As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am spending the summer as the artistic intern at Glimmerglass Opera. To recap, Glimmerglass is a summer-only opera company. Nestled in the remote wildnerness just outside Cooperstown, New York, the company annually presents innovative and new stagings, as well as rarely performed operas. A significant aspect of their artistic talent is comprised from members of the their Young American Artist Program (YAAP). This program annually brings in the best of new U.S. talent.
This season’s Young Artists, or “YAAPs” as they are lovingly referred to within the company, arrived just this week. This year there is a larger than usual number; 36 singers and 2 coaches/accompanists. They come from all different parts of the country, with varying educational and experiential backgrounds. The one thing that unifies them all is that they are the few chosen from an applicant pool of over 800. In other words, their damn good at what they do.
So what of the title of this post? What is “Opera- a rural setting” referring to? Well, for anyone who knows the geographical area Glimmerglass is situated, they will know what I’m talking about. To put it into perspective, the closest Walmart is 45 minutes away. There are little to no streetlights on any of the streets. Most of the buildings one sees while driving are barns. Even the Alice Busch Opera Theater of Glimmerglass resembles a barn.
One could count enough wildlife on a daily basis to start their own petting zoo…. You get the picture. So this ultimately begs the question – “Why start an opera company out in the middle of nowhere?” And furthermore, “Who is going to come to the middle of nowhere to see opera?”
I ask myself this question everyday. These questions especially come to mind when I drive the 16 miles from my residence to the opera offices, and pass road signs indicating “Cow Crossing”, “Tractor Crossing” and the rarely seen horse and cart sign indicating “Amish Horse & Cart”. With all these speciality signs one is accustomed to seeing on country roads, it only seems fitting for the opera to have their very own “Opera Crossing” sign. It sits about 100 yards before the entrance to Glimmerglass Opera facilities.
At first mention, it seems like creating an opera company in the middle of nowhere would be a colossal waste of time, energy and money. However, Glimmerglass must obviously be doing something right. As a company, they have been in existence since 1975, and their Young American Artist Program since 1988. They have continued to garner support over the years from some of the most well respected names in opera direction, conducting, and singing. Most recently, it was announced that come September 2010, Glimmerglass will come under the general and artistic leadership of renowned opera director Francesca Zambello.
In my short time here, I have noticed one thing in particular that Glimmerglass does differently than most other opera companies. The difference rests in the way the company utilizes and incorporates the resources of its community. Virtually all of the rehearsal and coaching spaces are venues within the local community that have either been rented or donated to the opera. Many of the opera choruses are comprised of local singers. Teachers are invited to bring their classes to tour the facilities and incorporate learning about opera into their lesson plans. The examples could go on and on, but in the interest of time and your patience, I won’t.
One last item. I think localizing art, engaging communities, and utilizing local facilities is one of the tenets to a a successful future for opera, and classical art forms alike. As they say, “all politics are local”. Well, in a culture where seeing is believing, maybe having people SEE art and artists engaging their community and its resources is part of the answer to the question of how we build support, respect and value for the arts within out communities and our country as a whole. I hope to touch on this notion of greater localization of opera companies in a future post. Happily, seeing what I’ve seen so far, I think Glimmerglass Opera is a prime example of an organization that presents world-class talent in an accessible and intimate setting fit for its community.