Trovatore then and now, Denyce Graves and Mary Cardwell Dawson, Glimmerglass at the GRAMMYs

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Trovatore then and now, Denyce Graves and Mary Cardwell Dawson, Glimmerglass at the GRAMMYs

Post by lennygoran » Sat Mar 20, 2021 8:38 am

From Francesca's Traveling iPad – Trovatore then and now, Denyce Graves and Mary Cardwell Dawson, Glimmerglass at the GRAMMYs

Always enjoy reading Francesca's newsletter. Regards, Len

But, first: For the past year, Asians and Asian Americans have been blamed for the pandemic—a simplistic narrative of xenophobia and ignorance. Footage and reports of individuals being targeted continue to force us to contend with events that should shake our collective conscience. This behavior is rooted in a history of racism and systematic oppression, which we all must continue to acknowledge, examine and combat. We at Glimmerglass Festival offer support and solidarity with our friends, families, and colleagues who are a part of the Asian and Asian American community, because we understand what affects one of us, affects all of us. I encourage you to do your part by seeking out resources, engaging in dialogue and widening your perspectives to gain a better understanding of how you can be a part of positive change.

I look forward to the day when I no longer have to make such statements. Until then, I firmly believe it is our collective responsibility to repair this imperfect world, and to take every opportunity to be part of the solution.

Greetings from somewhere between winter and spring

After a brief flush of spring-like weather, we went right back to snow and frigid days just as the clocks sprung forward. Although the robins, nuthatches and redwing blackbirds (which have all re-appeared) and I are anxious for warm days and daffodils, there are those in my household who still appreciate the joys of winter.

Here is our son, Jack, relaxing with Rome after a day of snowshoeing. Rome is lucky to have the incredible outdoors at his paw-tips. He has been so used to having me around full time over the past year, it will be difficult when I have to break it to him that I will be traveling again once I’ve been vaccinated and things open up. But he is quite excited that this season the Festival will be doing an opera by Verdi, his favorite composer. (With a name like Rome, he naturally loves Italian opera.) He’s never seen Trovatore, but he’s learning the music, as I’ve had it blasting in preparation for the summer. In fact, taking the title “troubadour” to heart, he howls along with the Anvil Chorus.

Although most of the summer’s seating on the Festival Lawn will be given over to socially-distanced Squares that accommodate up to four people of the same party (it’s BYOLPCOB, aka “bring your own low-profile chair or blanket”), we will also be offering a limited number of Glimmerglass Boxes that seat up to six friends. The boxes and the beautiful Andrew J. Martin-Weber Lawn Stage, designed by Peter J. Davison who did the sets for Porgy and Bess, West Side Story and Show Boat, are being built in our scene shop. Above (in the scene shop) and below (on stage) are our carpenters working on the boxes. It is SOOOOOOO great to get these friends and colleagues back to work — along with returning staff and artists — after so many gigs for performers and artisans were canceled over the past year.

A photo of three team members assembling wood panels into the semblance of a small house that would fit six people.
The plot thickens...or, rather...becomes clear. Two of Verdi’s operas have the most impossible plots: La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny), and Il trovatore (The Troubadour). These operas are also filled with some of Verdi’s most inspiring, enlightening and transporting music. I’ve loved these works since the first time I heard them, but as a director, I perpetually struggle with how to make them make sense. In shortening operas to 90 minutes with no intermissions (as we are doing this summer for COVID safety reasons), I turned to our Maestro, Joe Colaneri, and Dramaturg, Kelley Rourke, to find a way to gracefully reduce Trovatore, while also making the plot less convoluted. We thought, what are the moments when you feel the story really comes alive? For me, this happens when Azucena, a distraught mother, recounts losing her baby in a fire set to avenge her own mother’s execution — a horrific tale revealed by this tragic character as the beloved Anvil Chorus simultaneously fills the stage. (Like many of you, I grew up with the Anvil Chorus as a cornerstone of basic music education; but for those who did not, it is one of those oft-used moments from opera that you may not know you know.) As a result of these competing musical elements, it’s difficult to fully register Azucena’s heartbreaking story. Il trovatore is named for the titular tenor, but I really think it’s Azucena’s story, because it is about (spoiler alert) her two sons divided at birth. So, we decided in this slightly compact version (the full opera is only two hours long), to focus more on Azucena, to keep her central to our telling as we follow her journey to find the truth. As a director whose job it is to interpret a work and make it meaningful and enjoyable for audiences, I feel this makes a lot more sense.
The flag that cut off Roberto’s high C. L’Opéra National de Paris, Bastille (2003)
High C, low moment. In 2003, I directed a memorable production of Il trovatore at Paris Opera with a stellar cast that included Roberto Alagna, Sondra Radvanovsky, Dolora Zajick (who has also been a YAP master teacher for Glimmerglass), Lado Ataneli, Anthony Michaels-Moore, Larissa Diadkova, and more. In this production there was a pair of huge flags representing the opposing sides in the story. I will never forget a particular performance when Roberto was about to hit his high C at the end of the troubadour’s famous aria, Di quella pira. At that most dramatic and showy moment, the stage manager brought in one of these flags, cutting off the thrill of vocal achievement that his fans had been waiting for. I can assure you this did not go down well with either of us, but it was one of those on-stage occurrences that one can (eventually) look back on and laugh about…which we were finally able to do a few years later when I was directing Roberto in a production of Cyrano de Bergerac at the Met, and we recalled that unfortunate evening in Paris.
a photo collage with portraits of Latonia Moore, Gregory Kunde, Raehann Bryce-Davis, and Michael Mayes.
The cast of Il Trovatore — Latonia Moore (Leonore), Gregory Kunde (Manrico, the Troubadour), Raehann Bryce-Davis (Azucena), and Michael Mayes (Count di Luna).

