BY MICHELLE MILLER
Many people say home is where the heart is. That holds true for 1979 Cooperstown Central School graduate Dwayne Croft.
The internationally known baritone opera singer has come back to his hometown to sing the role of Harold Hill in “The Music Man” as part of the Glimmerglass Festival.
Croft said there is nothing like being back home and being able to perform at the Glimmerglass Festival where he was introduced to opera.
“It’s where I got started,” he said. “I was a trumpet player in the high school band. They needed a band to march across the stage for one of the performances and I got to be a part of that. I fell in love with it, and started watching it a lot.”
Croft said he joined the opera’s chorus and took on small parts in 1976. He sang in his first featured role with the company in 1982 as Yamadori in “Madama Butterfly.”
According to Croft, every show was performed at the Cooperstown High School from 1977 to 1996. The Opera House was built in 1987, and Croft said he was the first person to sing on the new stage. It was with an orchestra to get a feeling of what the sound would be like, he said.
The artist worked at the opera every summer until 1990 when his aspirations shifted him to the Big Apple, he said.
In 1989, Croft was accepted into the Metropolitan Opera’s Young Artist Development Program. He has appeared in more than 400 performances of 30 roles at the Metropolitan Opera, including the title role of Billy Budd, Pelléas in “Pelléas et Mélisande” and the title role in “Don Giovanni.”
In 1996, Croft received the Richard Tucker Award, which honors an American singer “poised on the edge of a major national and international career.”
Since then, he has traveled all around the world to perform. Glimmerglass Festival Artistic and General Director Francesca Zambello said she worked with Croft doing his first “Barber of Seville” at the Santa Fe Opera.
“We then worked on a production of “Billy Budd,” which is one of his signature roles, and later “The Trojans” at the Met,” she said. “I always thought he came from a magical fairy tale town called Cooperstown. When I came here it was high on my priority list to have him return in the title role of a work. I am so proud to have him in the role of Harold Hill, the quintessential American music salesman, on our stage.”
Marcia Milgrom Dodge, director of “The Music Man,” said having Croft perform the role of Harold Hill is a real treat for the production of “The Music Man” and for Croft’s hometown.
Croft was born to play Harold Hill; he is passionate about playing him honestly and with great gusto, she said.
“Although his path took him away from the musical theatre, his stature in the opera world certainly gives him the confidence to tackle this iconic role now. He lives authentically inside this story because he has such a connection to the part,” she added.
The Glimmerglass Festival Season began on July 7 and will run through Aug. 25. “The Music Man” opens July 14 and runs through Aug. 24.
Croft said he has been rehearsing for his part since June 4.
“When I got the opportunity to come back, I really couldn’t say no,” Croft said. “‘The Music Man’ is something I have wanted to do since I was 15.”
“The Music Man” is a performance that has not become dated, said Croft. He said it gets people excited, moves them to tears and even causes goosebumps. “It has so much history,” according to Croft. “I find it still gets people. It’s a very believable, beautiful story.”
“The Music Man” is very complex and complicated, according to Croft.
“We need to do a lot of rehearsing as well as a lot of choreography and getting things just so,” he explained.
“It is not something you can just throw together in a week. It is not like ‘Annie Get Your Gun,’ which they did last year. It has so many things happening at one time, so there is a lot to get down. I go from scene to scene.”
Harold Hill is an extremely difficult part, having to dance, be all over the stage and even entertain among the audience, he continued. When asked what it is like to be back to Cooperstown, Croft said, “Like I am at home.”
The opera singer is home, at least at one of his residences. He said he bought his own place in 2006 and also owns a place in New York City. Croft said his mother and brother, Bob, who drives a bus for Cooperstown Central School also live in the area.
“It is a nice feeling to know I can finish rehearsal and go back to my house to unwind and sleep in my own bed. It is like New York. Like when I am singing at the Metropolitan Opera, I can go home at night.”
Croft said he has been having to live out of a suitcase while performing in Europe.
“Every time I would arrive in Europe I would have to set up a new apartment for the two months I would be there. You get kind of tired of having to buy spices and other things everywhere you go,” he said. When home, Croft said, he does not have as many worries and can relax.
Being in Cooperstown brings back a lot of memories, he said. For example, Croft said rehearsals are being held at the St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Cooperstown, the very place he practiced as a young child.
“They have other rehearsal halls that we could have very easily been scheduled to rehearse at, but luckily ‘The Music Man’ is rehearsing at St. Mary’s, where I have a lot of history,” he said. Croft said he has a better appreciation of Cooperstown’s beauty now that he has been away.
“Now I take it in and appreciate it so much more and recognize how lucky I was to have gotten the opportunity to grow up here,” he said while sitting on a bench looking out across Otsego Lake from Council Rock.
Stardom did not come quickly for Croft. The State University of New York at Purchase graduate said it took about eight years before he got his big break, being accepted into the young artist program.
Croft said his favorite opera that he has been featured in is “Billy Budd.” He said he also performed that production on television at the Metropolitan Opera. However, he said he has to admit he is having more fun than he has ever had playing his part in “The Music Man.”
“Although opera is what I do and love, this is a change of pace for me (because it is more theatrical),” he said. “I’m having a lot more fun. Opera is a lot more pressure.”
Cooperstown native to sing lead in ‘The Music Man’
BY MICHELLE MILLER
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