Six reasons why Glimmerglass is the best festival ever.

1. Location, location, location: Many festivals tend to be hot and sweaty city affairs. Not this one. This one is bucolic. Our visits here always include a swim in the glimmering Lake Otsego and a picnic in the grounds of the Alice Busch Opera Theater before a show. The festival is in the heart of beautiful farming land in upstate New York 75 miles west of Albany.

The view from Lake Front Park in Cooperstown. 
  The roads in the countryside are deserted and the views stunning with the occasional interesting sign (Piglets for sale was our favourite). Right next to the theatre is the only Opera Crossing sign I've ever seen - warning you to watch out for opera goers as they cross the road to the theatre. The summer festival which runs through July and August began in 1975 and is situated on the shores of Glimmerglass lake of James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales (real name: Lake Otsego). Even without the amazing operas and musicals of the Glimmerglass Festival this part of the world is perfect for a road trip - with its gorgeous old barns, winding country roads and breathtaking views.
Scene from Oklahoma! Photo: Karli Cadel
2. You can binge on opera and musicals: Here's the thing. If you travel here for a long weekend over the summer you can see all four mainstage productions. They even have matinees so you can cram in your maximum enjoyment into your weekend. (Oklahoma! and Porgy in one day was our best bingeing). Plus they have additional shows, concerts and talks. This year David Sedaris is appearing plus we were lucky enough to see the one act comic opera Scalia/Ginsburg by the uber talented Derrick Wang. That was even before our four shows. It was like having an unexpected cocktail before a four course meal. Then there are talks about the show you're about to see from directors in the pavilion outside, Q&As with cast after some shows and other times you can stay in the theatre and see the stage being transformed for the next show (from say Oklahoma to Catfish Row for Porgy and Bess for example). Totally binge worthy.

Lunch at the Black Cat Cafe in Sharon Springs. Meze platter.
3. The food: Some really great restaurants popular with the opera crowd - my favourites for dinner are the exceptional Rose and Kettle in Cherry Valley (actually one of my fave restos ever), the Blue Mingo Grill on the shores of Lake Otsego (ducks under the table sometimes) and the cafe at the Ommegang Brewery (go early). For breakfasts and brunch I like Danny's Market (be prepared to wait), Stagecoach Cafe (go early to avoid line), Cooperstown Diner, Doubleday Cafe and further afield but totally worth it - in Sharon Springs the Black Cat Cafe. I'd also recommend making your own picnic from the farmers' market or buying sandwiches at Danny's Market. Public beaches on the lake and parks in town all have picnic tables so its a no-brainer.

Tasting platter of beers at the Ommegang Brewery Cafe
4. The beer: OMG the Ommegang Brewery is a must - just be careful to check they are open as they put on a lot of private events in the summer. We were lucky enough to have dinner at the Brewery Cafe here this year before their Belgium Comes To Cooperstown (BCTC) event, which was described to me as an eight-hour beer tasting festival with around 150 breweries represented. This would explain the makeshift campsite which had sprung up on the site - I think I'd like a lie-down during an eight-hour beer tasting. If you're dining here I recommend the mussels and fries with aioli mayonnaise. Also the tasting platter of beers where you choose five brews to sample. Our favourite beers are the IPA, the Pale Sour and the Three Philosophers. We did extensive research here. Check out the store where you can buy beer, cheese, Ommegang lipsalve (of course), good chocolate and other souvenirs.
Bass-baritone Musa Ngqungwana as Porgy. Photo: Karli Cadel
5. The singers: this is in the top flight of summer opera festivals even though they don't call themselves an opera festival anymore. Many Met-worthy singers appear here such as Eric Owens, Deborah Voigt, Lawrence Brownlee and Jay Hunter Morris, but the regular guest artists AND young artists are of extremely high calibre. Its a prestigious festival and you are going to see and hear the best of the best. You may well discover new talent and become interested in their stories such as Musa Ngqungwana who rose from poverty in the ghettos of South Africa to become an international opera star. (I just bought his book in the Glimmerglass store). BTW they don't call themselves an opera festival because they do musicals as well.

Contemplating a swim before the show at Three Mile Point beach on Lake Otsego
6. The swimming: We love outdoor swimming and there are plenty of opportunities here to get in some laps before a show. Our favourite was Three Mile Point public beach with its cute green wooden changing rooms on the sand. But Glimmerglass State Park also has swimming and lots of room to spread out and picnic under a tree after your swim. These places tend to open late in the morning but if you're ready to hit the water at opening time you can get in a good swim undisturbed. In our experience even when the water is busy, most people are standing around chatting or watching the kids so you can have a good long swim in the deeper water quite undisturbed. Our waiter at the Blue Mingo recommended Fairy Springs for its rustic feel. It has a diving board and lifeguard but no beach which could deter families and make it more suitable for an adult swim. (sadly it was closed when we were there but it's on our list for next year).
James Fenimore Cooper was right - it is a magical place and there is no finer way to experience Glimmerglass (or Lake Otsego) than to be swimming in it, gazing up at Hyde Hall on the hillside or the Glimmerglass Queen on the far shore as she cruises up and down.

Swimmers at Glimmers, dried off and ready for opera.
Read more about Cooperstown and Glimmerglass.

Read about our adventures Last year at Glimmerglass.


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