Cultural Tourist: Opera with corn dogs on the side

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The Independent Travel

The United States had no grand opera tradition of its own, but the vast opera houses of New York, Chicago and San Francisco - built in the late 19th century - became great showcases for European stars. They also forged the link with wealthy philanthropists that sustains the nation's operatic life.

In the 20th century, composers such as Gershwin and Copland created a national style of opera - close in idiom to vibrant musical theatre and with its subjects often drawn from American life. Porgy and Bess is the supreme example.

Opera still thrives there, and notably in the works of John Adams (Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer) is adding to the worldwide repertory. (The premiere of his next, Doctor Atomic, based on the life of the atom bomb scientist Robert Oppenheimer, is scheduled for the 2005-06 season at San Francisco). If you are visiting a major American city you are likely to find an opera house there (and a browse on will tell you what's on and how to book tickets).

The most celebrated opera festival in the US is Glimmerglass in upstate New York. It is held every summer in Cooperstown, a small town at the foot of the beautiful Catskill Mountains. It will take you about four hours to drive up from New York City or down from Boston. This year's season runs from 1 July to 24 August and the works on offer (which typically include some non-standards) are: Puccini's La Fanciulla del West, Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience, The Handel rarity Imeneo and Richard Rodney Bennett's The Mines of Sulphur, a Poe-like tale of murder, lust, and ghostly retribution. Single tickets start at $29 (£15) and rise to $108 but there are discounts for subscription purchases (for full details go to

Glimmerglass Opera began in 1975 through the efforts of Cooperstown locals and has grown to be a major force in American opera. Since 1987, performances have taken place in the purpose-built Alice Busch Opera Theater, (pictured), on the shores of Otsego Lake, the "Glimmerglass" which local boy James Fenimore Cooper wrote about it his Leather-Stocking Tales. The beautiful rural setting, the opportunity for picnics and champagne in the grounds and its world-class opera make Glimmerglass a transatlantic pendant to our own Glyndebourne.