My Operatic Summer Experience / by Sarah Chandler

It is summer of 1990. We climb the stone stairs into an ancient stadium, flooded with late afternoon light and filled with thousands of people. We take our seats on the stone benches and wait.  Vendors walk around shouting, “biera, gelato!”  The light starts to fade and eventually the stars come out.  A hush falls over the crowd, everyone lights their candles and….up strikes the orchestra! No, its not a football game, its an opera!  My geophysicist brother and I had gone to see and hear Rigoletto at the Arena di Verona, and the candles were for reading the libretti.   As we walked the narrow streets near the arena on our way back to our penzione, we could hear people whistling familiar arias out their windows.

Spoleto Festival, 1989

the author, at left, Spoleto, Italy, 1989

I love the operatic experience, particularly from my vantage point in the orchestra. We sit in the pit, deep below the stage, but our music weaves in and out with the singers’ voices onstage. When I performed in the Spoleto Festival in 1989, we sat in complete darkness just before the opening of Salome…until the stand lights came up and the conductor gave the clarinetist next to me (now principal in the Boston Symphony) the signal to start that ominous run which begins the opera. In the pit for Glimmerglass Opera Festival this summer, we sit in total darkness at the conclusion of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. I am also performing in Verdi’s Macbeth.  It is a thrill to work with the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra musicians and to make our way through these wonderful musical stories time after time.

Glimmerglass ABOT

at Glimmerglass Opera, 2015

I find Glimmerglass reminiscent of Spoleto and of Verona in that there is “opera immersion.” People come from all over to experience opera, to attend lectures, get behind the scenes tours, to enjoy the beautiful surroundings. It feels as grounding and American as baseball, our “national pastime” and hailed and revered just a eight miles south in Cooperstown.   I have been subbing with the orchestra since 2006 and enjoy my time there immensely. This summer, I had the distinct pleasure of performing the Schubert Octet with the Fenimore Quartet and other members of the Glimmerglass Opera Festival Orchestra at the Star Theater in Cherry Valley. We had a wonderful audience and enjoyed an evening of chamber music: one of my very favorite musical experiences.


Schubert Octet with Glimmerglass Opera House in background (ABOT)

I look forward to returning to the operatic experience this fall as a member of the Tri-Cities Opera Orchestra when the Tri-Cities Opera begins its 2015/2016 season at the Forum Theater in Binghamton.  Before that, though, the Binghamton Philharmonic will take the stage to launch its 60th season in the same venue…hope to see you there!