Glimmerglass Opera came into being through the efforts of Cooperstown residents – musicians, artists, educators and lovers of the art form – who hoped to bring opera to their community. Led by Peter Macris, a committee of community members, including Beekman C. Cannon, Ferdinand Ermlich, Thomas Goodyear, Louis Busch Hager, Mrs. Louis C. Jones, Mary-Jo Merck and Mrs. James M. Symington, worked to lay the groundwork for this innovative opera company. The company presented its first season in the Nicholas J. Sterling Auditorium of the Cooperstown High School in the summer of 1975. Four performances of La Bohème were staged before a cumulative audience of 1,200 area residents. Glimmerglass has since grown to international stature and now offers four productions each season. Productions have been performed in repertory since 1990. For the first 17 seasons, all works were sung in English; since 1992, they have been performed, with few exceptions, in their original language, accompanied by projected English titles.
The company opened its Alice Busch Opera Theater in June 1987 with Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. The theater is located on the shore of Otsego Lake, the “Glimmerglass” of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales. The theater is located on farmland donated by the late Glimmerglass Board Chairman Emeritus Tom Goodyear and his mother, Jeanette Bissell Goodyear.
In 1988, the company established its Young Artists Program, which brings exceptional singers in the first stages of their professional careers to study and perform in the creative and demanding atmosphere of Glimmerglass. These young artists are chosen annually from hundreds of applicants. The program focuses on education through performance, which comes from opportunities to cover and perform appropriate roles in all four mainstage productions. Glimmerglass Young Artists have the opportunity to work with world-class directors, designers and conductors.
Since its opening in 1987, the Alice Busch Opera Theater has been home to more than 100 productions, many of which have been world premieres, including A Question of Taste, commissioned from William Schuman (1989), the first American professional staging of Mozart’s Il Re Pastore (1991) and, in 1993, the world-premiere production of David Carlson’s The Midnight Angel, co-commissioned and co-produced by Glimmerglass Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Sacramento Opera. The 1999 Festival featured the world premiere of Central Park, three one-act operas performed as a single work, with scores by Robert Beaser, Deborah Drattell and Michael Torke, to librettos by Terrence McNally, Wendy Wasserstein and A.R. Gurney. The triptych was jointly commissioned by Glimmerglass Opera, New York City Opera and Thirteen/WNET’s Great Performances, which telecast it on PBS in January 2000. In 2004, Glimmerglass Opera presented the American professionally-staged premiere of Sir Richard Rodney Bennett’s The Mines of Sulphur. The world-premiere recording of the Glimmerglass production was made available on the Chandos label and was nominated for a Grammy Award. Stephen Hartke’s The Greater Good received its world-premiere performances and recording in the Alice Busch Opera Theater in 2006; a recording of the production was released by Naxos in June 2007. In 2011, the company presented the world premiere of Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner's A Blizzard On Marblehead Neck.
Paul Kellogg was appointed as Glimmerglass Opera’s Executive Manager in 1979 and was General Manager by 1984 and General Director by 1987. While he was responsible for many artistic aspects of the company during this time, Kellogg’s title officially changed in 1995 to General & Artistic Director. In 1996 he became General Director of New York City Opera while continuing as Artistic Director at Glimmerglass. Esther Nelson joined Glimmerglass as General Director, working closely with Kellogg until 2003. Paul Kellogg retired from his position at Glimmerglass in 2006, after which, Michael MacLeod became General & Artistic Director. Francesca Zambello was appointed Artistic & General Director in September 2010, and beginning with the 2011 season, Glimmerglass Opera became The Glimmerglass Festival. Joseph Colaneri, appointed in 2013, is the company's fourth Music Director; previous holders of that baton include Charles Schneider, Stewart Robertson and David Angus.
The company continues its tradition of four new fully staged productions, now including three operas and one work of American musical theater, performed with full orchestra, large cast and no sound amplification. These four productions are supplemented by special performances, concerts, lectures and symposiums throughout the season. The company continues to attract an international audience to the scenic Cooperstown area, where the talent of singers, directors, designers and staff from around the world converges in the Alice Busch Opera Theater to produce world-class opera and music theater.