SARATOGA SPRINGS — Don Quixote is a book known by many but read by few, yet the message stands out as one that transcends time and place. Its themes serve as a reminder that there is hope even when the challenges seem insurmountable, which is precisely the reason that Opera Saratoga will feature a summer festival full of Don Quixote-inspired works as it returns to the stage “post”-COVID.
The season will feature two fully staged productions: “Man of La Mancha,” by Dale Wasserman and “Don Quichotte at Camacho’s Wedding,” a one-act comic serenata. Additionally, the festival will include its opening performance, “Quixotic Opera,” and a one-night concert entitled “A Knight At The Opera.” The performances will take place at SPAC, Pitney Meadows Community Farm, and Saratoga Spa State Park to allow for outdoor, socially distanced seating.
“Man of La Mancha” is a Tony Award-winning musical about the strife and perseverance of Miguel de Cervantes, the author of “Don Quixote.” Zachary James, a Broadway and opera star, is playing the lead role of Cervantes / Don Quixote. It is not entirely typical for Opera Saratoga to put on a musical, but the fusion of James’ skillset and the talents of the company will make for an exciting return to live theatre in the Capital District.
“‘Man of La Mancha’ plays to our strengths. It has multiple roles for great singing actors, and some of the most beautiful, expansive melodies in the entire musical theater repertoire,” said Opera Saratoga’s General Director and Artistic Director Lawrence Edelson, who is also directing “Man of La Mancha.” “When you hear Zachary James sing ‘The Impossible Dream’ at SPAC this summer, you will understand why Opera Saratoga is producing a musical!”
James, whose resume includes his roles as Lurch in the original cast of “The Addams Family” on Broadway and Thomas Hassinger in the Revival cast of “South Pacific” at Lincoln Center, as well as performances for the Teatro Real in Madrid, London’s English National Opera, and Australia’s Opera Festival as Abraham Lincoln in “The Perfect American,” explained that his dueling involvement in opera and musical theatre is rare in the industry, and that he has even been told he needs to choose one.
“The walls are coming down between the art forms and it’s now more accepted for stage artists to do both, and that’s very fun for me,” said James. “Opera’s a place for such big ideas and really over the top drama and I find it’s a beautiful way to connect with people if you can make it real. And then, of course, I just love musical theatre so much and I love that I still get to do it.”
It makes it all the more special that James gets to join Edelson, his longtime friend and collaborator, to work on this production, especially after not performing for over a year.
Timed nearly perfectly, this year’s festival will mark Opera Saratoga’s 60th anniversary, and there is truly no better way to celebrate the future than with art. After months of seemingly endless quarantines and days in solitude, the festival is a celebration of the hope that lies in the months and years to come.
“An underlying theme of Don Quixote’s adventures is that he sees the world as it ought to be, not as it is… I think that after the year we’ve all been through, that perspective is much needed. Optimism. Positivity. The possibility of change,” said Edelson.
James echoed a similar sentiment. He noted that in the arts community, there has been conversation about what the return to theatre will be like, and which of two ways it will go. Will the arts become a way of representing what pandemic life and hardships were like, or will they be an outlet to escape through comedy and hope? This show, he said, is a prime example of the latter.
“And to come back to a show like this, which is about optimism and hope and inspiring people to live their life in a beautiful way… that’s a really cool message to be a part of after what we’ve all been through together,” said James. “…I think that’s the right answer. Because we all just lived that [COVID-19], we’ll have plenty of time to talk about it because it’s such a pivotal moment for the world.”
The festival will begin on June 24 with “Quixotic Opera.” Information on the performances can be found at https://www.operasaratoga.org/home-2021.