The Glimmerglass Festival usually stages a classic musical each season, but this summer they took the pastiche route. To the World, a 75-minute revue comprised of selections from Golden Age and contemporary Broadway hits alike, takes the audience on an aural journey around the world, from the heart of New York City to the shtetls of old Russia, with periodic escapes into storybook territory. Although the singing in this otherwise plotless concert remained at a generally high level throughout, it suffered occasionally from questionable material selection, along with the eternal problems of idiom when singers trained in opera step, sometimes uncomfortably, into the realm of popular song.

William Burden in To the World
© Karli Cadel | The Glimmerglass Festival

The opening notes of “New York, New York” rang out into the balmy Cooperstown night to begin the program – an appropriate choice not just because of geographic proximity, but since we still find ourselves in a mindset to celebrate that city’s resilience over the past pandemic year. But while Aaron Crouch, Kameron Lopreore and Armando Contreras handled the musical demands well, their delivery was somewhat stilted, the sly humor of Comden and Green’s lyrics largely elided. This happened elsewhere in songs that relied on situational comedy presented out of context, such as “Where Is the Life That Late I Led?” from Kiss Me, Kate – performed by baritone Michael Mayes, who seemed uncomfortable with the requisite patter – and “I Know It’s Today” from Shrek.

This is not to say that some artists were uncomfortable with crossover. The radiant Isabel Leonard offered a rendition of “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret that was free of operatic excess, her resonant chest voice intoning Sally Bowles’ hope and pain. After pinging out brilliant high notes in Songbird, William Burden displayed a steady and substantial lower register in “Edelweiss”, while partially accompanying himself on guitar. Crouch gave a successful account of the perennial tenor favorite “Corner of the Sky”, from Pippin, and soprano Helen Zhibing Huang was luminous in the title tune from The Light in the Piazza – for my money, the best musical theater score of the past 20 years, and a work that Glimmerglass should consider for a future season.

Aaron Crouch in To the World
© Karli Cadel | The Glimmerglass Festival

Large ensemble numbers tended to be the most variable selections. Burden, Crouch and soprano Alexandra Shiner captured the buoyant energy of “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” from Hello, Dolly!, but “Tevye’s Dream” from Fiddler on the Roof, though solidly performed, would not have been my choice from this particular musical. (Shiner, though, made for a delightfully ghoulish Fruma Sarah.) The concert ended with “One Day More”, the rallying cry to revolution from Les Miserables, and to my ears, the nadir of the rock opera genre. It seemed an oddly vulgar choice, given the setting. After the concert began with the overture from Candide, shouldn’t these wonderful singers have sent us back into our worlds with “Make Our Garden Grow”, a song that undeniably speaks to the current moment in history?