Gregory Kunde, who will star as Manrico, the troubadour, is a singer whom I’ve known for many, many years — since my very earliest days in opera when I was working as an assistant stage manager and he as a young artist at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. As our respective careers took off, we often crossed paths — in Italy, Switzerland, Germany and England — yet we’ve never had him to the Festival, even though he is a Rochester, New York native! I am thrilled to have him and this superb cast join us this summer, and I promise you will not only be swept away by Greg’s rendition of Di quella pira, you will get to hear his high C at every performance!

The home of Mary Cardwell Dawson, photographed for us by Kenneth Kellogg (The Father in Blue). Located on Apple Street in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Dawson’s house has been honored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation with a blue metal plaque recognizing it as the National Negro Opera Company House. Each year the Trust identifies “important examples of our nation’s heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage” and included the house as one of the country’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2020. I hope our 2021 premiere of The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson helps with the preservation efforts.
The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson...and our talented team. Denyce Graves, an artist I’ve long admired and whom I’ve longed to bring to Glimmerglass, will finally be with us this summer to star in The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson. This new play by Sandra Seaton, with original music contributed by Carlos Simon, celebrates the founder of the historic and groundbreaking National Negro Opera Company. Along with commissioned music, it incorporates selections from operatic masterpieces performed by this national touring company. To explain what I mean by “play,” I like to stylistically compare this new piece to Terrence McNally’s Master Class, which focuses on a central artistic figure, with music performed by her and others. I’m grateful to our Dramaturg, Kelley Rourke, for suggesting that Mary Caldwell Dawson could serve as the anchor for this exciting new work.
For many, Denyce is as highly regarded for her warmth and generosity as she is for her talent. The Denyce Graves Foundation has joined the campaign to preserve the historic home of the National Negro Opera Company and sustain the vision and legacy of Mary Cardwell Dawson. Her heartfelt invitation to contribute to this effort is beautifully expressed in words and song on her foundation’s website, within which is also the link to

Awestruck. I first met Denyce more than 20 years ago, when we were both working at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. Although we were engaged on different productions, we were among the few Americans in the company. I remember our getting to know each other over coffee in a Munich hotel. She was, as she always is, a striking figure, arriving in a beautiful long white coat. Since then, we’ve encountered each other over the years in many different opera houses, on many different projects. I was thrilled that she joined me at Washington National Opera to sing the role of The Old Lady in Glimmerglass’ production of Candide, when I brought it to the Kennedy Center. I am utterly awestruck by Denyce’s artistic range. She has been lauded as one of the greatest interpreters of classic roles like Carmen and Delilah, but she’s also brilliantly given life to American opera characters, including in recent years the Mother in Terence Blanchard’s Champion, about the boxer Emile Griffith. We are so honored to have her with us to debut the role of Mary Cardwell Dawson during this season of re-emergence.
In addition to being a fan of Denyce’s vocal and dramatic talents, I especially admire her commitment to youth. She stands apart in giving so freely of her time to mentor young people. I asked her if I might share a glimpse of her in this capacity and she sent me these two photos. On the left is from her work with the Sphinx Organization, a Detroit-based non-profit dedicated to the development of young Black and Latinx classical musicians; on the right is a student she began working from age 10, and who is now graduating with a masters’ degree from her studio.
Glimmerglass at the GRAMMYs. We are thrilled and honored that several of Glimmerglass artists and friends won GRAMMY awards this past week. We congratulate:

