Princess Ida

Video from the Performance


Shortly after the Civil War, August Hildebrand, a Buffalo steel magnate, and Eustace Gama, a Syracuse banker and philanthropist, pool their wealth to found an engineering school in Western New York. To burnish their reputations and maintain control, the two robber barons agree to marry their young adult children, Hilarion and Ida, and place them at the head of the board of trustees.

Ida, however, revolts. A Vassar graduate, this high-minded and high-handed American princess favors classical education and opposes arranged marriages. She is also disheartened by the recent war and repelled by the industrialism and speculation transforming America. Ida empties her trust, flees, and starts a woman’s college in Aurora, New York, on the shore of Cayuga Lake. Dedicated to Minerva, the Roman goddess of war and wisdom (who narrates events), Ida’s academy will be a sanctuary from the ignorance, greed, and violence of men.

The other characters—the two patriarchs; Ida’s muscle-bound brothers; Hilarion and his pals, Cyril and Florian; even Ida’s colleagues and students, Blanche, Psyche, and Melissa—try to weaken our heroine’s resolve by force, fraud, or charm. Although they fail, Ida concludes that her Utopia is unworkable and decides to start a co-educational university “where any person could find instruction in any study.” Minerva approves, and the opera ends with a hymn to love and learning.


Minerva: Goddess of War and Wisdom. A cross between Pallas Athena and Columbia, she functions as the opera’s narrator and stage manager. By turns kind and stern, she coaxes and goads the other characters into becoming their best selves—except for Gama, whom she considers a lost cause. Disguised as Minnie (the academy’s dorm mother) in the second and third act, she also mingles with the audience during intermissions. She is Mater et Magistra, Mother and Teacher to all.

August Hildebrand: Steel Magnate and Colonel, 3rd Brigade, New York State Militia. This German immigrant transformed a failing Bessemer plant into Buffalo, New York’s most profitable steel mill. This enables him to bully the mayor and police commissioner and control the local army. A good man who has done bad things to gain power, he hides his guilt and insecurity behind bluster and bravado. Three traits, however, earn our affection and respect: blunt honesty, a sardonic sense of humor, and selfless devotion to his son, who embodies the old man’s discarded ideals.

Hilarion: Hildebrand’s Son. Kind, gentle, unassuming, he defers to his domineering father and idealizes his spoiled beloved, to whom he has been engaged since childhood. Over the course of the opera, however, he finds the necessary will and confidence to become a strong leader and a worthy husband. A storybook prince in a grey sack suit.

Eustace Gama: Banker and Philanthropist. A spiteful invalid and a sarcastic misanthrope, he relishes playing the Great Benefactor. As President of the Onondaga Savings Bank and Treasurer of the Syracuse Council of Churches, he manages four foundations and directs a dozen charities but is crueler than a loan shark. Even so, he considers himself the salt of the earth, possibly because he rubs himself in people’s wounds. Despite his studied efforts to ingratiate himself, everyone detests him—and he “can’t think why.”

“Princess” Ida: Gama’s Daughter and President of Minerva’s Academy. Like Jane Austen’s Emma, she is not a heroine who makes a good first impression. High-minded and high-handed, she exasperates even her most passionate admirers; but her beliefs are sincere, and her dilemma wins our sympathy. Eight centuries earlier, she might have been a lady-in-waiting in Eleanor of Aquitaine’s court. Raised in the age of Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan, she is merely the willful, fanciful daughter of a rich, neglectful father: pampered, appeased, and indulged, but never loved. High priestesses of a private cult, general of an imaginary army, she nevertheless possesses courage, compassion, and charisma. Suffering teaches her nobility, disillusionment wisdom. In the end, she chooses practical compromise over an impossible ideal.

Cyril Osgood: Hildebrand’s Junior Secretary and Hilarion’s Friend. The overeducated son of a genteel family, he has taken a clerical position in Hildebrand’s factory to prove that he can be useful. Foppish and mannered, he is a fish out of water, but his quick wit and eagerness to please make him a fun companion. Prim when sober, he is louche when drunk, which happens whenever he is stressed or nervous. Infiltrating a women’s college makes him positively giddy. To pass as one of the girls, he sings falsetto.

Florian Bonhoeffer: Hildebrand’s Assistant Foreman and Hilarion’s Friend. A second-generation, working-class German American, he is loyal to his employer, devoted to his friend, and proud of his immigrant community. He dreams of running the plant one day and of turning Buffalo into Upstate New York’s most prosperous city. His disciplined, no-nonsense air conceals a bluff sense of humor and a randy sexuality.

