Opera Saratoga’s Summer Season Promises High-Stakes Fun

If you’ve never been to Opera Saratoga, this is the year to start. And if you’ve attended various one-offs over the years, it’s time to go all in. After all, there’s the excitement of the Belmont (watch out for the opera’s performance at the track on Friday between races three and four), the razzle-dazzle of Guys and Dolls (the only full-fledged musical in town), and an ultra-glam post-Belmont gala at Canfield Casino. From betting on the ponies and Sky Masterson’s betting on…everything, to the Monte Carlo-esque ball, it’s a low-risk wager that the summer festival is going to be an absolute thrill.

“Our summer festival’s theme this year revolves around the art of the wager, and we’re having a lot of fun with it,” says Mary Birnbaum, the company’s hip general and artistic director who also teaches at the world-famous Juilliard. “Guys and Dolls has been a favorite for musical theater lovers for 50 years because it’s so funny, romantic and tuneful.” And the fact that the company’s found a new home at Universal Preservation Hall means you can make a whole night of it: dinner and a show, and maybe some post theater-cocktails. This summer, the opera is the place to be downtown.

If Guys and Dolls wasn’t enough of a hint that today’s opera is different than any stereotypes that newcomers might be holding on to, take a look, too, at the contemporary works being performed in June as part of a series called Listen to This (flip the page for more). The 60-minute shows tackle themes such as technology’s mark on one’s individuality and loneliness among men. There’s even a pop performance, too. Classic opera buffs will enjoy all if it, in addition to the company’s rendition of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, during which Don Alfonso lays a wager that he can prove—in less than 24 hours, no less—that all women are fickle. Director Gisela Cardenas will put a feminist spin on this classic, as Don Alfonso learns his lesson, too.

“These works are timeless masterpieces with beautiful music,” Birnbaum says. “Così has appealed to audiences for 200 years and counting.”

Newcomers to Opera Saratoga often feel a palpable, excited energy among the audience members, one that’s reciprocated by the performers and which amplifies their larger-than-life talent. That’s because, unlike touring companies that stop in town for a few days, Opera Saratoga’s festival artists (some of whom are pictured here) live in the Spa City for six weeks, staying in locals’ homes and really getting to know and love Saratoga. By the time the lights go up, the faces on stage are familiar to the community and vice versa.

“To somebody who’s never been before, you have to experience the enthusiasm and the talent that these singers bring to the stage—it’s just fantastic,” says Laurie Rogers, director of the Festival Artist program, for which only 22 applicants were chosen out of almost 1,000. “When you look at those numbers, you can see how they all really want to be here. As an artist, you put yourself out there, and you try and try and try. When you finally get an opportunity like this, it’s huge.”

The Opera Saratoga Festival Artist Training Program is the second oldest in the country, and graduates have gone on to sing at The Metropolitan Opera, the great stages of Europe, and the West End. But no matter where they travel, they hold onto the relationships they forged as part of our local community. One Saratoga couple recently flew to London to see the singer they housed sing Christine in Phantom of the Opera, and two visiting artists even recently got married at Yaddo. The company’s managing director, Amanda Robie, was once a festival singer herself. “As an artist, you live a nomadic lifestyle, and it can be very easy to go to your rehearsals and then go home and not do anything else,” she says. “But in Saratoga, there are many fun events—house concerts at patrons’ homes, cocktail parties—where Opera Saratoga’s community eagerly meets the artists and gets to know them as people. As a solo freelance artist, that community is precious, and hard to cultivate! But in Saratoga, by show time, you have all these friends in the audience who are there to cheer you on.”


June  2: Cabaret at the Mansion • 2pm & 7pm

June  4, 11 & 18: Listen to This at Universal Preservation Hall • 7pm

June  5: Festival Preview at The Sembrich • 7pm

June  9: Gala at the Canfield Casino • 6pm

June  15, 23, 29 & July  2: Free Family Shows

  • June 15: 11am • Saratoga Springs Public Library
  • June 19: 3:30pm • Saratoga Springs Farmers Market
  • June 23: 11am • Saratoga Arts
  • June 29: 11am • UPH
  • July 2: 11am • UPH

June  19: A Juneteenth Celebration with Anthony Davis at The Sembrich • 7pm 

June  28, 30 & July  3, 6: Così fan tutte at Universal Preservation Hall

  • June 28: 7:30pm
  • June 30: 2pm
  • July 3: 2pm
  • July 6: 7:30pm

June  29 & July  2, 3, 5, 6, 7: Guys and Dolls at Universal Preservation Hall

  • June 29: 7:30pm
  • July 2: 2pm
  • July 3: 7:30pm
  • July 5: 7:30pm
  • July 6: 2pm
  • July 7: 2pm

June  30 & July  5: World Premiere Opera by inti figgis-vizueta at Universal Preservation Hall

  • June 30: 7pm 
  • July 5: 2pm
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