Eric Owens, Denyce Graves, Latonia Moore, Frederick Ballentine — Best Opera Recording WINNER for the Met's Porgy and Bess

Isabel Leonard and Ryan McKinny—Best Classical Compendium WINNER for From The Diary of Anne Frank & Meditations on Rilke (Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony)

J'Nai Bridges — Best Choral Performance WINNER for The Passion of Yesua (Richard Danielpour and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and UCLA Chamber Singers)

A birthday cake for a very special person. Some of my early directing assignments were at New York City Opera, under Beverly Sills and then Christopher Keene, and later under Paul Kellogg. For those who don’t know (although I hope you all do), Paul led Glimmerglass from 1979-2006, taking the company from its original home in the high school to our jewel of a theater, attracting the most sparkling new talent, expanding audiences, and, in short, making Glimmerglass one of the leading Festivals in the world. He introduced me to Glimmerglass in 1997, when he invited me to direct a memorable production of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride — starring three of my dearest colleagues who have since served as Artists in Residence during my tenure at the Festival: Christine Goerke, Bill Burden and Nathan Gunn. (FYI, Bill returns as AIR this summer, and Christine is generously emceeing our Gala in April. More on that in a minute.) Paul also championed my return here more than 10 years ago and has continued to be a very special person in my life. So, I was delighted to learn that his favorite cake is pineapple upside down cake, which I love making. I made this for his birthday last week, which I enjoyed celebrating with him and a few friends.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake
I bake this in a 9x9 pan because it makes the pineapples look so much better than if you try and do it as a round thing.

1/4 C butter
2/3 C packed brown sugar
9 slices of pineapple
9 maraschino cherries
1-1/3 C flour
1 C sugar
1/3 C butter or shortening
1-1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
3/4 C half-and-half or whole milk
1 egg

While you pre-heat oven to 375 degrees, grease your 9x9 pan as you normally would. Lay out the pineapples so they array perfectly in the pan, with a cherry in the middle of each ring. Sprinkle everything with a lot of brown sugar. Melt the butter and mix it with all of the other ingredients in a large bowl and pour over the pineapples and cherries. Bake for 50 minutes. After it’s been out of the oven, cool SLIGHTLY (you will want the brown sugar at the bottom of the pan to be nice and syrupy); then cut around the sides and turn over neatly (upside down) onto another plate. Scrape up the bits of burnt brown sugar in the bottom of the pan and sprinkle over the cake. This is the easiest recipe in the world, and it is no-fail!
Get out your jammies. Last month I announced our annual gala, explaining this year it will be virtual so EVERYONE can attend. We even have a price for “pay-what-you-can” tickets. So please click on this link and sign up. We’d love to have you join us and get a bit of a preview of the summer ahead. And…as we’ve advertised…it’s a “Posh PJ Night,” so wear those fancy silk jammies…or…just your favorite cozy sweatshirt or Glimmerglass swag.
Imagine. You. Here. On the Festival Lawn. Sipping lemonade or a glass of chilled Chardonnay. Listening to Denyce Graves, Eric Owens, Latonia Moore, Isabel Leonard, Bill Burden, our 2021 class of Young Artists, and all of the talented musicians and performers who will be enlivening our lives this summer. Next month I’ll dig a bit more into some of the other offerings of the season. For now, if you have not done so already, and if you are able, please help bring the many artists, staff, musicians and artisans back to work and the Festival back to life with a donation to our 2021 Annual Fund. And please always remember, at Glimmerglass, gifts of all sizes truly have an impact.

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Re: Trovatore then and now, Denyce Graves and Mary Cardwell Dawson, Glimmerglass at the GRAMMYs

Post by maestrob » Sat Mar 20, 2021 10:06 am

Eric Owens, Denyce Graves, Latonia Moore, Frederick Ballentine — Best Opera Recording WINNER for the Met's Porgy and Bess
I was so glad to hear about this. Both Owens and Graves have deserved such recognition for a very long time.

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