“Think before you say anything.” That is the takeaway message for the 2016 season at The Glimmerglass Festival, according to world-renown opera director Francesca Zambello, who directs Robert Ward’s The Crucible, based on Arthur Miller’s play. She spoke by telephone and said “all four operas this season explore the theme of unjust accusations.”

Rumors: where trouble starts

“Received information becomes fact to people in this day of the Internet,” she says. “Even on the smallest level, gossip destroys people. We hope the operas make people think about the power their words have to destroy, much greater sometimes than violence—not to underestimate or minimize the damage from violence.”

That ‘green-eyed monster’

The busy stage director is also The Festival’s artistic and general director, and in that capacity leads a summer staff of 350.

Things are gearing up for opening night, Friday, July 8, when the Act-I curtain rises on a new production of La bohème. You might wonder who accuses whom in that perennial favorite from 1896 by Giacomo Puccini. Think jealousy and all the warped ideas that arise from it, destroying relationships. The Crucible opens Saturday, July 23.

History repeats itself

The Festival’s Website includes this thought-provoking quote by Francesca Zambello: “Throughout history we have seen how, in a climate of fear and mistrust, innuendo can take on the force of fact, resulting in the persecution of innocent people.” In 1692,unjust accusations arose in Salem, Massachusetts, and led to the infamous witch trialsthat ended with the public execution by hanging of 14 women and six men—all exonerated 300 years later.

Nowadays, who does the director have in mind? “Any people being subjugated beyond belief, losing their homeland.” Refusing to make political commentary, she says “the work has to speak for itself and people have to draw their own analogies.”

Distinguished conductor

On the podium, Canadian Maestra Nicole Paiement presently puts the cast through rehearsal paces.

Artistic Director, Conductor and Founder of Opera Parallèle, in San Francisco, and Principal Guest Conductor of The Dallas Opera, Ms. Paiement is “one of the most important women conductors working now,” in Francesca Zambello’s estimation. “She is extremely fluid with contemporary music and with works from the second half of the 20th century.” The Crucible premiered in 1961.

The look of The Crucible

Set in Puritan New England, when black was all the rage in fashion, you might expect the opera to be stark, rife with black and numerous shades of grey. But this “isn’t so much a harsh, slavish period work. We decided to infuse the young girls with subtle pastel colors throughout the opera.” Artistic license? “So much of the story is what people invent, so it seemed important to reflect that in the costumes as well,” says the director.

What it’s about and who’s who

On the surface, it’s a dramatized historical reenactment of possibly how mass hysteria took hold and spread fromunjust accusations of witchcraft, the basis of the Salem Witch Trials. Beneath the surface, both playwright and composer blatantly allegorized what happened in the 1950s in the USA, when so many celebrated and influential citizens suddenly found themselves accused of Communism.

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton stars as Elizabeth Proctor. Baritone Brian Mulligan is John Proctor. Tenor Jay Hunter Morris plays Judge Danfirth. Bass-baritone David Pittsinger interprets the role of Reverend John Hale.

Much-solicited stage director

In her sixth season with The Glimmerglass Festival, Francesca Zambello winters in the nation’s capital, where she is Artistic Director of Washington National Opera. She is also in demand virtually everywhere, including New York’s Metropolitan Opera, where she debuted in 1992 in a new production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, followed in 2003 by Hector Berlioz’s epic Les Troyens and by the 2005 world premiere of An American Tragedy, by American composer Tobias Picker.

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