The Fly Creek Historical Society (FCHS) invited Paul Kellogg, Glimmerglass Artistic Director Emeritus, to speak on Glimmerglass Opera’s early days at its September 23 meeting. In addition to community members, several Glimmerglass volunteers, as well as previous and current Glimmerglass staff members were in attendance. I can’t say enough how pleased I am to have been there. I joined Glimmerglass the same year Kellogg announced his retirement from the company, so I have had limited interaction with him. It was inspiring to hear Kellogg speak of the community that bound together to create and sustain an opera company in such an unlikely place.
He recognized the many people who were instrumental in creating the ambitious opera company, naming Peter Macris and Tom Goodyear, among many, many others.
“A magical optimism infected us in the early days,” Kellogg said.
He cited some perceived obstacles in creating an opera company in such a unique area. Cooperstown did not have a huge corporate base from which to draw support (which remains the case today). Additionally, the area is fairly rural, without a large audience base. Cooperstown, on average, has a population of 2,500.
“Community pride and luck had to make up for a lot of it,” he said.
The company presented its initial performances in the Cooperstown High School auditorium. Hundreds of people donated time and efforts, sewing costumes, building sets, feeding and housing artists, he said.
“I have never seen a community come together like that,” he said.
The company opened with performances of La Bohème, which went over extremely well. Many people in the community didn’t know that much about opera, he said. They didn’t know that La Bohème was one of the most beloved operas and that perhaps they weren’t supposed to like other operas as much.
“There wasn’t any prejudice,” he said.
So, future seasons began to include rarely performed works, and the theater filled up, and audience members began to travel from outside of Cooperstown to see the operas they couldn’t experience anywhere else. By 1982, Glimmerglass was being widely noticed, he said, and the company realized it should build its own theater.
The Alice Busch Opera Theater opened in 1987 on land donated by the Goodyear family. Designed by Hugh Hardy, it seats about 900 people. The theater opened with Eugene Onegin, which he admitted was not an artistic success. He said, the company realized then that a great theater requires work of equal quality – and a doubled budget.
“The high school productions were no more,” he said. In three years, the productions were selling out, and those involved were sorry a bigger theater hadn’t been built.
Now there are different challenges facing the arts, he acknowledged. Music education has been cut from schools across the country. The Baby Boomer Generation, which was not well exposed to the classical music world, has now raised another generation without much appreciation for the art form. Newspapers and magazines are suffering as well, with a lot of arts coverage being cut. Of course, September 11 affected trends as well. People became afraid to gather in public in large numbers, at say, an opera performance. They became accustomed to the technology found at home, with Netflix, video games and more.
Glimmerglass Opera had been fairly insulated from the economic upheaval affecting arts organizations across the country, he said, but that time has passed.
“The thunder isn’t so distant anymore,” Kellogg said. “It may be that all we have to do is take cover until the storm passes, but I doubt it.” Either way, he acknowledged the deep enriching impact opera can carry for everyone involved – whether for someone in the audience or on stage.
“Opera cannot be abandoned, and the struggle isn’t over.”
For more details on Glimmerglass Opera’s history, click here.