Sure, it would be great if we culture freaks could just jump on a jet and head to Europe to attend those fancy and expensive festivals in Scotland, Austria, France, Italy, etc. But for many of us, time and budget considerations make this impossible and we just have to read with envy what is happening, say, at the Edinburgh Festival.
Well, there is good news: things have changed in the good, old USA! Within just a few hours drive of New York City there are three world class art festivals.
GLIMMERGLASS OPERA FESTIVAL (Cooperstown, New York)
You thought that Cooperstown was only Baseball? Wrong. It is the location of a jewel of an 800 seat opera house located on the forested shores of Lake Otsego and an opera company that is now world class! Forget what you have heard about the Glimmerglass Opera: they are not doing the same, old, tired war horses in English as they did just a few years ago. Recently this enterprising company has changed gears and is producing many operas that are not heard in our favorite big houses. And in the original languages too! As an example, this summer my wife and I heard all of the four operas that the Glimmerglass produced: Lizzie Borden ,Don Pasquale, La Finta Giardinera, and La Calisto. Check the New York Times for their enthusiastic reviews of these operas. Here rare the facts that you will need to know:
INFORMATION AND TICKETS:
Call the box office at 607-547-2255. The opera is pretty much sold out well in advance for the weekends but tickets are readily available for the weekday performances. We order our tickets three months in advance and sit in the Balcony, Center, first three rows. Ticket prices are about $55 for the best seats.
This is a beautiful part of the country with rolling green hills in a bucolic setting. Since we go for a week, we prefer a cottage where we have a lot of space, where we can do our own cooking, and where I can play my opera CDs as loudly as my wife will permit. We stay at a very comfortable cottage on the Carr-Adams Farm, just outside of Cooperstown. This place is very quiet and well equipped: two couples could stay there-- if , that is, they are particularly good friends. The rate is $85 per night and reservations can be made by calling either Bob or Margie Birch at 607-547-8272.. Interested in a B&B? There are lots of them and the Tourist Information Center will gladly send you a complete list (607-547-9830.) This summer we checked out two B&Bs that we felt were particularly comfortable: Angelholm (607-547-2483) and The Bassett House (607-547-7001). Prices run from about $95 to $130. Both of these are located right in the center of town.
Unfortunately, Cooperstown is not the gourmet capital of the Western Hemisphere but we found that the 1829 House to be the best around and we did have a good meal at the Hawkeye Grill in the Otesaga Hotel.
SHAW THEATER FESTIVAL: (Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada)
This is a major theater festival that produces the plays of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries and since Shaw lived into his early 90s, this covers quite a period in the history of the theater. My wife and I have been going to this particular festival for several years now and have enjoyed almost every performance. The production values in the main Festival Theater are as high as you'd find on Broadway or in the West End: acting, sets, lighting, and costumes are at an international level. There are three venues:
the Festival Theater in which the big, major productions are produced; the Court House Theater (which I hate: small, stuffy, and with a tiny stage) where smaller scale productions take place; and The Royal Theater (looks like a small, converted movie house but not bad) where their annual musical takes place (not particularly well done, in my opinion) as well as smaller, less elaborate productions. This summer we saw The Devil's Disciple, Rashomon, Hobson's Choice, The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles (what a bore) , and The Playboy of the Western World. The village of Niagara-on-the-Lake is indeed crowded with tourists on the weekends but it is, nevertheless, beautiful. This is a great trip!(Niagara-on-the-Lake is about a five hour drive from Cooperstown).
INFORMATION and TICKETS
Call the box office for their booklet which comes out mid-January. Also included will be a list of accommodations in the area. Although the festival starts in April and goes on to October, tickets are hard to come by for the Festival Theater especially during the weekends. It's best to order as far in advance as possible-- we order ours in January. Prices are quite reasonable considering the level of the productions-- about $45 (all prices here are in US$) for the best seat at the Festival Theater for a Saturday night.
If you are interested in good wines, you will enjoy the Niagara Peninsula where there are dozens of wineries with tours and tasting. You will be pleasantly surprised at the high quality of these wines. We have stayed in two different places right in the middle of the village. The Newark House (905-458-1018) is a very upscale B&B with two new luxury motel-type units with modern baths, eat-in kitchens (we did our own cooking here), a private deck AND a swimming pool. A great buy at about $85 a night. We decided, however, that spending a full week at the Festival, we needed more room so we rented a small , two bed room cottage in the village for about $550 a week. Call the Niagara-on-the-Lake Realty at 905-4688-3205. Contrary to the Cooperstown food situation, there are some fine restaurants here, the very best being On the Twenty -- a 40 minute trip (well worth it) to the village of Jordan. Closer to Niagara-on-the-Lake is a new restaurant at the Hillebrand Winery (the wines here are excellent as well as the food). Prices at both restaurants run about $50 for two with wine.
STRATFORD THEATER FESTIVAL: (Stratford. Ontario)
About a two hour drive from the Shaw Festival is this top of the line of all the festivals. This was originally known as the Shakespeare Festival but now they perform a lot more that just the Bard's masterpieces. I don't know how theater can get better than this! We spent a week here (we could have spent more time) and saw first class productions of the Sweet Bird of Youth, Waiting for Godot, King Lear (a staggering production), The Little Foxes, As You Like It, The Merchant of Venice, and The Music Man (maybe not Verdi but a lot of fun and very well done). There are three theaters: The Festival Theater where the really big productions take place; The Avon Theater which is a comfortable ex-movie theater; and the not-so-comfortable Tom Paterson Theater.
INFORMATION & TICKETS:
As popular as this festival is, tickets are usually available during the week but more difficult to get for the weekends. There are many bad seats in the Festival Theater where hearing can be a problem. I suggest that you order tickets well in advance for this theater making sure you sit in the Orchestra in rows only up to K. Ticket prices are about $45. Information and a brochure at 800-567-1600.
Stratford,and the surrounding area, is not as interesting as Niagara-on-the-Lake. Since we like to reduce costs by cooking ourselves, we rented a one bedroom ,duplex apartment at Bentleys-- there are 13 of these-- for about $95 a night. This is a very comfortable place and within walking distances of all the theaters. Call them at 800-361-5322. Friends of ours stayed at the Jenny Forbes Cottage B&B (519-273-7818). We checked out the two bed rooms and they are very modern and comfortable affording more privacy than most of these. The restaurant scene here is rather poor and I cannot make any recommendations.
Bruce Cabot Boyce