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Francesca’s Traveling iPad arrived this morning-everything from getting to glimmerglass from the NYC's Port Authority to her dog in the snow to mushroom and pizza recipes. I'm getting to enjoy this more than some of her opera choices of late! Regards, Len
PS-so Tolstoy was a veggie!
Greetings from the northeast corridor
My Decembers are typically confined to dashing back and forth between DC, NYC. and Cooperstown. I often take the Acela train between Washington and Penn Station, and the regular Amtrak between the City and Albany. I sit in the quiet car, which I prefer, but then regret when someone calls and I suddenly want to talk. I get a lot of work done on trains and planes — my MacBook is always open — but I recently discovered (or I should say, re-discovered) the joys of bus travel!
A Route 28 omni-bus. I know how difficult it is to get to Cooperstown if you don’t have a car. I often leave mine at Glimmerglass, and although I usually find someone to pick me up from the train station, I recently re-discovered the joys of bus travel. When was the last time you took a long-distance bus? They have really been upgraded, with power outlets and Internet service. The best part, however, is the scenery. There is one bus every day from NYC to Cooperstown during the year, two in the summer, five to Oneonta during the week and seven on weekends. (From Oneonta you can find taxis to Cooperstown, or you can rent a car.) To Cooperstown, it’s a 5-1/2 hour ride, leaving at 12:30 p.m. from Port Authority and arriving in time for dinner. I realize you can fly from NYC to Europe in that time, but you cannot see the beautiful and historic Catskills from 30,000 feet. At around $50 each way, it’s a bargain.
You travel for miles along State Route 28, which runs from Kingston to the Town of Warren in the Adirondacks — well past our stop. You ride through some of the lushest scenery in the state, and see some rather eclectic sights, such as Mt. Tremper, home to the world’s largest kaleidoscope. (It’s in the Guinness Book of World Records. If you are driving, you can hop out, go into the silo where it’s housed, and watch the 10-minute show.) You pass Balsam Mountain and the hamlet of Big Indian, 17 miles west of Woodstock, named for a member of the Munsee tribe who was allegedly seven feet tall. A bit up the road is the Village of Fleischmanns, named after Charles Louis Fleischmann, originally from Budapest, who made and sold yeast and whiskey. I am sure you’ve all seen the iconic red and yellow packets of Fleischmann’s yeast. Every time I bake bread I think of this spot along a stretch of 28 as it winds further north through the Catskills. These are just a few sights along the way, and each has an interesting history, which you can research as you journey through them, since the bus has WiFi!
Abby Rodd, our Director of Production, shot this amazing photo of a December moon in 2016. The full moon that appears the day after the winter solstice has special meaning for me.
Follow the stars. (I allude to the ones in the sky, vs. those on our stage.) Once outside the city, the stars are brilliantly visible. The day after the winter solstice is Faith’s and my anniversary, which brings with it a full moon known as the Cold Moon. Also, this December, Mercury and Jupiter will be in conjunction and visible to the naked eye.
Putting it together. Two weeks ago we had our annual production and technical meeting in NYC. This is where everyone involved in developing and creating our summer productions comes together to go over the technical needs to make it all happen. This can be a challenge; because we perform in rotating repertory, scenery needs to be able to be changed over from one show to another in a matter of hours, along with a refocusing of lights. We also have to make sure that set walls, drops, large props, special hung lights, etc. can all be stored in the fly space or shop in a logical way to enable these changeovers. And then there is a matter of cost; we work on a very tight budget, and by getting together, any issues involving logistics or costs become apparent. Director of Production Abby Rodd does an amazing job working with the designers for months in advance and then setting up this day. We saw the models and costumes for every show: Show Boat, La traviata, The Ghosts of Versailles and Blue. This means four new productions…and this year, well over 500 costumes! We also discussed the logistics for our adaptation of The Queen of Spades, to be presented in the Pavilion, and our youth opera, Noah’s Flood, which will be in the Cooperstown High School. It’s a day that’s both complicated and fun, and it’s particularly exciting for me, as it is the moment it all becomes “real.”
Alexander McKissick as Joseph, Hannah Hagerty as Mary and Joshua Conyers as the Donkey in WNO’s production of The Lion, The Unicorn, and Me.
Photo snapped in rehearsal by Glimmerglass Head of Stage Movement & Choreography, Eric Sean Fogel.
I was running back and forth to Washington to rehearse The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me, a charming family opera by Jeanine Tesori, the composer of Glimmerglass’ 2019 world premiere, Blue, with a libretto by the late Sandy McClatchy. I originally commissioned this for Washington National Opera two years ago. It is adapted from Jeanette Winterson’s popular children’s book that tells the nativity story from the perspective of the donkey. It is both touching and humorous, and like the Festival’s youth operas, includes young performers. The story shows appreciation for the least lauded beast of burden, which I find particularly meaningful. You may remember Hannah Hagarty, who plays Mary. She was a Glimmerglass Young Artist in 2016, and is now a member of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program here in D.C. She started, however, as a member of the WNO youth chorus, where she caught the opera bug, like so many of the Festival’s youth performers. Even those who do not go on to pursue professional opera careers gain so much from the experience. Working with and engaging youth is one of the most important things we do and one of the things I personally find most satisfying about my work.
