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.


An Event-filled Summer!

events were held at many venues and included a wide variety of activities.  A cast recital at Windfall Dutch Barn was presented and at the Fenimore House, three opera talks were given.  There was “An Evening with Glimmerglass” at the New York State Historical Association.  At the site of the new theater “A Southern Barbeque Under-the-Tent” and Annual Cocktail Party for Donors were held.  At the Horned Dorset a dinner, “Opera Feast” delighted guests. Several events were held at private homes.

The opera program for a first time listed separately the Glimmerglass Opera Theater Volunteers Guild, with Joan Grimes as president. Members, however, were still all donors to the company.

The Guild published a cookbook. 

Also, Spruce Haven Cottage (a house near the theater site where apprentices lived) became a project for volunteers to refurbish.

In November, Joan Grimes, Guild president, and Mary Dunkle, vice president, were first attendees from Glimmerglass at the Opera Guilds International conference in Orlando, Florida


Tom Goodyear remained chair of the trustees, and Margaret Anderson was company president.

A new group was formed: Sustaining Board of Trustees with Barbara Mulhern as its president, Donald Fenner, vice president, and Carol Peat, secretary. This board, formed of local residents did not have the “pressure” on them to donate at levels expected of the Glimmerglass Opera Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees were now from a more widespread geographic area and were responsible for raising funds for the new opera house.

Members invited to serve on the Sustaining Board included Helen Boatwright, Robert Bolton, Ruth Bresee, Allen Caswell, Mary Dunkle, Anne Evans, Elizabeth Flavin, Joan Grimes, Erika Hall, Bruce Harris, Jane Johngren, Carolyn Mook, David Svahn, and Sam Wilcox.

The Glimmerglass Opera Guild was designated the fund-raising arm of the Board of Sustaining Trustees and had its own officers: Joan Grimes, president; Mary Dunkle, vice president; Lona Smith, secretary; Ed Whalen, treasurer. Several other guild members had specific responsibilities: progressive dinner, Dottie Phillips; 
Dine-a-Round, Mona Harris; raffle, Gerald Evans; community relations, Jane Johngren;  hospitality, Anne Evans and Elizabeth Flavin; and house committee, Sam Wilcox.

In April Joan Grimes and Mary Dunkle attended the northeast regional meeting of OGI sponsored by the Syracuse Opera Guild.

The Glimmerglass gift shop in the high school lobby sold aprons, mugs, and baseball caps with the GO logo. (This was the year of The Mighty Casey.) It was even possible to order gifts by mail.

A progressive dinner in March was organized by Joan Sabotka, Margaret Savoie, and Dottie Phillips. Festivities began with Walter Rich hosting cocktails at his residence, Edgewater. There followed twelve dinners in private homes, concluding with dessert and coffee hosted by Joan and Jack Grimes at The Inn at Cooperstown.

Mona Harris, chair of the Dine-A-Rounds arranged for 11 venues, including a birders’ breakfast and a party among a huge collections of Christmas ornaments, hosted by Dr. G. Davignon in his home, assisted by Dr. Mary Anne Whelan. Tickets for these events ranged from $10 to $45.

Joan Grimes and Mary Dunkle chaired the “Not-So-Ordinary” August auction, which moved to a tent on the opera site. A Mercedes station wagon and a prize steer headed the list of items on the block.

A new event was added, Das Glimmergold, a raffle with the opportunity to win $10,000. Gerald Evans chaired, and 250 tickets were sold at $100 each.

The hospitality committee supervised  work at Spruce Haven Cottage, and committee members worked tirelessly to get it furnished. Marion King and Margaret Savoie took on the job of finding housing for many of the cast and crew during the season.

Mary Ellen Fenner arranged for hosts for wine and cheese after three Sunday afternoon opera talks.

  “The Aggie Wagon”

Lou and Aggie Jones started the backstage canteen when Glimmerglass Opera began. It continued out of their van parked at the back door of the high school where they provided refreshments to crew and cast. Now named “The Aggie Wagon,” it was supervised by Barbara and Art Mulhern with Lou and Aggie on hand. (Lou was a retired president of NYSHA and Aggie a former opera singer.)

