Our last Glimmerglass Glimpse featured Glimmerglass Lieder, a short film from bass-baritone Ryan McKinny, pianist Kevin J. Miller, and Keep the Music Going Productions which sets Schubert Lieder against the backdrop of Otsego County and the Festival campus.
Ryan and Tonya McKinny first met in New York City in 2002, and were engaged three months later. The couple are both trained artists — Ryan in classical voice and Tonya in theater — and have centered their lives around the arts, taking to the road for Ryan’s opera career and supporting their children’s interest in performance. With that family background, driving cross-country to shoot a socially-distant Lieder film wasn’t too far from their normal routine.
“It’s always been a partnership,” Tonya says. “I used to go to rehearsals and give him acting notes.”
“She’s basically been my acting coach,” Ryan adds.
“Not that you need it anymore!” Tonya laughs, “Glimmerglass Lieder was fun; it was a natural extension of the work we’re already doing together.”
When Festival Artistic & General Director Francesca Zambello noticed Ryan’s output of witty short films at the start of the pandemic, she reached out to the family to create a piece centered around Glimmerglass. Ryan — whose past Glimmerglass appearances have included the title role in The Flying Dutchman and Billy Bigelow in Carousel — immediately thought of a set from Austrian composer Franz Schubert, who wrote more than 600 Lieder during his 31-year lifetime, frequently setting texts that celebrate nature.
“That’s the huge, amazing thing about Glimmerglass,” Ryan says, “a natural setting in which to create music. When we were thinking about this project, we asked, ‘What would we do if we were programming a recital? What’s special about Glimmerglass?’ And it helped us to choose which Lieder to include — Otsego County is full of beautiful spaces.”
The family also wanted to lean into the constraints of socially-distanced performance.
“When we’re in a theater, the audience is in a theater;” Ryan continues,“when we’re at home, the audience is at home. The requirements for those different types of art are different. Archival performances are a good placeholder, but the audience is a third-party observer. We wanted Glimmerglass Lieder to actively communicate between us and the audience. Going forward, that’s what we’re focusing on — bringing the soul of our art form to the screen.”
With Tonya behind the camera and 14-year-old daughter Emma working sound, the McKinnys traversed Otsego County, capturing an aerial shot of the Glimmerglass campus with a drone camera and the starry Cooperstown night sky with a timelapse that ran until 2 a.m.
Little details in Glimmerglass Lieder demonstrate the importance of continued collaboration as the arts navigate uncertainty: the timelapse was shot from the lakeside camp of Mike and Marie Rourke, longtime Glimmerglass supporters, the boat that Ryan rows across Otsego Lake borrowed from and built by both Abby Rodd, Director of Production, and Resident Audio/Video Coordinator Joel Morain, and the McKinnys’ return to the Alice Busch Opera Theater illuminated by a ghost light designed and built by Joel.
“It was the first time I had been in a theater since everything got shut down, and Joel made this perfect ghostlight,” Ryan says. “It was beautiful — right height, right color, everything. People who work in the theater will immediately clock that a ghostlight is what we leave out while we’re waiting for the theater to reopen, so it really mirrored the purpose behind the whole piece.”
“Joel just has this vision,” Tonya says. “He really understands what artists need and want. It was so rewarding to collaborate with Joel and Abby as designers, in addition to technicians, and I can imagine other artists who work with them at Glimmerglass must feel wonderful because they’re such top-notch people.”
The McKinnys were also the first performing artists back inside the theater since its temporary closure in May.
“It was really emotional,” Ryan says. “We both have such a strong connection to Glimmerglass, having spent two summers there.”
“And it hurt a little,” Tonya adds. “Both of our children have performed on that stage. It really feels like a homecoming.”
Amidst international uncertain times, the McKinnys created Glimmerglass Lieder to show the importance of continuing to create art.
“We want to be together, but there’s a way to connect with each other through our art form while we wait to do this in person,” Ryan says.
“The possibilities are bigger than what we’ve been thinking,” Tonya concludes. “And it’s worth it. This is not how we want to be right now — no one chose this — but art is worth struggling for. Whatever we create right now will inform and change our future art in positive ways, if we allow it.”
For more information on Glimmerglass Lieder, please visit: https://glimmerglass.org/events/glimmerglass-lieder/