Glimmerglass Festival opens in less than three weeks, in Cooperstown, N.Y., with its winning formula of a musical-theater work and three operas, one of them rarely performed. Taking pride of place as musical theater is Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s “Oklahoma!” The operas are the familiar Italian-language “Xerxes,” by Georg Friedrich Händel; a rarely performed ensemble opera by Gaetano Donizetti, “The Siege of Calais,” also in Italian; and George Gershwin’s unjustly neglected masterpiece “Porgy and Bess,” which opens the Festival July 7.

Theme and variations

Glimmerglass Festival Artistic and General Director Francesca Zambello says the Festival explores “the themes of home and country, their importance in shaping history and relevance in defining who we are today.” The four works all premiered in the fourth decade of their respective centuries: “Xerxes” (1738), “The Siege of Calais” (1836), “Porgy and Bess” (1931) and “Oklahoma!” (1935). The English-language works each have a 13-performance run, whereas the Italian-language operas are set for seven- and eight-performance runs.

Fearless leaders

Glimmerglass Festival Music Director Joseph Colaneri leads the orchestra, chorus, and soloists in “The Siege of Calais.” Baroque specialist Nicole Paiement conducts “Xerxes.” Maestro John DeMain leads “Porgy and Bess,” and James Lowe beats time from the podium for “Oklahoma!” Francesca Zambello contributes all the nonmusical art as director of both “Porgy and Bess” and “The Siege of Calais,” a work she directed years ago.

Molly Smith is the director of “Oklahoma!” and Tazewell Thompson directs “Xerxes.”

Kick up your heels

Choreographers Eric Sean Fogel and Parker Esse contribute to “Porgy and Bess” and “Oklahoma!”—which also employs Fight Choreography Supervisor Joe Isenberg. All the onstage action and dancing may make you want to lie back on the extensive lawns and linger over a picnic lunch or dinner al fresco. Many ticket holders do just that, whether they bring their own feast or order ahead from local caterers and have it awaiting their arrival.

Impressive casts

Principal roles that give a hint of each story include:

  • “Porgy and Bess”: South African bass Musa Ngqungwana and American soprano Talise Trevigne in the title roles as the disabled beggar, in love with Crown’s woman; Norman Garrett (stevedore Crown), Frederick Ballentine (drug peddling Sportin’ Life), Justin Austin (fisherman Jake), Meroë Khalia Adeeb (Jake’s wife, Clara), Chaz’men Williams-Ali (doubling as Catfish Row inhabitant Robbins and Crab Man)—opens July 7.

  • “Oklahoma!”: Jarrett Ott (Curley McLain, a cowboy in love with Laurey Williams), Vanessa Becerra (the independent young Laurey, Aunt Eller’s niece), Judith Skinner (the respected Aunt Eller), Michael Hewitt (loner and hired hand Jud Fry), Emma Roos (the flirtatious, gullible Ado Annie Carnes), and dancers Olivia Barbieri and Ezekiel Edmonds—opens July 8.

  • “The Siege of Calais”: Baritone Adrian Timpau is Eustachio de Saint-Pierre, Mayor of Calais; mezzo-soprano Aleksandra Romano, his son Aurelio; soprano Leah Crocetto, the mayor’s wife, Eleonora; baritone Harry Greenleaf and soprano Helena Brown are England’s King Edoardo III and Queen Isabella; tenor Andrés Moreno García is English General Edmondo; bass Zachary Owen, an English spy; and as four burghers: tenors Chaz’men Williams-Ali (Giovanni d’Aire) and Joseph Leppek (Giacomo de Wisants); baritone Makoto Winkler (Pietro de Wisants); and bass Carl DuPont (Armando)—opens July 16.
  • “Xerxes”: Countertenor John Holiday Jr. does title honors as the Persian king engaged to Amastris (mezzo-soprano Abigail Dock) but smitten with Ariodates’ daughter Romilda (soprano Emily Pogorelc), who’s in love with the king’s brother, Arsamene (mezzo-soprano Allegra De Vita), and he with her. Romilda’s sister Atalanta (soprano Katrina Galka) wants Arsamene for herself. Amastris, whom Xerxes rejects to pursue Romilda, disguises herself as a man to keep an eye on him. Bass Brent Michael Smith is the vassal Ariodates (Romilda’s father) and bass Calvin Griffin, the king’s servant Elviro—opens July 15.

Disentanglement

Confused? In typical Händelian fashion, “Xerxes” weaves a tangled web, both from the story’s perspective and even Händel’s purposely muddled, but gorgeous, score: A king with a soprano’s voice; a woman dressed as a man; a man played by a woman who sounds nothing manly; a go-between, deep-voiced servant disguised as a flower girl … Still unclear?

Just remember: Xerxes rejects Amastris for Romilda, his vassal Ariodates’ daughter, who loves Arsamene, also pursued by Romilda’s sister Atalanta. Don’t worry, all the characters themselves get confused by a love note delivered to the wrong party, so you’ll be in good company.

Glimmerglass Festival, July 7–August 22, at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, 7300 State Highway 80, Cooperstown, N.Y. Stay tuned to this column for Everything Music and Theatre.

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