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The look of opera

Francesca Zambello ’78, an internationally renown director, spent part of the summer close to home.

Zambello, the first woman to direct an opera at the Met and a two-time winner of the Olivier Award, made her debut at nearby Cooperstown’s Glimmerglass Opera in July.

"My bent right now is working with living composers and digging up lesser-known operas. I do a lot of world premieres and obscure operas," says Zambello, who staged Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, a 1779 opera, at Glimmerglass.

Late in June the chorus gathered to work "on blood details," a not-incidental aspect of the work based on Euripdes’ play about the gruesome fall of the House of Arteus.

"Can we get the blood less runny?" asks one of the players.

"Well, we can put more peanut butter in it," says Zambello, a director with an answer for every question.

Francesca Zambello was born into an artistic family and lived in New York and Europe. Fran-cesca was involved with theater at Colgate but turned to opera after graduation.

"I was more interested in a world not ruled by naturalism, and opera was more of an international art form. It seemed like a fertile venue to be working in," says Zambello, who has returned to the theater in the last five years to stage periodic musicals and plays.

Opera, however, remains her focus, and she usually works on six pieces a year. "I am hired by a company a year or two in advance and at that point I will choose a team of collaborators. The concept evolves along with ideas of how it will look." Zambello, who is constantly working on multiple projects, spends six weeks prior to the opening working intense 12- hour days "to get on stage what you see."

Iphigénie en Tauride opens with fire and rain and moves quickly into "bloody rites" and "murder and misfortune." Sings the chorus: "Endless tears mark the course of our life."

Despite the subject matter, Gluck’s is a beautiful, poetic opera and under Zambello’s discerning eye it looks great as well. Her work has been called "daring and provocative," a two-edged sword in the opera world but it plays well on the shores of Lake Otsego, James Fenimore Cooper’s fabled Gimmerglass.

"My style of work is based in an emotional world," Zambello told the British magazine Opera Now. "I am interested in creating a visual environment that helps tell the story, and creating an emotional life with the characters. I try to create an environment where my goal is to get the best out of each person so everyone believes he or she has cre-ated what they are doing." JH

Senior champion

Chuck Wittig ’45, the Kansas state tennis champion among players 70 to 74 years old, competed in the National Senior Olympics in mid-May.

The event was held in Tucson, mostly on the campus of the University of Arizona, where more than 10,000 athletes participated in 19 different sports.

"It was very well done," says Wittig of the games. "We marched into the stadium, all 10,200 of us, and there was music and fireworks, the whole schmear."

Playing in temperatures that reached the mid-90s, Wittig won his first match, lost his second, which knocked him out of the medal round, but came back to win two more matches. There were 64 players in Wittig’s bracket.

"I was really playing quite well," says Wittig, who is only semi-retired from his over-the-road tank trailer business and still finds the time for tennis at least once a day.

"In the games I won, I was able to outlast the other guy. At this level no one powers the ball too much. It’s a game of finesse."

Wittig picked up the game at age 55. "Heck, I couldn’t even spell tennis when I was at Colgate." Wittig did play football, ice hockey and baseball, though.

The three-letter man also fought in World War II ("Pearl Harbor was my freshman year") and the Korean conflict and was awarded two Purple Hearts.

Of his Senior Olympic tennis exploits, Wittig says: "In all it was a very interesting and rewarding experience." JH

Cross country for diabetes

Meredith Laban, left, Nicole Talbot, and Richarda Ruffle met as members of the track team in their first year at Colgate. They became fast friends, and knew even then that at the end of their college careers they would do something that made an impact.

On May 31 — 13 days after graduation — the trio (who had roomed together the past two years) flew to Seattle, and on June 2 dipped the tires of their bikes in the Pacific as the ceremonial beginning of a cross-country bicycle ride to raise money for juvenile diabetes.

Packing 60 to 70 pounds of high-tech equipment each, which they purchased with money they received as graduation gifts, the three rode an average of 100 miles a day through all kinds of weather. The toughest stretch, they report, was New York State Route 20 from Skaneateles to Hamilton, where they stopped for a one-day visit in late July. They completed their journey July 27, dipping their tires in the Atlantic as they were greeted by their families in Boston.

Aside from the money they raised, the women say the best part of the trip was the people who befriended them along the way. JL