She Made Glimmerglass a True Festival. Now She’s Moving On.

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Sankaram’s range came through in a production of “Taking Up Serpents,” a 2018 one-act opera, with a libretto by Jerre Dye, on a double bill with a Glimmerglass commission and premiere, “Holy Ground,” with music by Damien Geter and a libretto by Lila Palmer. “Taking Up Serpents” is a dark, intense story of a young woman, Kayla (Mary-Hollis Hundley), who has taken a job at a drugstore in an Alabama gulf town to get away from her parents, who lead a rural church that believes in speaking in tongues and practices rituals with snakes.

Sankaram and Dye dig below the parents’ seeming fanaticism to explore the spiritual yearnings that drive them and that, in some way, speak to the confused Kayla. “Holy Ground” explores spirituality quite differently. With a fanciful, skillfully written score, the piece presents a beguiling present-day story of a group of hapless archangels having trouble recruiting a young woman to bear God in human form. (Again? Did the first time not take hold?)

Within the context of this summer’s offerings, even a work as familiar as Bizet’s “Carmen” came across with extra bite: a tale of exploited female factory workers and a dark portrait of a “community,” Carmen (Briana Hunter) falls in with a group of bandits. Denyce Graves, a renowned interpreter of the title role, directed the psychologically penetrating production. Zambello’s imprint on the festival had never seen clearer.

But back in 2010, when her appointment was announced, she might not have seemed a logical choice for the job. For nearly 30 years, Paul Kellogg (who died last year) had brought gracious leadership skills and a “superb aesthetic,” as Zambello said, to Glimmerglass. When he stepped down in 2006, amid staff turmoil, it went into a four-year transitional period under Michael MacLeod. It was ready for an artistic jolt.

Zambello had earned international acclaim as an opera director at major houses in Paris, Milan, London, Moscow and more. She had taken her share of knocks for staging concepts that critics felt did not work, especially in the early years. Her 1992 debut at the Metropolitan Opera, “Lucia di Lammermoor,” was deemed by many a symbolism-strewn fiasco. She came back to the Met in 2003 with a visually stunning and emotionally involving production of Berlioz’s epic “Les Troyens.”

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