What does it mean to “be yourself,” to “play a role,” to “express yourself”? Identity is everything these days. Every aspect of our concept of self seems to be questioned and examined daily. This is the topic we will dive into for the 2024 Festival, which we’ve called “Identity and Illusion.”
And what a year for it! With an election year comes our most precious democratic responsibility: to define our next step forward as a nation. We are charged with choosing our political identity, yet in order to do so, we now have to wade through the minefield of modern media: “Gaslighting”, “Fake News”, “Alternative Facts”, even “Post-Truth” are now so much a part of the discourse that deciphering the headlines has become a thorny task. In this environment, how can we even hope to understand our moral, religious, cultural, racial, and global identities?
But that’s not all: every single aspect of our collective identity has been scrutinized in the last decades. “Identity Politics” is a relatively recent phenomenon—the term wasn’t coined until the 1970’s—and yet we now have entirely different ways of talking about things like gender identity, race, sexuality, age, disability status, religious affiliation, and many other facets of our inner- and outer-most selves. Add to that the dystopian levels of information that we are all partly responsible for putting out into the world each day. Hundreds of millions of photos are uploaded to social media every day, and the average person spends more than two and a half hours a day looking at them. Inherently competitive and universally connected by a genetic need for social acceptance, this leads us to ever increasing levels of distortion, filtering, curation, exaggeration, and editing to create the illusion of a perfect life.
And it goes on: “Artificial Intelligence”, “ChatGPT”, “Deep Fakes”, “Identity Theft”, “Catfishing”, “Hacking”, “Code-Switching”, “Bots” – our whole world seems peppered with questionable versions of ourselves. So, who are we?
Finding Honesty & Truth
Ironically, I believe the closest we ever come to revealing our most intimate selves is when we step on stage to play a role. By freeing ourselves entirely of the demand to “be ourselves,” we are able to let our deepest fantasies and impulses run wild. People who are crippled with social anxiety and shyness at a small cocktail party suddenly become utterly uninhibited and extroverted when the curtain goes up. Stiff, dry conversationalists can possess killer comic timing and delivery once in character. Being up there under the lights somehow helps us to bare our souls in a way that nothing else can. What an honor to be in the audience taking in all this honesty and truth! The theater and the concert hall may be the only places we ever really see one another these days.
I am fascinated by the implications of this each summer, and truly believe it is why a weekend at The Glimmerglass Festival can be so transformative. It’s a time to let down our guards and truly be together—to meet brilliantly talented people from all round the world and to get to know what makes them unique.
The Characters We Create Together
Just as magical are the characters we create together through the stories we tell. Some of these figures are so deeply etched into our collective imaginations that it’s an enlightening experience to get back into the theater and meet them face-to-face. They can be as old as history itself, common to all myths and cultures. Some version of the “King of Heaven” is common to almost all cultures. Perhaps it is Zeus, or Jove, with a long beard and thunderbolt. Sometimes they crop up as Wotan in Valhalla, with an eye patch and spear. In Yoruba culture it is Olorun, in other places it is Amun or Baal. But I guarantee you haven’t seen them behaving as badly as in La Calisto—yet their very human flaws are fundamental to understanding the character.
Most of us have an idea of who Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirate King and Modern Major General are, even if it’s through endless spin-offs, like Family Guy’s community theater parody of a patter song gone wrong (I promise Troy Cook will remember more of the words!) or Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow. But I bet it’s been a while since you met the original versions of these characters.
Pagliacci is filled with once familiar characters. There was a time when the commedia dell’arte characters of Pierrot, Colombina, Harlequin, and Taddeo, who take the stage in the second act of Pagliacci, would have been familiar to everyone—nowadays, most of us at least recognize them in their traditional outfits, but we may have forgotten the characters they represent. We’ll be introducing these characters to you again in our pre-show picnic performances: for the full experience, you don’t want to miss that integral (and free!) part of Brenna Corner’s fascinating new production.
We spend the duration of the brilliant murder mystery Elizabeth Cree trying to piece together who the title character and her husband really are, with the help of some real historical figures, like Karl Marx, George Gissing, and the music hall idol Dan Leno.
Our delightful new youth opera also takes a beloved familiar fairytale figure, Rumpelstiltskin, and sets him the new challenge of becoming a thoroughly modern dad.
400 Years New
Even the way in which we play these pieces will call our notions of authenticity into question. What should La Calisto, written way back in 1651, sound like today? The historically informed performance (HIP) movement, in which Glimmerglass has played an important part with its revivals of many long-forgotten Baroque operas, taught us many lessons in how these pieces might have sounded nearly four hundred years ago. Nowadays, we tend to be freer with how “authentic” we try to be. I am deep in the middle of reworking my 2013 realization of the piece for our Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra (behold my instrumental parts for an additional aria we’re inserting for our stellar countertenor Kyle Tingzon, who will play Endimione this season after his success as Goffredo last summer).
We will use a mix of modern and period instruments, employing all the forces at our disposal to bring to light the many delights of this score in a playful, colorful way that fits our theater. Despite being nearly four centuries old, you’ll still be hearing this piece for the very first time.
What Makes Us, Us?
Orphaned pirates who’ve forgotten their aristocratic heritage, gods in disguise, plays within plays, murder mysteries, beloved fairytale characters grappling with modern day parenting challenges. Characters old and new, familiar or rediscovered, real and fictional. Reality, make-believe, and illusion. This season, Identity & Illusion, is about what makes us us, about who we really are. Beyond that, I hope it’ll make you reflect on who we want to be as a society in this important year. Are we a society that values great art and its transformative power of connection, and how do we go about preserving those lofty aims for the next generation (I’ll give you a hint – it starts with the donate button!)
All tickets are now on sale – grab them while you can! I’ll see you at The Festival!