History of the Guild

by Mary Dunkle, Guild Member

Some current members of the Guild may not know oMary Dunkle.  To those of us who have been members of the Guild for several years, we appreciate Mary Dunkle not only as a thoughtful and generous friend but also as a remarkable leader and active member of the Guild.  Mary has served in many positions with the Guild over the years, as you will discover as you read the history.  She also volunteered in the very first years of the company, one of the volunteers who helped set the foundations for the Festival.

Among Mary’s numerous contributions to the Guild and the Company is this history of the Guild and its relationship with what is now known as the Glimmerglass Festival.  We’ve divided  Mary’s history of the first twenty-five years into five-year segments, to be posted monthly.  Each segment will be archived so the entire history will be available on the website. 

Our thanks to Mary for sharing her thoughts and memories of the organization which means so much to all of us.


The Glimmerglass Opera Guild: 1975-2000

By Mary Dunkle


In its September 1987 newsletter, Opera Guilds International (OGI) reported: “The opening of any opera house is good news, but when a town with a year-round population of 2,400 builds a $5 million theater for its 12-year-old opera company that is verygood news indeed. On July 27 Glimmerglass Opera opened the 920-seat Alice Busch OperaTheater in Cooperstown with a gala benefit concert. On hand were Kitty Carlisle Hart as Mistress of Ceremonies, Frederica von Stade, and Alan Titus.”

How did this all come about? The following account presents year by year remembrances of how this major opera company arose and flourished, and how the dreams and efforts of community volunteers were essential components to its success.



In July1975 Glimmerglass Opera Theater had its start in the Cooperstown High School with four performances of La bohème. Peter Macris, a language professor at SUNY Oneonta, and local resident, Thomas Goodyear, initiated this new enterprise. Professor Macris became the Artistic Director, and conductor Charles Schneider was recruited as Music Director. The 15-piece orchestra for the first performances was largely made up of players from the Catskill Symphony.

The Opera Theater board were all local residents: Beekman Cannon, Ferdinand Ermlich, Tom Goodyear, Louis Busch Hager, Mrs. Louis Jones, Peter Macris, Mrs. Carter Morris (Mary Jo). All personnel were volunteers except for three staff members.

The initial program lists all contributors and volunteers as the Glimmerglass Opera Theatre Guild. Jacqueline Amols was appointed Chairperson of Volunteers with assistants Laura Carter, Ellen Larsen, Jean Leslie, and Susan Smith. Naturally, the group decided that fund-raising was a necessity. The Glimmerglass Opera Ball was held at the Otesaga Resort Hotel in July. Tickets were $10 per couple. In addition, two festival concerts, featuring the Catskill Brass and soprano Mary Ann Ross were held at Busch Woodland (asmall open air museum on the Busch property at Three Mile Point).


         Three operas

The following year the new company presented three operas, La Traviata, Cavalleria Rusticana, and I Pagliacci,with a total of 17 performances. Ticket prices were Loge, $6; Dress Circle, $4; and Parquet, $2 (raised wooden risers along the auditorium sides).

The paid business manager and opera company president recruited volunteers for needed jobs. A volunteer took over the “manpower file,” which included production, administration, advertising, programs, box office (a card table in a Main Street antique shop), housing, mailing, and photography. Featured that year was a Festival Concert series, with tickets $2.50 and $1.50.

         A “friends group”

A supporting “friends group,” The Glimmerglass Guild Committee, had its governing committee appointed by the opera administration. Jacqueline Amols was chair, with Vittoria Demarest, Susa Braider, Patricia Werrell. Barbara White, Peter Macris, and Abigail Amols as members. The Glimmerglass Guild listed members in three groups: contributing, sustaining, and participating.


         Glimmerings of the Guild

In 1977, The Tales of Hoffmannhad two performances and Tosca five.Listed in the program as members of The Glimmerglass Opera Theatre Guild were 29 Sustaining ($250+) members, 27 Sponsoring ($100+) members, 31 Participating ($55+)members, and 184 Contributing ($25) members. Benefits of membership included soirees to meet leading singers, open rehearsals, and a party for Guild members. Friends of the Opera (under $23) were listed but not as guild members. There was no guild organization as presently known, with all positions appointed by the administrative staff.


