By almost any measure, Cooperstown is remote. Not only is it a four-hour drive from this area, it’s also two hours from the nearest airport, in Albany.
By Paul Hicks
By almost any measure, Cooperstown is remote. Not only is it a four-hour drive from this area, it’s also two hours from the nearest airport, in Albany. Yet, on a recent July weekend, the induction ceremonies of the Baseball Hall of Fame and popular performances at the Glimmerglass Opera Festival coincided there, attracting thousands of visitors.
We were unaware of this convergence of cultures when we bought our opera tickets in February, only to find that all our favorite places to stay in Cooperstown were fully booked. After a good deal of hunting, we found a B&B in the bucolic-sounding village of Cherry Valley.
The guests at the B&B turned out to be a microcosmic mix of the two cultures. The other six staying the first night were all baseball fans who had driven there from Illinois, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. They came to honor the two inductees for 2012 (Jeff Larkin of the Cincinnati Reds and Ron Santo of the Chicago Cubs).
Over breakfast we learned some of the arcane rules for induction into the Hall of Fame and were surprised at how few are admitted. Since its inception in 1939, the HOF has added only 297 people, of which 205 are former major league players, while the rest fit into other categories (managers, umpires, etc.).
The next morning the mix shifted, and the opera lovers were in the majority. Tipping the balance was a family from Canada that included a daughter who was singing in one of the productions. By the end of breakfast, a couple of the baseball fans seemed to warm to opera when they learned that they are not all tragedies and you can follow the words in English, thanks to super-titles.
This summer, the Glimmerglass Festival is presenting two classic operas: Verdi’s “Aida” and Lully’s “Armide” and Kurt Weill’s more contemporary “Lost in the Stars,” which some purists consider to be musical theater rather than opera, because it uses spoken dialogue.
In an effort to attract a wider audience, Glimmerglass has added a Broadway musical in recent years. This season it is “The Music Man,” which opened on Broadway in 1957 and was later made into a successful movie.
The Syracuse Post-Standard’s online review called it an “enchanting production” with “a talented cast, technical design music, direction and choreography.”
“Aida,” the first of the two operas we saw, is often performed on a large stage like the one at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, where they have room to parade live elephants. The success of the Glimmerglass production, however, was achieved by great singing without any notable staging.
One of the appeals of Glimmerglass is their strong commitment to using younger singers and rising stars in their productions, and two of them led the cast of Aida in the principal roles. Most memorable was the tenor, Noah Stewart, a young African-American who was raised by a single mother in Harlem and graduated from Julliard.
The highlight of our trip was the opening production of “Lost in the Stars,” which is based on the novel, “Cry the Beloved Country,” written by Alan Paton in the era of Apartheid. The principal character is Steven Kumalo, a black South African clergyman who comes to Johannesburg from his rural home to find his son only to learn the young man has killed a white man. Bass-baritone Eric Owens sang and acted brilliantly in the leading role, and was supported by a fine ensemble cast.
On Monday night, after the Hall of Fame crowd had mostly left town, we ventured into downtown Cooperstown to have dinner on the terrace of the Otesaga Hotel. The food is good and reasonably priced, but the main attraction is the view up Lake Otsego, to which James Fenimore Cooper gave the name “Glimmerglass.”
On prior visits to Cooperstown, we had enjoyed seeing a number of local attractions, including the Farmers’ Museum, the Fenimore Art Museum and the Baseball Hall of Fame. This time we took a guided tour of Hyde Hall, an early 19th century mansion that is a national historic landmark. Overlooking Lake Otsego, it been described as “possibly the largest domestic structure built in the United States between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.”
There is still time to visit the Glimmerglass Opera Festival this summer, as this season runs through August 25. You can find information about this and next season’s productions at glimmerglass.org. We are planning to return, but first we’ll check when the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies are scheduled.