Vicci Demarest, Katherine Cary, and Jackie Amols made arrangements to entertain important out-of-town guests. Cast parties after opening night were run by caterers Terri and J.P. Fotiu. Lona Smith was in charge of securing ads for the program booklet.

Sam Wilcox and Virginia Pence supervised the house and the crew of volunteer ushers. On busy days many hands would be helping out at the opera office, then located above Danny’s Market on Main Street in Cooperstown (now Doubleday Cafe). As in previous years, many volunteers worked with the artistic and production staffs.

In August the first article about Glimmerglass volunteers appeared in the newsletter of Opera Guilds International.


In 1987 the volunteer group was now formally called Glimmerglass Opera Guild. At this time the officers of the Guild were appointed by the company. Mary Dunkle was president, Lona Smith vice president, and Mona Harris second vice president. Other officers were Dottie Phillips, secretary and Robert Walters, treasurer. Committee chairs included Donalee Unal, publicity; Mona Harris and Mary Jo Morris, Dine-A-Round; Henry Phillips, John Sabotka, and Jack Grimes, Das Glimmergold, Tom Goodyear, jazz concert; Jean Charters, gift shop; Marie Rudloff and Charles Pannaci, auction; Catherine Black, progressive dinner; Mary Ellen Fenner, opera talks; and Anne Evans and Barbara Mulhern, behind the scenes tours.

In March Mary Dunkle and Lona Smith attended the OGI Regional meeting in Philadelphia. As a result of these contacts with OGI, they began to gather by-laws from otherguilds and to work on by-laws for the Glimmerglass Opera Guild.

Glimmerglass opened in its new Alice Busch Opera Theater June 12, 1987, with a concert for the community. It was a “tuning concert’ to assess acoustics. On June 27 there was a gala benefit concert. “A Cooperstown Fanfare,” composed by William Schuman, was played from the exterior balcony. Needless to add, this was a very exciting year. The first opera to be performed on the new opera stage that season was Eugene Onegin.

Along with the Board of Trustees and the Sustaining Board, there were now the New York Committee for Glimmerglass and the Syracuse Committee for Glimmerglass.

With the new theater more of the backstage staffers were professional, especially heads of crews. But housing, program advertising, office volunteers, and telemarketing were stillvolunteer activities.

On August 25 the Guild sponsored a “Guilds Day” to celebrate the new opera house. Discounted tickets were offered for the matinee. Eleven attendees came from other guilds, including Lake George, Boston, and Wilmington, Delaware. Included were a welcoming reception, a tour of the facilities, and a picnic gathering.

The Guild also held other activities in this eventful year. It presented Susannah McCorkle on the opera stage in a program of show tunes,  inspired by Tom Goodyear. In September Ruth and Phil Bresee held a special appreciation cocktail party for Guild members at their Fly Creek home.

The Guild participated in the Up-State-Chic fashion show, set up a booth at the Health Fair in the Oneonta mall, sponsored three recruitment receptions, led Saturday morning opera site tours, added an educational committee. It presented, with limited success, a few local jazz groups in the Guild tent as pre-opera entertainment.

The Dine-A-Rounds enjoyed popularity throughout the year: “A Victorian Brunch” at Summerwood with Lona and George Smith; “Murder Mysteries Dinner Parties” at the Ermlichs; “Under the Tent with a Turkish Flair,” hosted by Dr. and Mrs. Unal; and “The Ancient and Honorable Art of Chinese Cooking” hosted by the Jungkinds.

After a stunning season in the new opera house, bad news came in November when fire destroyed the opera’s administrative offices, then located on the second floor of 93 Main Street, Cooperstown. (The building is now occupied by Doubleday Cafe) Hundreds of friends contributed money, equipment, and time to the rebuilding. Many hours were spent retrieving lost information.