Last fall, director Tazewell Thompson (top right) journeyed to Cape Town, South Africa to direct the anti-apartheid "musical tragedy" Lost in the Stars. This summer, he will bring this major co-production to the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, NY, with a cast of American opera singers; baritone Eric Owens (bottom right) will play the lead, Reverend Stephen Kumalo. Some members of the South African cast will join the ensemble. This landmark production will have nine performances during July and August 2012.
Video interview with Festival director Francesca Zambello and Tazewell Thompson (includes brief clips from Lost in the Stars)
Behind the scenes photos by Karli Cadel
Kim H. Kowalke's essay on Lost in the Stars
Mark N. Grant's appreciation of Lost in the Stars
Glimmerglass blog post
Learn more about Lost in the Stars
"For her second season at the Glimmerglass Festival, just eight miles from the Baseball Hall of Fame, artistic and general director Francesca Zambello has hit a home run. The high point is Kurt Weill's Lost in the Stars . . . . This hybrid of opera and music theater is ideally served by Tazewell Thompson's sensitive, understated production; the splendid Glimmerglass chorus . . . and especially the towering, heartfelt performance of Eric Owens . . . . His huge, lyrical bass-baritone expresses the boundless optimism of 'Thousands of Miles' and the raw pain of the title song; his body, hunched in shame before the father of the man his son has killed, is equally eloquent. He also makes Maxwell Anderson's text seem dignified and formal, not stilted. Lost in the Stars resembles an oratorio, and the chorus, with the terrific Sean Panikkar as The Leader, brings weight and pathos to the show's great laments and its theme about how fear keeps the races divided. Glimmerglass recruited a large number of black singers, including several South Africans, to its Young Artist program this year--Brandy Lynn Hawkins, who is touching as Irina, Absalom's pregnant girlfriend, and Amos Nomnabo, sardonic as Stephen's brother, John, stand out in solo roles. Michael Mitchell's simple set suggesting the corrugated metal of South African shanty towns, Mr. Thompson's subtle stage direction and John DeMain's thoughtful conducting let the deep emotion of this piece come through."
--Heidi Waleson, Wall Street Journal
"Mr. Owens . . . was magnificent in Lost in the Stars . . . . With the lush, urgent conducting of John DeMain and the full-voiced singing of a winning cast, the production, directed by Tazewell Thompson in a dark, affecting and fluid staging, draws out the operatic resonances of Weill's score. Mr. Owens triumphed in the lead role of Stephen Kumalo . . . . [His] complete identification with Kumalo comes through in every moment of his searing portrayal. Mr. Owens's delivery of the spoken lines, touched with a South African accent, was nuanced and powerful. It was unbearably moving to see Mr. Owens’s husky body slump under Kumalo's crushing weight of despair as the son, having pleaded guilty to a charge of murdering a tolerant young white man in a burglary gone wrong, faces execution."
--Anthony Tommasini, New York Times
"Of the four Glimmerglass presentations this season, [Lost in the Stars] is the most timely and deeply felt. Through the immediacy of the songs and the quality of the performances, especially that of bass-baritone Eric Owens, labels and genres are transcended. The primacy of art and humanity rise to the fore."
--Joseph Dalton, Albany Times-Union
"Beautifully conceived, brilliant in its theatrical effects . . . and, without ever being maudlin, so affecting in its emotional content that not only was the audience at the performance's end in tears, so were the cast members. . . . Towering above all of [the] excellent performances . . . was the singular achievement of Eric Owens as Stephen Kumalo. The final scene, in which Wynn Harmon's Edward Jarvis makes the move towards racial reconciliation . . . is as moving as any theatrical scene one is likely to experience. . . . A great theatrical experience, that I recommend to all unreservedly."
--William Burnett, Opera Warhorses
"Restrained and quietly stunning . . . . A tale of morality, injustice, and ultimately spiritual healing under South Africa's period of apartheid . . . pointedly neither an opera nor a conventional Broadway musical . . . . Eric Owens leads the company as Stephen Kumalo, the minister who struggles with both the loss of his son and his faith. Owens brings all his musical intelligence and prodigious emotional depth to the role. As he takes us on Kumalo's heartbreaking journey of a man shattered in his faith, . . . the dignity he brings to the role is only surpassed by the shattering power in his voice. Sean Panikkar makes a startlingly strong impression as Leader . . . . With clean, weighted gestures and a strikingly beautiful tenor voice, Panikkar . . . becomes the voice of South Africa itself as he sings with such eloquence the descriptive poetry of Alan Paton as set by Kurt Weill. Thompson has achieved a beautiful ensemble."
--Susan Galbraith, DC Theatre Scene
"Lost in the Stars was conceived by composer Kurt Weill as a way to deepen the American musical theater experience and make it more significant for all involved. In the hands of the Glimmerglass Festival, in concert with Cape Town Opera, Weill's vision for what the modern musical could be was realized to near perfection. . . . From the opening notes of this musical, Paton's lush prose and distinctive narrative voice is preserved in Maxwell Anderson's book and lyrics. . . . The show was wondrous in its ability to advance the themes and ramp up the racial tension. . . . It is the single strongest show of a solid 2012 festival season."
--Gale Martin, Bach Track
"The story of apartheid and repression is sadly still relevant. But Lost in the Stars also embodies themes of redemption and deliverance that are important, welcome, and cathartic. . . . Powerful lyric theatre of the top tier."
--James Sohre, Opera Today
Originally posted: 5 June 2012
Last updated: 4 September 2012
Top left: Sean Panikkar as the Leader.
Top right: Amos Nomnabo as John Kumalo with ensemble.
Bottom left: Brandy Lynn Hawkins as Irina, Eric Owens as Stephen Kumalo and Makudupanyane Senaoana as Absalom in the wedding scene.
Bottom right: Eric Owens as Stephen Kumalo and Wynn Harmon as Jarvis at the final reconciliation.
Production photos by Karli Cadel.