Così’ with Sanford Sylvan as Alfonso, but other commitments prevented me from attending all but one performance.
This presentation of the version of ‘Lucia’ prepared by Donizetti for Paris performances in 1839 was noteworthy for its lead soprano, Sarah Coburn, a past member of the Glimmerglass Young American Artists’ Program, and for its conductor, the director of the Pennsylvania Ballet company. Looking at their future plans, I would say that both are at present under-parted, and I would hope that wider prospects will beckon for them after this production. Given the mediocrity of what we’re often asked to praise in terms of dramatic sopranos over here, and the scarcity of anything resembling a very good female conductor, both ought to be positively besieged by promoters once next season gets under way. Both are young – the soprano in her twenties, the conductor in her thirties, and stunningly good-looking, but don’t let that fool you, for here is a high dramatic soprano who moves more like a sylph than a sea-lion and who sings with elegant precision even in a ‘Mad’ scene, and a conductor who looks more like a model than the usual frump which characterizes the females of the species and directs with a rare blend of forcefulness and sensitivity.
Coburn’s Lucie was an ideally vulnerable, fragile figure, her characterization easy to appreciate since one did not have to waste time wondering if she would reach the notes: she has them, and to spare, and they are voiced with clarity, sensitivity to language (French diction was exemplary overall – if a bunch of mostly under-30 Americans in what most British opera snobs would probably regard as a desperately Hicksville little place can please a native French speaker then why is it so difficult for UK opera companies?) and idiomatic assurance. The lack of a confidante for Lucie in this version (the original’s Alisa having been lost) places extra spotlight on the heroine, since the chorus as used in this production does not really fulfil any dramatically supporting role for her, so it is even more essential to cast from strength in this role – and you could hardly ask for a more confident and committed performance.
The quality of her singing was not quite matched by the rest of the cast, although Raúl Hernández, as Edgar, wields a powerful tenor voice with some impressively confident, ringing high notes – his tone lacks focus however and is rather thin in the middle of the range, and his stage presence is as yet rudimentary. Earle Patriarco is more confident on stage and his Henri glowered impressively as well as singing with style; the other parts were less strongly cast, Chad A Johnson in particular not yet ready for the role of Arthur although his very light tenor does show promise.
In orchestral terms, the music positively glowed; tempi were brisk yet sympathetic to the singers – Glimmerglass allows for the conductor to be on site during the full rehearsal period, and it shows – and there was some really fine playing by the strings and especially the woodwind. Affron’s is a name to watch, and if she’s still with the Pennsylvania Ballet two years from now I will be very surprised indeed – no criticism meant of course towards that excellent company.
This is an opera which I’ve always felt is crying out for a modern reworking – perhaps not exactly with Lucie and Edgar slugging vodka martinis as they vigorously engage in orgies with a couple of noble Stags, but perhaps just something more in the Jonathan Miller style: I have fond memories of Sutherland and Kraus singing in the Italian version at Covent Garden, and the present production did not add a great deal to that, although it must be said that there was also nothing to detract from the music – and far better that, than the ludicrous attempts at spurious ‘contemporaneity’ which infect some of our stages. The lighting, by the established and award-winning Christopher Akerlind, was remarkable in that it managed to suggest gloom and doom whilst remaining highly vivid, and the production in general, by Lillian Groag, was clear, gently evocative of Scotland (mists, clouds, much red, a woman dressed as a deer…) without any embarrassing Walter-Scottery, and served to allow the singers to do their job without any daft posturings or physical contortions.
In short, a wonderful afternoon spent at a superbly organized festival in glorious surroundings, with the added joys of ‘discovering’ an outstanding soprano and conductor. I shall be making every effort to attend the whole season next year, and I suggest you do the same.
Pictures © George Mott/Glimmerglass Opera
Photo 1 - Earle Patriarco as Henri, Raúl Hernández as Edgard and Sarah Coburn in the title role of Donizetti's Lucie de Lammermoor at Glimmerglass Opera.
Photo 2 - Raúl Hernández as Edgard and Sarah Coburn in the title role of Donizetti's Lucie de Lammermoor at Glimmerglass Opera.
Photo 3 - Sarah Coburn in the title role of Donizetti's Lucie de Lammermoor at Glimmerglass Opera.