         Mostly volunteers

The operas in 1978 included The Telephone,The Medium, and Martha. Most of the administrative as well as production staff were still volunteers. Clara Hulbert was listed as Manpower Coordinator under administrative staff. Guild activities are mentioned for the first time in company minutes but not as a separate organization. There is a gala party for the cast and orchestra after the first opera. Soirees continued. Guild membership (contributors) keep growing and moving further out into the surrounding geographic area. Guild membership was listed as all who contributed $25 or more. All tickets prices were raised by fifty cents! 


In 1979 Peter Macris resigned as Artistic Director, and Charles Schneider became both Music Director and Artistic Director. Tom Goodyear was Chairman of the company board. Mrs. William Sheffield, Jr., was appointed president of the Guild, members including all who contributed more than $25. It was noted that the company began receiving funding from foundations, such as the National Council on The Arts.




           Another active year for the Guild

Recital and preview evenings were held at the Fenimore House (now the Fenimore Art Museum). This was the first year for “Not an Ordinary Auction” at Cooper Auction Barn, Cooperstown.

Program acknowledgments were listed for volunteers in these categories: artists’ housing;box office;program advertising; Guild functions; production mailings,and “various.”

In1980, all donors were still listed as The Glimmerglass Opera Theatre Guild, and Mrs. William H. Sheffield, Jr., was president. Guild donor categories were: Sustaining-$250, Sponsoring-$100, Participating-$50, Contributing-$25. Those giving less than $25 were listed as Friends. At this point, most artistic and production staff were volunteers.


            Guild benefits

In addition to the satisfaction of helping make summer opera possible in our area, benefits for guild members (those contributing over $25)included a chance to meet singers in a social and concert evening, early reservation privileges for the best seats, an opportunity to visit with the entire company at the annual cocktail party at the Otesaga Resort Hotel (sponsored by Tom Goodyear),and postal notification for all Glimmerglass events.

Other events included an Evening with theManon Lescaut cast onthe Fenimore House Lawn, an auction at Cooper Barn, two opera previews at the Fenimore, and an after-performance Guild reception by invitation.

Paul Kellogg was appointed Executive Manager.


Paul Kellogg was Executive Manager and Charles Schneider continued as Music Director.

Guarantors and Special Benefactors were added as Guild donor categories.

            Glimmerglass education activities

Education programs began. During the season, the Guild offered a series of opera talks by designers and directors on different aspects of opera production. A “Singers-in-the Schools” program was initiated. Performances for both high school and elementary students by two singers from Glimmerglasswere followed byinformal question and answer periods.

A“Madame Butterfly Ball” at the Otesaga Resort Hotel was held as a fund-raiser. Tickets were$25 per person.

          Community involvement

In addition to supporting Glimmerglass through donations and fund raising, community participation included chorus members and other volunteers.

Here are a few glimpses of volunteering in the early years of Glimmerglass. As there were no dressing rooms as such at the high school, the women’s chorus used the janitors’ quarters and the men’s chorus the woodshop. Leadsingers used the music room, where sheets were hung from ropes to provide cubicles for privacy.

Wardrobe volunteers, in addition to cleaning, mending, and organizing costumes for a quick change, tended to pagers for the many doctors who were onstage. On occasion, doctors did leave the show in costume and makeup to hurry to the emergency room.


         A busy year

Tom Goodyear continued as President of the Board of Trustees. Clara Hulbert was coordinator of volunteers.

Opera talks at the Fenimore House were $2 per ticket.

Glimmerglass Opera joined “The Good Old Summertime” Festival at Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute.

The Guild began operating a gift shop in the high school lobby. Proceeds were given to the Company. Other Guild activities included the “Not- So-Ordinary Auction” at Lakefront Park, a cocktail party for Guild members contributing $100  and an “Evening with the Singers” which took place both in Richfield Springs at the Pavilion in Spring Park and on the Fenimore House terrace.

A progressive dinner was added as an additional fund-raiser.


           Eighteen acres for an opera house

The Glimmerglass Opera Theater Development Fund Project began as it became clear that growth and artistic standards required a professional performing facility. Mrs. Bradley Goodyear gave an 18-acre site on Otsego Lake, and plans were underway to construct a new theater .Beekman Cannon became Chairman of the Development Committee.

Guild events that season were varied, including opera talks, lunchtime opera at Bassett Hospital, auctions, a raffle and an Octoberfest at Redman’s Hall (now an apartment house on Railroad Avenue in Cooperstown). The gift shop in the high school lobby was again a big success. Clara Hulbert continued as chair of volunteers.