“Lake George is rich in musical history, having been home to Marcella Sembrich, Louise and Sidney Homer, among others, and by the late 1950s, people wanted to bring the magic back,” says Tom Lloyd, recounting the origins of the Lake George Opera.
Lloyd, the owner of Adirondack Studios, is the son of the Lake George Opera’s legendary director David Lloyd, and was himself a technical director, artistic director and acting managing director when he was still in his 20s.
Earlier this fall, Lloyd addressed a gathering of Lake George Opera supporters in Clifton Park, a kick-off to the organization’s celebrations of its 50th anniversary.
Two weeks later, the company announced that it was changing its name to Opera Saratoga, severing its links to its origins on the shores of Lake George.
“For several years, the Company has considered a name change to reflect its permanent residency in Saratoga Springs. The Company has been producing opera at the Spa Little Theater for the past fourteen seasons and considers the lovely, intimate theater to be its home. The time has come, as the Opera celebrates the accomplishments of its history, to fully embrace its home and increase the public commitment to its community and surroundings,” a statement from the company said.
Lloyd acknowledged that he has mixed feelings about the change in names, but he concluded, “the organization should probably be named for the community that embraces it, and that seems to be Saratoga. Let’s hope it will lead to increased funding.”
For those who hoped that some way would be found to bring the Lake George Opera back to Lake George, its 50th anniversary was to have been an occasion to re-affirm its historic links to the lake. Instead, it’s an occasion to reflect upon the past.
Tom Lloyd provided that retrospective in his talk to the Friends of the Lake George Opera in November.
In 1962, tenor David Lloyd was in Colorado, performing with soprano Jeanette Scovotti, both names huge in the world of opera.
“Jeanette had to leave Colorado and go back to New York, where she and her husband Fred Patrick were starting the Lake George Opera,” said Lloyd. “She said something to David, David spoke to Fred, and by the next summer David had signed on as artistic director.”
Fred Patrick, born Frederick Susselman, was a baritone who had graduated from Julliard, where he had met Scovotti.
He was also a friend of Armand McLane, a singer who was familiar with Lake George and its musical associations, who believed that there was still an audience on the lake for opera.
Patrick may also have been familiar with Donald W. Johnston, who had started the Studio of Song in 1951.
“The Studio of Song didn’t make it, but Fred Patrick saw its amphitheatre in Diamond Point, and saw its possibilities,” said Lloyd.
Legend has it that the theatre, at the corner of Rt. 9N and Coolidge Hill Road, was a building in total disrepair. Patrick rebuilt it himself on summer weekends, when he wasn’t on tour or singing in New York.
Among the new company’s first productions was an English version of “Carmen,” with a libretto by Patrick himself.
In fact, when the singer scheduled to perform the role of Escamillo fell ill, Patrick sang the role.
Reporting on the Lake George Opera’s first season, the New York Times called Patrick “a jack of all trades.”
“Mr. Patrick keeps his budget down by doing the chores himself. He feels that his company must be versatile. He plans an apprentice program, which should help out backstage,” the reporter noted.
According to Tom Lloyd, the Lake George Opera’s versatility was its defining characteristic, and made membership in the company the valuable experience it was.
“The singers didn’t just sing, they did everything, including costuming, lighting and set design,” said Lloyd. “Fred always had a handful of bus tickets, and if you weren’t willing to work, he’d hand you one and put you on a bus back to New York. He was so committed, and he expected you to be, too.”
That collective spirit informed the apprentice program envisioned by Patrick. By 1967, a young singer would be taking classes in the morning, painting sets in the afternoon, and applying her own make-up in the evening in preparation for a stage appearance. The program is now the second oldest of its kind in the country, and one of the most selective.
Equally important to the future of the company was Patrick’s vision of an American company performing operas in English.
David Lloyd and many others associated with the Lake George Opera had studied with Russian-born pianist, conductor, and stage director Boris Goldovsky at Tanglwood.
Goldovsky, explains Tom Lloyd, trained artists to be actors as well as singers.
“Like stage actors, opera singers needed motivation and characterization if they were to become good performers,” said Lloyd.
Singing in English made singers better actors, David Lloyd said in 1967.
When a singer knows that his words are understood, David Lloyd said, he works harder to make his gestures and expressions suit his language.
Fred Patrick died at the age of 37 in 1965. By then, David Lloyd was the company’s managing director. Under his tenure, the Company gave its first contemporary and American operas, Menotti’s The Telephone in 1965 and Robert Ward’s The Crucible in 1966, and four world premiere productions: David Amram’s Twelfth Night and Robert Baksa’s Aria da Capo, both in 1968, The Child by Jose Bernardo in 1974, and Alva Henderson’s The Last of the Mohicans in 1977.
In 1964, the company moved to the Queensbury High School.
“The disadvantages were that it was a high school, with all the stigma attached to that,” said Lloyd. “The advantages were that it was enormously accessible, classrooms could be used as rehearsal halls, there was plenty of parking and it had an 876 seat theater.”
Unlike today’s three week season, when two operas will be performed, Lake George Opera seasons in the 1960s extended for an entire summer and featured more than fifty performances of at least seven operas.
The Queensbury High School was meant to be a temporary home. Fred Patrick had dreamed of building a theater on Lake George, and working with officials in the administration of Governor Hugh Carey, David Lloyd nearly accomplished that feat.
“My Dad’s effort with Hugh Carey was inspired. He almost had the State ready to donate Green Island to the Opera when the Sagamore was in disarray. It would have become a real destination festival like Santa Fe if that would have happened,” said Tom Lloyd.
It has been said that the Opera’s board of directors, then dominated by Glens Falls residents, vetoed the idea on the grounds that Bolton Landing was too remote to attract an audience.
In 1998, the company moved to the Spa Little Theater in the Saratoga State Park.
This summer, the newly-renamed company will celebrate its 50th anniversary with performances of two operas staged in Diamond Point in 1962.
And that, so far as we know, will be the last of the Lake George Opera Festival.
Photos: Lake George Opera production of The Bartered Bride, 1996; Lake George Opera Festival founders Jeanette Scovotti and Fred Patrick (photo taken at Chalet Suisse, Warrensburg).
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