Glimmerglass Festival 2021 Festival: Il Trovatore

Latonia Moore, Gregory Kunde Headline a Creative Undertaking of Verdi’s Mid-Period Masterwork

By Matt Costello
(Credit: Karli Cadel Photography)
This review for a performance on August 7, 2021

For the past few years, I have been a big fan of the Glimmerglass opera festival. Taking place in Cooperstown — a significant three and a half hour drive from New York City, and set on a lake — this jewel of a festival consistently presented powerful and innovative performances of both the classics and new operas.

Of course, as the story goes these days, that all changed. And we all had the year of nada.

While I would have ordinarily covered the summer festivals such as Glimmerglass, Tanglewood, Saratoga Opera and Caramoor, last summer the forests surrounding those companies — usually echoing with great voices and a full orchestra — were silent. But then, with the first hopeful signs that a new day was coming, those companies started making plans. Some, like Tanglewood, opted for reduced capacity and socially distanced seating in their acoustically wonderful Eero Saarinen-designed “shed.” Tanglewood also made the decision that – for various reasons – that there would be no vocal performances.

But Glimmerglass made its decision quite early. And that decision – as bold as any performance the festival had ever mounted. It would not use its Alice Busch theater, a terrific performance space with great sliding walls that could close out the beautiful surroundings for the opera inside.

No. Glimmerglass, led by its director Francesca Zambello, decided to build an outdoor stage. That stage, beautifully stark but with massive speakers and full lighting, would sit on the festival’s expanse of lawn, only steps away from the theater. And so it was that I travelled through the mountains (beautiful) and the farms (so many cows!) and the often so-appealing small towns onto Cooperstown, to attend a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s resilient warhorse, “Il Trovatore.”

A Verdian Masterpiece

Ably staged by Festival Artistic Director Francesca Zambello and Eric Sean Vogel with a naturalistic feel, aided by the modern-era costuming of Christelle Matou, with the towering pine trees behind the stage, the performance, edited to a brisk 90 minutes,  was consistently affecting. And the music, the ever-flowing arias and ensembles of Verdi’s middle years? Well, can one ever get tired of that?

Zambello announced that there is indeed a live orchestra playing — though none was visible. But the audience (sitting under – did I mention? — a very hot midday sun) were told that the full orchestra, dynamically led by Joseph Colaneri , would be accompanying the singers from within the theater.

The speakers, strategically placed to cover the three lawn areas – A, B and C – were terrifically clear and powerful. While one could tell that the orchestral sound was being amplified, those same speakers did a remarkable job of projecting a powerful sound from the stage and out across the lawn.

And the performers – amidst the heat and rustic staging – were all excellent, a Glimmerglass hallmark where somehow great voices find their ways through the surrounding farmlands to the festival.

A Fantastic Cast

Starting with Raehann Bryce-Davis’s exciting and primal Azucena, we were immediately treated to a serious voice that could carry the character’s obsessive wish for vengeance with thrilling singing. Her “Stride la vampa” had all the depth and edge that this threatening aria demands.

Latonia Moore’s Leonora had a clarity and powerful sweetness that, despite the heat, made all such concerns fade away, the singing transporting. And though the stage was minimally dressed — as chairs and other objects were carried on and off speedily — in her white dress, Moore’s performance, as in a soaring “Tacea la notte placida,” dominated the stage and endeared this Leonora to us.

Her Manrico, Geoffrey Kunde, was a passionate match for her, his voice navigating the demands of this iconic tenor role. “Di quella pira,” which can seem like a mighty challenge placed mid-opera, here resounded thrillingly, with the small chorus capably supporting.

As to Leonora’s other potential lover, the Count di Luna, Michael Mayes displayed a rich, velvety tone and his acting steered well away from making the Leonora-obsessed Count a caricature. Like all such Counts (at least in the Verdi canon) he is clearly a cad, but one with an elegance and voice to match his station.

The Ferrando of Peter Morgan, who initially attempts to explain the unfortunate mix-up, was the solid, warm bass voice that, in true Verdi fashion, seems to underpin all we would see with a compassion and wonderful singing.

It was truly a marvelous performance through and through and got me excited for what may come next summer.  One might hope that Glimmerglass will be back in its excellent theater, perhaps using that outdoor stage for special events? But for this summer, I and apparently so many others were happy to be there, sunblock on, hats pulled down tight, water bottle near as the intrepid and accomplished company worked its wonders with such a beloved masterpiece.


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