Friday, August 19, 2011

Getting to Glimmerglass: notes and photos

The first thing I noticed about the Glimmerglass Festival, I noticed sometime before getting there: it's in the middle of nowhere. More precisely, it's in the middle of rural New York, reached by a succession of two-lane roads meandering through a succession of small towns. The program explains that the opera house (built in 1987, a little more than a decade after the festival's inaugural season) is located on farmland donated by a late chairman of the Glimmerglass board. The program also emphasizes the festival's local roots and ongoing local connections; I'd be interested to know how large the audience catchment area is, as it is quite a trek to get there, and not directly accessible by public transportation. If the festival is building its success off a primarily local audience, that's fascinating in itself.

Now, if one has the means and leisure to make Glimmerglass the centerpiece of a vacation, it is an awfully nice spot in the middle of nowhere. It's almost directly on the shore of Lake Otsego, and the somewhat self-consciously quaint, but still charming Cooperstown, is only a few miles removed. A post-opera stroll along Main Street (where Zerbinetta and I crossed paths with several other audience members) revealed the Cooperstown specialties to be bed-and-breakfasts, baseball, and ice cream. This being dairy country, the ice cream was great. Also tempting is the presence of a nearby brewery. Obviously I don't have the means or the leisure to do a Glimmerglass weekend, but although getting there was a hike, the festival does offer a 50% student discount on tickets.  Now, a half price ticket is my kind of offer, and I don't think it's too widely taken advantage of; I suspect Zerbinetta and I may have knocked a few decimal points off the average age of the matinee audience.

Photos and more:
The opera house. Note the vast amounts of surrounding greenery! I think I must have been overdue for a city break, as I was totally entranced by all the Nature.

The opera house, up close. To get to the balcony, one simply climbs the stairs visible in the background. It was pleasantly airy, and once the shades on the far wall were lowered, it looked less like a barn.

Environs. Perfect for picnicking, and as it turns out, we had the weather for it; but the storms of the preceding days had led us to mistrust the weather, so we made do with sandwiches from the on-site stand. In the pavilion in the background, there was a pre-performance lecture (not recommended as a substitute for in-depth preparation.) As you can see, the "dress code" was very casual. I was glad I hadn't bothered with heels; the grass and gravel were much more easily navigated without them.

You may ask yourselves, Gentle Readers: what is that young woman holding in her hand? A cowbell. She gamely made the rounds of the outlying buildings, ringing it. This is, apparently, how Glimmerglass audience members are summoned to their seats before the performance and after the interval. Moo. If any of you happens to know how this colorful tradition started, do let me know in the comments.


  1. As far as I can tell from ten+ years of more or less regular attendance, a lot of the audience are people who "summer" in the Finger Lakes, a lot are people who come in from elsewhere for weekends (there is a not insignificant Boston crowd), and the rest are "locals", which we can probably define as a hundred mile radius, with the preponderance being from counties east.

    At least one of those locals would say G'glass's success was due to its being the leading edge of baroque opera revival in the US in the 90's / early 00's, and would point specifically to the agency of Jane Glover. No doubt their deal with a then much less moribund NYCO helped a lot too. They've slipped some artistically since then (imho), so the question is can Zambello get things back to fighting trim.

    As a sidenote, for anyone making the trek via Rt 20, a short detour into Sharon Springs is recommended if you're the kind of person who brakes for crumbling Gilded Age resort hotels.

  2. @stray Aha! Thanks so much for this, stray. I had noted the impressive number of baroque titles in the festival history, but had not realized its significance. Lully's Armide next season looks interesting. Would it be too much to say promising?

    "I brake for crumbling Gilded Age resort hotels" would be a great bumper sticker.

  3. Can I haz a picture of Lucia & Zerbinetta picnic-ing on the grass? Or just standing casually about? OR SOMETHING?

    (But the middle of the nowhere business is most dreadful. I'm trying to get to Niagara-on-the-Lake so I can see a couple of Bernard Shaw performances, but trying to find a way to get there's been most aggravating.)

  4. @DTO Er... if I had not neglected to actually take pictures of us sharing adventures, you could. As it is, I'm afraid all you get is a sheepish apology. Sorry. (Sorry, Zerbinetta!)

    If only you could enter a witty-epigram-writing contest and win transportation to the Shaw festival...

  5. I've been a subscriber to all four Glimmerglass productions over a three day weekend since the early '90s. I was then a Boston resident and have retired very close-by in southern New Hampshire. Glimmerglass does indeed have a significant long distance audience; they come from New York City, Boston, Montreal, New Jersey -- many places. Cooperstown is geared to hosting travelers who come for the Baseball Hall of Fame and for the Opera.

    By the way, Sharon Springs is on the mend due to the renovation and reopening of the mineral baths and the grand old American Hotel is no longer crumbling thanks to The Fabulous Beekman Boys and friends who took it over, remade it and reopened it to an enthusiastic clientelle.

  6. @Will Wow, that's an enviable and impressive record! Thanks for your insider perspective on the audience composition. This bespeaks an impressive dedication to long-distance road trips. The hotel renovation and renewed success is great news, as well. Thanks for commenting.

  7. @Will Yes, last I heard it was all being bought up by a Korean company with Big Plans. We shall see. The American Hotel is by all accounts lovely, though I haven't eaten there yet. I was actually thinking of the Roseboro, which I left tread marks out in front of one late and foggy night in the 90's. At that time it was abandoned and looking in rough shape. It has since been partly-renovated, and last I saw was on the market for slightly more than half a million.


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