According to Opera Saratoga’s Artistic and General Director Lawrence Edelson, the most impressive thing about the company’s 60th anniversary celebration this summer is not the remarkable fact that it’s one of the oldest arts organizations in the region. It’s not even that it was one of the first companies in the country to prioritize the production of contemporary American opera, including 14 premieres to date. And Opera Saratoga’s inspiring Young Artist Program, which trains singers as well as conductors, coaches and directors? Although it is the second oldest of its kind and serves as a model for companies across the country, it still doesn’t make Edelson’s pick as the No. 1 most notable part of what makes Opera Saratoga special. What’s most impressive to Edelson is that the company, with its modest budget, has such a significant impact in the lives of so many people across upstate New York, while also garnering critical accolades from across the globe.
“Many people think that Opera Saratoga is part of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC),” Edelson says. “But while we are wonderful neighbors in Spa State Park, we are separate organizations. We also operate quite differently. What most people don’t realize is Opera Saratoga creates all of its productions from the ground up. We are not bringing in a company to perform in Saratoga Springs—we are the company!” And what a company Opera Saratoga has become.
If the fact that Saratoga is home to an opera company of Opera Saratoga’s caliber is impressive, it becomes even more so when you consider where the company got its start. On July 5, 1962, 230 people filed into a rickety barn on Lake George’s Diamond Point for the debut of the Lake George Opera, the brainchild of baritone Fred Patrick and his wife, soprano Jeanette Scovotti. The couple envisioned an accessible, English-language opera company that would prioritize training for young American singers, and that’s exactly what they created. Though Patrick would tragically die of cancer just three years later at the age of 37, the legacy he and his wife created is now felt across the globe, with singers who received their first opportunities with the company now gracing the stages of every major opera house in the world. More recently, Opera Saratoga has become a leader in the production of new works, with operas such as The Long Walk and Ellen West receiving rave reviews in the international press, and subsequent productions attracting enthusiastic audiences across the country.
It did take some time for the company to find a viable long-term home, as the summer festival moved from the shores of Lake George to the auditorium of Queensbury High School in 1965 and eventually, to the Spa Little Theater in the Saratoga Spa State Park in 1998, before the company officially changed its name to Opera Saratoga in time for its 50th anniversary season in 2011.
Since then, Opera Saratoga has truly embraced its Spa City home. While the Summer Festival is the culmination of Opera Saratoga’s annual activities, the company’s commitment to the community year-round is just as impressive. “I’m particularly proud of the impact we have on people beyond the walls of our theater, and in ways you might not expect,” says Edelson, who’s been in his role since 2014. “Our programs enhance the lives of older adults with health issues who do not have regular access to the arts, and reach almost 20,000 children every year. These are deeply meaningful to me.” And community engagement has never felt more important, after all in-person programs and performances were canceled last year due to the pandemic.
In addition to its regular performances, which will be held this summer at three outdoor venues (Pitney Meadows Community Farm, SPAC and in the Saratoga Spa State Park), Opera Saratoga will team up with Caffè Lena on June 19 to livestream a Juneteenth concert as part of Opera Saratoga’s recently launched America Sings series, which amplifies the voices of artists of color, who have been historically underrepresented on the concert stage.
Looking forward, the company will initiate a new full-time program to provide music therapy for Alzheimer’s patients across the region, and will also stage the world premiere production of The Selfish Giant—a new opera by the all-women team of composer Clarice Assad and librettist Lila Palmer—which will travel to more than 50 schools during the 2021-22 school year. “This past year of isolation has been incredibly difficult for everyone,” Edelson says. “It’s time to bring the community back together and reconnect through the power of music and live performance.”
Opera Saratoga Timeline
Baritone Fred Patrick and his wife, soprano Jeanette Scovotti, envision an accessible, English-language opera company in Upstate New York and establish Lake George Opera. The first season, held at Diamond Point Theatre, consists of 46 performances in eight weeks.
Fred Patrick tragically dies of cancer at 37, and Artistic Director David Lloyd (pictured below) is promoted to General Director, a post he holds for 15 years. The opera moves from the Diamond Point Theatre to the newly completed auditorium at Queensbury High School, and the company’s Young Artist Program is created.
Lake George Opera performs its first world premiere, David Amram’s Twelfth Night, as part of an all-Shakespeare season.
Opera-on-the-Lake performances aboard the Lake George paddle-boats are introduced.
The Contemporary Opera Studio is created.
Paulette Haupt-Nolen is appointed Artistic Director. During its 20th anniversary season, the company performs its first musical, Man of La Mancha, and begins workshopping new operas in partnership with the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.
The Lake George Opera Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary.
Brian Lingham is appointed Artistic Director, and Opera-to-Go—the company’s touring educational program for elementary school students—is introduced.
Susan T. Danis is appointed to the newly established position of Managing Director, and David Lloyd returns to the company for one year as interim Artsitic Director.
Conductor Joseph Illick is appointed Artistic Director. A highlight of his tenure is a production of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in collaboration with the Harlem Boys Choir.
Due to renovations at Queensbury High School, the opera company performs its summer season at the Spa Little Theater in Saratoga Springs. While the move was initially meant to be temporary, the Spa Little Theater becomes the permanent home of Lake George Opera. The company also begins performing operas in their original languages with projected supertitles.
Conductor Daniel Beckwith and Stage Director Marc Verzatt are hired as Co-artistic Directors.
William Florescu is appointed the company’s new General Director, consolidating artistic and management responsibilities. American operas are reintroduced into the company’s repertoire after an extended absence.
Curtis Tucker is appointed Artistic Director, and later, General Director. Highlights of his tenure include many productions of the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan.
As the company celebrates its 50th Anniversary, Lake George Opera’s name is formally changed to Opera Saratoga to better represent its location.
Lawrence Edelson is appointed the new Artistic and General Director of Opera Saratoga, ushering in an era of expanded community partnerships, a reinforced commitment to the training of emerging artists, and further diversification of the company’s growing repertoire.
The company’s first Baroque opera, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, is performed in an al fresco production in the courtyard of The National Museum of Dance.
Opera Saratoga debuts its first Spanish-language performance, with ll Postino by Daniel Catán.
Opera Saratoga receives international accolades for its first commercial recording, made during live performances of its critically acclaimed production of Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock, which prominently features members of the company’s Young Artist Program.
Opera Saratoga is forced to cancel its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the company launches a series of virtual programs, including the America Sings concert series in partnership with Caffè Lena, amplifying the voices of BIPOC artists who have historically been underrepresented on the concert stage.
After a sixteen month hiatus from live performances, Opera Saratoga returns to the stage for its 60th Anniversary Season with shows inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, to be performed outdoors at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Spa State Park and Pitney Meadows Community Farm.