Would you like a slice of za?
To kludge. As my friends know, I love word games — Scrabble, Jumble on the comics page, etc., although I am not into crossword puzzles. With the others, however, I love trying to race through them as fast as possible. On subways, I often play Scrabble on my phone with myself. A favorite pastime is getting together with friends for a Scrabble-a-thon. This is where we randomly pair off players for two or three rounds and see who has amassed the most points by the end of the night. I am thrilled when a new Scrabble dictionary comes out and new two-letter words are brought into acceptable usage. (I have a well-worn, two-letter dictionary a friend made for me. It runs from ab to za. Did you know “za” is a word for “pizza?”) A great word that came into existence in recent years is “emoji,” since it uses a “j”. When I have trouble sleeping, I read the Scrabble dictionary. A great word I recently stumbled upon on a sleepless night is “kludge,” which as a noun means, “an inelegant, improvised solution to a problem.” As a verb, it is, “to improvise a haphazard solution to a problem.” Isn’t that a good one? And useful, too. I can see kludging at some point during rehearsals this summer. And it uses a “k!”
A generation apart. Portrait of Leo Tolstoy (Ilya Efimovich Repin, 1887). Portrait of Alexander Pushkin (Orest Kiprensky, 1827)
Russian mushrooms ala mea culpa Speaking of language, I add “oops” to my words of the day. In the last Traveling iPad I referred to Tolstoy and Pushkin as contemporaries…and many of you caught this. I meant to say: along with Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Pushkin are the pillars of 19th-century Russian literature. Did you know that Tolstoy was a famous vegetarian? So, with a nod to Tolstoy and apologies to Pushkin, I have selected for this week’s recipe a wonderful wintry mushroom dish. Mushrooms are a staple of Russian cuisine, and a favorite Russian pastime is foraging for mushrooms. There is excellent mushroom hunting in Upstate New York, but for safety, check out the website, themushroomforager.com. Here you will find pictures and clear descriptions of what to eat and what NOT to eat. One of my favorite scenes in all opera is when the title character of Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District feeds poison mushrooms to her father-in-law. It is a witty, dark and sardonic death. Anyway, this site will steer you away from anything dangerous, and hunting for mushrooms while hiking is fun. This website is another great resource for finding foraging groups near you. Just remember to bring a soft cloth bag or basket to hold them and a knife to harvest the mushrooms.
Soviet Rice Balls & Sautéed Mushrooms
The first and simplest preparation for mushrooms is to sauté them in butter or olive oil with a little garlic and parsley. Russians also enjoy boiling them and making soup. There is an iconic Soviet cookbook, originally from 1939, called The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food. Apparently, they printed it annually, and there were 8 million published since 1952. Julia Child might be envious! A favorite of mine from the book — which I have simplified — is “Soviet Rice Balls.”
2 cups rice, I use white rice
5 cups water or veggie broth (or whatever ratio you prefer)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins or cranberries
½ cup breadcrumbs (homemade)
2 tablespoons butter
Wash the rice and simmer until almost cooked, then cool it.
Once cool mix in eggs, raisins/berries, sugar and salt and mix.
Make a patty from a small handful, roll in breadcrumbs and fry in butter.
Serve with sautéed mushrooms.
Russians occasionally serve these with something sweet like jam instead. Now you have a great meal, a scholarly connection and a good story to chew on over dinner.
I love this photo of Rome by our Communications Manager, Sam Forehand. He looks so Russian, doesn’t he?
Here is a link to Rome's Instagram account.
Follow him throughout the howlidays!
Throughout December. Hanukkah arrived early this year, and Christmas and Kwanzaa are nigh. To all, I send seasons greetings from everyone at Glimmerglass with our deepest appreciation for your support and friendship.
With our gratitude,
The Glimmerglass Festival
Artistic & General Director
Please consider a year-end donation to Glimmerglass.
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To learn more about the 2019 season, click here.
You may be wondering...
What exactly is Francesca's Traveling iPad? If you're new to our e-newsletters, welcome; if you're not new and have wondered about these monthly emails from The Glimmerglass Festival, let us explain. The Traveling iPad series is a travelogue from Francesca Zambello, Glimmerglass' Artistic & General Director. Francesca takes us on her adventures directing operas around the world and writes on topics ranging from the arts to the history of places she travels and other anecdotes, closing each e-mail with a delicious recipe for you to try at home. We hope you enjoy these e-mails, and that they offer a glimpse into the artist at the helm of our organization.
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Pizza Photo Courtesy of Greedy Gourmets
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