Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Trip to Cooperstown

A beautifully restored house in the village of Cooperstown.
By Bart Boehlert

My partner Ted and I recently took a trip upstate to Cooperstown, New York.
I grew up outside of Utica in New Hartford, New York, so as a child I visited Cooperstown sites with my family, most notably the Baseball Hall of Fame. As an adult though I love the cultural offerings of the town and the preserved 18th and 19th century architecture of the village, which is a national historic district and the home of the New York State Historical Association.

Judge William Cooper purchased 10,000 acres of land on the shores of the scenic Otsego Lake in 1785, and the village of Cooperstown was established the following year. James Fenimore Cooper, the judge's son, was encouraged by his wife to write books set in the area, including The Leatherstocking Tales and The Last of the Mohicans, and he is now recognized as the first American novelist.

Later on, in the 19th century, members of the Clark family, whose fortune came from the Singer Sewing Machine company, moved to Cooperstown. In New York City the Clark family built the Dakota apartment building and funded the Museum of Modern Art, and in Cooperstown it was instrumental in the development of the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Farmers' Museum, and the Fenimore Art Museum.

A little north of town further up the lake is Glimmerglass Opera which was our destination. Well, actually now it's called Glimmerglass Festival. This past year new artistic director Francesca Zambello took over Glimmerglass Opera and renamed it to include more kinds of productions including Broadway musicals. It is housed in the Alice Busch Opera Theater which is a welcoming, modern, airy design that holds more than 900 people. The theater was opened in 1987 and was the first American hall designed specifically for opera in 21 years.
The Glimmerglass Festival’s Alice Busch Opera Theater.
On Sunday morning we drove up to Cooperstown from the Catskills where we had been visiting friends. We drove speedily to arrive at the opera on time. Once there we had a few minutes to order some sandwich wraps and eat lunch. No sooner had we sat down when a nicely dressed woman from a neighboring table approached us carrying a white box. We looked up at her mid-bite. She said, "Today is the first day that same-sex marriage in legal in New York state. It's been a long time coming, and my friends and I are celebrating with a picnic. Won't you have some pie?" She opened the box and cut two slices.

That choked us up.
Into the theater we went to see Deborah Voight in Annie Get Your Gun. Yes, you read that right. The great Wagnerian opera soprano was starring in the bubbly 1946 Broadway show written by Irving Berlin for Ethel Merman. How is that for a combo?
The theater is comfortable and delightful because of its open air walls.
When the show begins the walls slide closed.
It's like when the chandeliers go up at the beginning of the Metropolitan Opera.
Annie Get Your Gun is an entertaining romp about show business and the joke is that it's set in the Wild West in cowboy costumes. The score includes classics like "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better," "I Got the Sun in the Morning," and the rousing "There's No Business Like Show Business." Judy Garland was famously fired off of its 1950 movie version and replaced by Betty Hutton. Deborah Voight is a memorable Annie and makes the role her own. Also in the show was our New York City friend tenor Jonathan Tuzo who is a Young Artist at Glimmerglass. Last summer we attended Jonathan’s impressive recital in Cooperstown, and this coming winter he will be singing in the chorus at the Metropolitan Opera.

Many people in the theater were dressed casually in shorts. It was hot but I think one should make an effort to dress appropriately for the theater. Like the older woman who was wearing an extremely simple but flawlessly pressed beige linen dress. She carried a beige clutch and wore beige slingbacks, and a big jeweled bracelet jangled on her wrist. Her tan face was naturally lined and her short blondish pony tail was tied with a wide beige grosgrain ribbon. Her look was polished and refined but also comfortable and effortless. That to me is style.
After the performance, the dynamic Francesca Zambello hosted a question-and-answer period with other members of the cast and the conductor for the audience while the set was struck on the stage behind them. She said she chose this show because it was written "just 60 years after Carmen," which Glimmerglass is also presenting this summer. "That's not a very long time and it helps to connect the lineage. This show is as important as opera." She also noted that none of this production was electronically miked, which is unusual in the theater now.

We met our friend Jonathan after the performance and then headed back down to town to check in to the Inn at Cooperstown.
I've always wanted to stay here. The 17-room inn was built in 1874 in the Second Empire style by Henry Hardenbergh who also designed the Dakota and the Plaza Hotel in New York City. In the dining room is this portrait of Lucy Cooke whose family owned the building and who lived in it for 70 years. I liked the cream wallpaper with the big black print.
The red entrance hall reminded me a lot of the Victorian house that my grandmother grew up in in Herkimer, New York, which is now the Bellinger Rose Bed and Breakfast.
A convivial porch stretches across the front of the inn.
There we had a glass of wine with Jonathan.
And then walked down the street to the restaurant Alex and Ika for dinner.

The next morning we strolled around the village of Cooperstown. The houses are beautifully restored and maintained.
A pretty back door garden ...
Pale geraniums and hostas framed windows which revealed artfully chipped Chippendale chairs.
We made a stop at the Fenimore Art Museum. Its home, called Fenimore House, was donated by the Clark family, and sits on the site of James Fenimore Cooper's early 19th-century farmhouse.
Last summer I interviewed curator Dr. Paul D'Ambrosio for my blog Bart Boehlert's Beautiful Things when the museum hosted an exhibition of John Singer Sargent portraits. Over the past year, he was promoted to president of the museum, and he very kindly came out to say hello to us on Monday morning. He recommended that we walk to the lake to see a new area at the museum.

Down the sloping lawn we went. A kind of roof structure revealed itself in a dip in the land.
We followed the path around a bend and came upon a Mohawk Indian bark house. Growing up in Utica, we learned about the Mohawk and Iroquois Indians who had once inhabited the region. This reconstructed bark house is a fishing and hunting lodge which the Indians would build when traveling for food. Inside the house was Native American Mike Tarbell, an educator who told us more about how it was constructed from trees and bark.
When we came out, Otsego Lake was completely quiet and still. Not one boat was on it, which was surprising for a hot Monday in July. The peaceful, transcendent scene was exactly as it would have been hundreds of years ago when Indians lived on its shores.
That is the magic of Cooperstown – wonderful culture and history in an untouched natural setting which inspire and connect the visitor with the past.
The popular blog Bart Boehlert’s Beautiful Things is a style diary of life in New York

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