Brad: Gama’s Son, Yale Dropout and Football Fanatic. A musclebound runt with a bulldog face, he is much more intelligent and sensitive than he appears. Protective of his sister, he also admires Hilarion, whom he thinks would make a fine brother-in-law. His musical solo parodies Handel’s oratorios, but his shining moment occurs near the end of the opera, when he haltingly makes a case for founding a democratic, coeducational university.

Chad and Tad: Brad’s Twin Brothers. Tall and strapping, they follow Brad and enjoy posing and flexing like body builders. All three wear primitive football uniforms embossed with the Yale insignia.

Miss Blanche: Professor of Philosophy and Political Science, President of the Temperance League. The school disciplinarian, she is a grim but majestic matron in perpetual mourning for lost standards. A veteran of the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention, she corresponded with Margaret Fuller, shared a platform with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and entertained Frederick Douglas in her parlor. After he drunken husband died, however, she was forced to become a seamstress to support her children. She envies Ida’s privilege, resents her condescension, and schemes to replace her. She and Minerva sing a stirring duet, an actual suffrage anthem set to the tune of “Onward, Christian Soldier.”

Miss Psyche: Professor of Literature and Biology, Florian’s Aunt. A graduate of the Albany Normal School, she is anything but normal. Small and fey, she wears bohemian clothing and quotes Romantic poetry. Born Gertrude Bonhoeffer, she changed her name after teaching in Saratoga. During the summer, to supplement her meager income, she worked at the Psyche Springs Resort, where she circulated among the guests dressed as a Greek goddess and holding a pitcher of mineral water. The owner painted her portrait on billboards and stamped her profile on bottle labels. Despite her colorful past, she is now a fading schoolmarm, facing a lonely middle age; but that all changes when she meets Cyril.

Melissa: Class Monitor and Blanche’s Daughter. A bespectacled and rustic young woman better suited for a Mother Hubbard than the academy’s Pre-Raphaelite robes, she maintains order out of fear of punishment. When she falls in love with Florian, however, overcomes her natural timidity and becomes a virtuoso of deceit. Her exhilarating rebellion inspires the other girls to question Blanche’s and Ida’s authority.

Sacharissa, Chloe, and Ada: Undergraduates. Sacharissa and Chloe are hapless truants, punished for violating Blanche’s draconian rules. Ada, the academy’s newest student, is initiated into Ida’s sisterhood at the start of Act Two.

Daughters of the Plough: Gym Instructors and Campus Guards. Dressed in black uniforms, these two iron-jawed Amazons protect Ida and maintain order with lacrosse sticks.

Chorus: Citizens, Soldiers, and Students.



Minerva… Robin Booth / Kathy Starks

Princess Ida… Karen Wonder Dumont

Eustaca Gama… Doug Mathews
August Hildebrand… Anthony Di Renzo
Hilarion… Benjamin Bartell / Chuck Burch
Cyril Osgood… Andrew Hudson-Sabens
Florian Bonhoeffer… Geoffrey Peterson / Erik Angerhofer

Miss Blanche… Lisa Banlaki Frank / Nancy Kane
Miss Psyche… Julie Allison / Andrea Gregori
Melissa… Katrina Kuka
Brad… Douglas Booth / Scott Miller
Chad… Peter Magnus
Tad… Nick Roscoe
Sacharissa… Katie O’Brien
Ada… Haley Rowland
Chloe… Liz Woods
Daughters of the Plough…Ellie Hobbie and Chantel Torrey
Messenger Boy: Daniel Dumont
Chorus: Clay Birkett, Jennifer Birkett, Chad Dumont, Wendy Dugan, Jim Hedlund, Virginia Metcalf, Jack Miller, Beth Moffitt, Anna O’Connor, Pat Ober, Sam Peters, Sam Peters, Tom Peters,

Betsy Schermerhorn, Dan Taylor, Janine Willis

Production staff includes Librettist and Dramaturg Anthony Di Renzo, Stage Director Judith Pratt, Music Director and Piano Accompanist Bev Schmidt, Piano Accompanist Kerry Mizrahi, Chorus Master Katrina Kuka, and Choreographer Holly Adams. Costume Design by Liz Woods at Fine Character, sets by Ellie Hobbie, Stage Manager Abbie George, Sue DiNapoli, and Producer Karen Dumont.


Tuesday and Wednesday June 23-24 7:30pm at Cornell’s Schwartz Center

Sponsored by Cornell’s School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions

Tickets are free and first-come, first-serve starting 1 hour prior to the show


Sunday June 28th 2pm

Old Havana Courthouse Theatre

Montour Falls, NY


Sunday July 18th 8pm

Morgan Opera House

Aurora, NY


Special reprise

Sunday Januarty 10, 2016

Endicott Performing Arts Center

Endicott, NY


Tickets $20/ $18
Thanks to St. Luke Lutheran Church in Collegetown and the First Congregational Church in Cayuga Heights for hosting our rehearsals!